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Rehabilitation and Sentencing

Volume 723: debated on Tuesday 7 December 2010


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. The Statement is as follows.

“On 12 May, we said in our programme for Government that we would conduct a full assessment of rehabilitation and sentencing policy to pave the way for a radical reform to the criminal justice system. I have laid before Parliament the Green Paper entitled Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders. This sets out our initial conclusions from this work on which we will be consulting widely over the next 12 weeks.

Despite record spending we are not delivering what really matters. Society has a right to expect the criminal justice system to protect it. Prison will always be the right place for serious and dangerous offenders. Criminals should be properly punished. Prisons should be places of hard work and industry, and community sentences must be credible and robust. Criminals must also be reformed so that when they finish their sentence they do not simply return to their life of crime, creating more misery for victims. The criminal justice system falls short of what is required. Around half of offenders released from prison reoffend within a year. Reoffending rates for young offenders sentenced to custodial or community sentences are even worse. It is not acceptable that three-quarters of offenders sentenced to youth custody reoffend within a year. If we do not stop offending by young people, these young offenders of today will become the prolific career criminals of tomorrow.

We cannot let this continue. Solving these problems requires a radically different approach. Criminals must face robust and demanding punishments. This means making them work hard, both in prison and in the community. More prisoners will face the tough discipline of regular working hours. This has been lacking in prison regimes for too long. Community sentences will be more credible, with more demanding work and greater use of tough curfew requirements. There will be greater reparation to victims through increased use of restorative justice and by implementing the Prisoners’ Earnings Act. We will bring forward other changes to make sure that more offenders directly compensate the victims of crime.

However, we will take a new approach to the reform of offenders. I regard prison, first and foremost, as a place of punishment where people lose their liberty as reparation for what they have done. On top of that, prison cannot continue to be simply an expensive way of giving communities a break. We must give higher priority to getting more prisoners to go straight on release. Offenders will face a tough and co-ordinated response from the police, probation and other services. It will mean that they must either address the problems that fuel their criminal activity or be caught and punished. It will mean taking action to get offenders off drugs. It will mean reducing the abuse of alcohol. It will mean improving the treatment available to those suffering mental illness. It will mean getting more of them off benefits and into honest employment so that they pay their own way.

We will be bringing forward a revolutionary shift in the way rehabilitation is financed and delivered. We will begin by commissioning a range of providers to administer at least six new projects over the next two years. They will be paid for the results they achieve. I intend to apply the principles of that approach across the whole system by the end of this Parliament. We will also test this payment-by-results approach with young offenders and devolve more responsibility for preventing and tackling youth offending to local communities. We will introduce more competition across offender management services to drive up standards and deliver value for money for the taxpayer. We will increase discretion for public sector providers and front-line professionals.

The sentencing framework must provide courts with a range of options to punish and rehabilitate criminals and keep the public safe. The sentencing framework has developed in an ad hoc fashion with more than 20 Acts of Parliament changing sentencing in the last 10 years. This has left it overly complex, difficult to interpret and administer, and hard for the public to understand. We need to make better use of prison and community sentences to punish offenders and improve public safety, while ensuring that sentencing supports our aims of improved rehabilitation and increased reparation to victims and society. We will simplify the sentencing framework in order to make it more comprehensible to the public and to enhance judicial independence. We will reform community orders to give providers more discretion. We will encourage greater use of financial penalties and improve their collection.

We will bring forward reforms to the indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection—the IPP. This sentence has been much more widely used than was intended since its introduction in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Indeed, the last Government had already changed it since its introduction. We will reserve IPP sentences for the most serious offenders and focus indefinite punishment on those who most clearly pose a very serious risk of future harm. Of course, prisoners who in future do not receive an IPP sentence will instead receive long determinate sentences. This will enable us to restore clarity in sentencing, plan rehabilitation and target punishment more effectively to protect the public.

Let me assure the House that public safety remains our first priority. We will continue to ensure that serious and dangerous offenders are managed effectively and that their risk is reduced through appropriate use of prison and through multiagency public protection arrangements. Let me also assure the House that we will also ensure effective responses to knife crime. Knife crime is wholly unacceptable. It causes misery for victims and is often connected to the kind of gang violence that can wreck whole communities. The government position is clear. Any adult who commits a crime using a knife can expect to be sent to prison, and serious offenders can expect a long sentence. For juveniles, imprisonment is always available and will also be appropriate for serious offenders.

The Green Paper is an important change of direction in penal policy which will put more emphasis on reducing reoffending without reducing the punishment of offenders. By reforming criminals and turning them away from a life of crime, we will break the cycle. This will mean fewer crimes, fewer victims and safer communities. The Government will make a further Statement to the House when they publish their response to the consultation. In the mean time, I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I start by thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement of his right honourable friend. In its four-year plan, the Ministry of Justice states:

“We will provide a clear sentencing framework. It will punish those who break the law, and help reduce re-offending”.

