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Prisons: Offender Compact

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 10 July 2008

I wish to update the House on the compact with offenders announced in the prison policy update paper of January 2008 and Written Ministerial Statement of 31 January (Official Report, col. 37WS). The compacts I propose will emphasise the need for offenders to accept the responsibilities of their sentence, in return for which they may be entitled to some benefits during the sentence when the obligations are met. Today, I am announcing the commencement of four pilots, with the aim in due course of implementing such compacts across the prison estate and for offenders on community orders.

In order to ensure appropriate behaviour, offenders can earn access to certain privileges, particularly during their time in custody. These advantages must be earned and offenders must take responsibility for their behaviour and take the opportunities for reform offered to them through commitment, hard work, and delivery against the aims of their sentence plans.

The existing incentives and earned privileges (IEP) scheme in prisons is a fundamental part of achieving this. It categorises offenders according to their behaviour into basic, standard and enhanced level, and these levels directly equate to the earned privileges they then have access to. This has been a valuable policy which has played an important part in securing order and control in prisons. There is now a need to build on this and to ensure that a consistent, firm approach is developed alongside it which sees offenders being required to commit to their own reform.

Under the new proposals, offenders will not only need to demonstrate basic compliance, but must show commitment beyond this in achieving sentence planning objectives and in making reparation to the community wherever the opportunity arises. It is important that the public understand and have confidence in the basis on which prisoners are granted enhanced privileges in custody. The scheme I am announcing will deliver this objective.

On 21 July 2008, three pilots will commence in prisons and one in the community, all in the West Midlands. The pilots will introduce a standard format for the compacts for evaluation. I also propose an “end of custody” report for short sentence prisoners, which will summarise the offender's time in custody based on effort and achievement, and provide those who have shown commitment to their own improvement with evidence to take into the community. The pilots will run for an initial six months with the aim of rolling out across all prisons and probation next year.

In this way, the custody pilots will build on the existing IEP scheme, which currently includes the use of a compact as good practice, in order to:

establish a set of core principles which can be applied in all cases;

explore the potential for a mandatory compact format;

explore the scope for a link between sentence planning and the IEP;

consider what we can offer offenders without a sentence plan, in particular the under-12 months population, and how we link this to the concept of a compact where rights have to be earned;

ensure robust review processes are in place;

test the potential for information from the compact to be transferred from prison to the community on release on licence, in particular for those in custody not subject to offender management;

test the potential for “end of custody reports”, linked to the compact for short-sentenced offenders to present to potential employers on release, which recognise positive behaviour and engagement in constructive activity; and

consider the resource impact of the pilot findings and assess affordability.

The community pilots will use induction processes and existing examples of induction agreements with offenders in the community to:

establish a set of core principles and good practice for the community induction process for use in agreeing compacts with offenders;

explore the potential incentives that can be feasibly implemented in the community, including increasing supervision for poor compliance and recognising successful completion of licences and orders; and

test what information from custody is of value in the community and how this could best be presented/transferred, in particular for those offenders not currently subject to end-to-end offender management.