Skip to main content

Criminal Justice: Offender Management

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What progress they have made in implementing their policy of end-to-end offender management.

My Lords, offender management has been implemented for offenders under probation supervision in the community. It has also been implemented for prisoners serving determinate custodial sentences of 12 months or more who are prolific or other priority offenders, or who have been assessed as presenting a high or very high risk of serious harm. Offender management is planned to be extended to a further group of prisoners later this year.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that basic information about what has been achieved. During the debates on the Offender Management Bill we have heard of exciting progress and plans, but always in relation to end-to-end management of offenders. The noble Baroness would probably agree with me that the ultimate objective must be the lasting reform of offenders and my concern is that that will not be achieved without end-to-end supervision as well. It is hard to tread the stony path from drug addiction, for example, or alcohol addiction without the help of someone who cares, or appears to care, for your welfare.

My Lords, I should be grateful if the Minister would tell the House what the Government’s plans are for the support of prisoners.

My Lords, I have read with great interest the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in the debates, and I know he is concerned that the purpose of all this should be that we have reform of offenders and that recidivism rates drop substantially. I completely support him on that. We are seeking to develop a relationship with the offender manager that takes offenders through their sentences and beyond, to the point where the support and advice they get achieves that objective. As noble Lords will know, in the Offender Management Bill we are bringing in other organisations to enable us to work together in real partnership. I pay tribute to the many organisations that do sterling work in supporting those with drug or alcohol problems and to those who can offer training and work opportunities.

My Lords, in the rollout of offender management, are the Government giving specific attention to the recommendations of the Corston report on the needs of women offenders with regard to smaller, locally based units so that families can stay together and be less damaged and rehabilitation becomes more likely?

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Corston for the work she did on that report. I know my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is very interested that we explore all the issues raised by that report, which I am sure would find great support in your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, what importance do the Minister and her department attach to the role of the Prison Service in end-to-end management? What consultations or discussions has she had with the Prison Service in the run-up to the drafting of the Bill? I ask this because until the third day in Committee there was no mention of the Prison Service.

My Lords, I did not have any consultations in the run-up to the Bill because of course the Ministry of Justice did not exist at that time. I intend to visit a prison next week. Before I became a Minister, as noble Lords may know, I was involved in a project to establish training and support for prisons in the private sector, so I have some understanding of the issues. The importance of the Prison Service should never be underestimated; it is crucial in offender management. The role of the prison governor in understanding and knowing the offenders in his care is important too. The relationship between the prison and the offender manager is of great importance.

My Lords, now that the Ministry of Justice has taken over control of offender management from the Home Office, how much has been allocated from the Home Office budget to be transferred to the Ministry of Justice?

My Lords, I do not have the precise figures. I shall write to the noble Baroness with the details and put a copy in the Library.

My Lords, given the criticism of the Lord Chief Justice in his recent letter of 12 April, do the Government now regret the use of the phrase “seamless management of offenders through the courts” by the new Ministry of Justice? Is there not now a clear case for an inquiry, as called for by the Lord Chief Justice in his recent evidence to the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, before relationships between the Government and the judiciary deteriorate still further?

My Lords, the Question is about offender management and the noble and learned Lord’s question extends beyond that. However, the importance of the Ministry of Justice should not be underestimated; I value the Lord Chief Justice very highly and am sure that we will be able to reach satisfactory conclusions in our deliberations with him. The critical nature of these questions is how to ensure that we tackle issues of reoffending and that those who enter the process of end-to-end offender management have the opportunities that will keep them out of prison and enable them to carry on with fulfilling lives.

My Lords, will the Minister update the House on the status of the Libra IT project in so far as it relates to offender management?

My Lords, I cannot update the noble Earl because I do not know enough about the project at this point in my career in the Ministry of Justice. I shall write to him and put a copy in the Library. I might have guessed that the noble Earl would ask me something about IT—we have had many discussions on it, and I know of his expertise in that area.

My Lords, does end-to-end offender management include education and the improvement of education in prisons for prisoners?

My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly raises the need to make sure that those in prisons receive high-quality education. Noble Lords will know better than I the problems of illiteracy and levels of numeracy in prisons. It is very important that education in prisons is tackled. As one of the main purposes of our efforts to get offenders into work requires us to consider their educational attainment and achievements, it is very important to do so.

My Lords, the Minister of Justice gave those who are working on the Offender Management Bill some very helpful information last week, from which we learnt that 40 per cent of offender managers are not fully trained probation officers and that some offender managers will have caseloads of 100 people. Is the Minister satisfied that this is likely to provide us with a quality service?

My Lords, the issue of caseload is very important. My understanding is that it varies from between fewer than 20 to more than 80, and the noble Baroness has mentioned the highest figure. That depends on the amount of input that is required for the individual offender.