We do not disagree with that. It is a reasonable vision for sentencing policy, entirely in keeping with the emphasis on punishment and reform that we followed in government, which helped to cut crime by 43 per cent between 1997 and 2010, in times both of growth and recession. We were the only Administration since the Second World War who could boast such an enviable record. I will first ask the Minister to confirm that the crime rate significantly declined under the Labour Administration.

On the core principles we are in agreement. Where the Government propose sensible measures to punish and reform offenders, we will support them. However, the Statement that we have just heard gives rise to a number of questions and concerns. The Minister is probably quietly pleased that the entirety of the Conservative Party's manifesto on law and order at the last election has been abandoned. Some of the people who were persuaded to vote Conservative on that basis may be less pleased. Perhaps manifesto commitments do not matter much when the noble Lord's party is prepared to tear up personal pledges. Both on knife crime and increasing prison capacity, the Conservatives have dumped their previous policies.

Like so many heavily trailed announcements in the past six months, the sentencing review could be a wasted opportunity. Sentencing policy should be about dealing with offenders in the right way, in order to protect the public and, in particular, the victims of crime. However, this review has been about trying to reduce the prison population in order to cut costs. The Lord Chancellor outlined his principal aim in the comprehensive spending review, which was to reduce the total daily prison population by 3,000 by 2014. It is about 85,000 today, so that would mean it would be 82,000 in four years’ time. However, in practice, because many people serve less than a year in prison, meeting the target would mean sending 10,000 fewer offenders to jail each year than we do now. Unfortunately, this is what the sentencing review is all about: not protecting the public or victims, but saving money. Will the Minister confirm that his department will publish the detailed assumptions that his officials and the Home Office have made about crime trends to justify the target of 82,000?

We do not subscribe to the view that there is a direct link between prison and crime, but we do not share the Government’s view that there is no link at all. Of course there is a link; it is entirely irrational to think otherwise. During the past couple of years of the previous Conservative Government and under the Labour Government, more serious and persistent criminals went to prison for longer, and—guess what—crime fell. The relationship between those two things may not have been simple or straightforward; other factors were at play, including of course—something that the Government may want to take notice of—an increase in police numbers, but there was a relationship. To justify the view that there is no link, the Government say that crime rates also declined internationally in that time but that prison rates in many countries went down. That view is wrong. The figures for OECD countries show that prison populations rose almost everywhere.

We accept, of course, that prison is not always the best place for offenders and that community sentences can be a better alternative in cutting reoffending. Does the Minister accept that, as a result of changes that we introduced following the Corston report, the number of women in custody has gone down? Furthermore, does he accept that reoffending rates for women, young men and first-time offenders have gone down too in recent years?

Of course, further action on drug addiction is clearly to be welcomed, and I do welcome it. The steps outlined to deal more effectively with offenders with mental health problems are also to be welcomed. That is one of our society’s most pressing issues and it is a vindication of the decision to set up and begin to implement the important Bradley review. However, what assurances can the Minister give the House that those with mental health problems who are liable to commit offences—particularly violent offences—will be treated in secure establishments?

In our view, the Justice Secretary’s eagerness to please the Treasury by cutting the Ministry of Justice’s budget by 23 per cent is going to make it both difficult and risky to turn these fine aspirations into reality. In particular, I ask the Minister to explain to the House what assessments are being made of the likelihood that prisoners on indeterminate sentences, whom the Justice Secretary wants to release, will no longer be a risk to the public. What procedures will be put in place to monitor such people in the community? We would also like the Minister to confirm whether it is intended to relax the rules on the recall of offenders. If that is the intention, I ask why, and how will he ensure that it will not result in higher rates of reoffending?

Our probation service does a good job. Cutting the service so deeply, as the Government intend to do, seems like a massive gamble. Why are the Government doing this if they truly believe in rehabilitation? Every time the Justice Secretary is asked about resources, he falls back on the payment-by-results model being piloted in Peterborough and started by the previous Government in March this year. It is an interesting model, which we agree should be expanded.

Finally, the Justice Secretary was recently asked on “Newsnight” how he would judge the success of his penal policy. His first response was that he “hadn’t the first idea”. That really is not good enough. Let us offer him a better idea for judging the success of his policy: will it make communities up and down the country more or less safe, and will it result in crime going up or down? That is what matters to people who live in the real world.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his questions and for his response. I hope that we can address this Green Paper in the way in which it has been presented to the country: as a really good, constructive, national debate about our criminal justice system. Therefore, I do not deny that many reforms were carried through by the previous Government that we have learnt from and which we shall try to develop. I am not really worried about the little bit of party politics on manifesto commitments. I know they play that game much more at the other end. This is a real attempt, in the six months in which we have been in office, to look at prison numbers. We need to look at the fact that they have doubled over the past 15 years.

Central to this paper is reoffending. More than half the people going through the system reoffend—75 per cent of young people reoffend—which makes us think that it is worth taking a serious look at what has been termed a rehabilitation revolution. In looking at offending and reoffending, it does not take rocket science to work out that issues come up time and time again. When I went to a secure training centre at Medway, one of the guys who showed me around said that one of the tragedies is that most of these boys have had only passing contact with education throughout their lives. We all know the evidence of illiteracy, innumeracy, homelessness, drug addiction, alcohol dependency, long-term unemployment and social disruption at home. They are all there and we are looking to see whether we can make dents into that.

I know that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is sometimes unorthodox in his replies, but I look around at some of those who have experience of trying to run the system and anyone who bets the House on the success of any strategy is reckless indeed. We are bringing forward for public debate and public consultation an invitation for people to look at the central issue of reoffending, which goes right through the system, and to address it in a way that maintains and increases public confidence. I entirely accept that the crime rate fell during the Labour Government. We have not denied—and it is made out in the paper—that prison works in certain circumstances, but the reoffending rate also suggests that in other circumstances it does not. We are not trying to deny the experience of the past 15 years, but we are trying to learn from some of the downsides as well as the upsides.

Equally, I pay tribute to the work of two landmark reports produced during the previous Administration by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradley. Certainly the advice in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, will be very much reflected in the Statement on drugs and drug treatment that I expect to be made imminently, as will the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on the treatment of women offenders. Throughout the Green Paper, I think you will find a genuine attempt to reflect some of the recommendations that she made, along with a central commitment to continue to try to drive down the still unacceptably high number of women in our prison system.

The noble Lord asked whether I would publish assumptions. Our initial assumptions have been published in the impact assessment accompanying the Green Paper. As the policy proposals are firmed up following consultation, we will update and publish those impact assessments. He also asked for assurances that offenders with particular mental health problems will be treated in secure settings. Our proposals offer liaison and diversion schemes that will assess offenders for mental illness as well as their risk to the public. We will make sure that any treatment is in suitably secure settings. One of the good things that we are carrying through in trying to deal with the report by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, is close liaison with the Department of Health in taking forward that policy. There will be no mass releases of the 6,000-plus people now held on IPPs. Any decisions about release will be taken on a close assessment of the existing danger to the community and very close management of those released.

The noble Lord also mentioned the Probation Service. Some of what we are doing will be a challenge to it, but I hope that the flexibility will also give it an opportunity to exercise its own judgment and to participate in the wider scheme. It is certainly true that my right honourable friend puts a great deal of emphasis on payments by results, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, indicated. That was piloted in Peterborough, and we are now going to pilot it further. I do not think we should rubbish it in advance. It could be a very interesting way of making sure that rehabilitation is expanded in the way in which the Government hope. There is an opportunity for the Probation Service to improve its performance and to participate in a wider—and, we hope, very interesting— approach to rehabilitation, with an opportunity to work on a genuine multi-agency basis to address these problems.

My Lords, from these Benches, I welcome wholeheartedly the change in emphasis from warehousing prisoners to rehabilitation. I am grateful to my noble friend for putting forward these proposals in the way that he has. I am disappointed that the indeterminate sentence is not to be abolished completely, but I am encouraged by seeing that it is to be restricted. It has been used far too greatly without the proper resources behind it to enable the 6,000 people currently held on these sentences to earn their release.

There is one matter that I shall raise with the Minister to have his response. Has he considered veterans’ courts? They have been set up in the United States for a period of two years to deal with the specific problems of those who have served their country but have found themselves in prison because of the experiences that they have undergone. Proportionately fewer veterans go to prison, but of those a greater proportion are in prison for sex and violence offences. Their needs must be addressed in a special way, as they have been in the United States. Perhaps I may commend to my noble friend the report of the Howard League, Leave No Veteran Behind, which was published last month, to make sure that those who have served their country are properly attended to by the system.

My Lords, I take on board what my noble friend said about IPP. It is true that there has been an increasing focus and an increasing public concern about the number of our veterans who seem to end up in our criminal justice system. I have not looked at the American example to which he referred, but that is exactly the kind of constructive suggestion that we hope this Green Paper will bring forward. My department is in contact with the Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion about these issues. I hope that we can take forward measures to help veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law or in prison. The Royal British Legion already has a system of visiting, advising and counselling for veterans who find themselves in this situation. We have got to give this priority and I assure my noble friend that we will.

My Lords, I declare two interests; first, my interest as registered in security matters; and, secondly, as Home Secretary, having introduced a number of measures to try to bring diversity to probation services and the treatment of prisoners, where the opposite Benches voted against my proposals. So I welcome elements of what has been suggested today.

Perhaps I may also suggest to the Minister that the premise on which the new direction is based is flawed in two essential areas. The first is the assumption that the increase in prison numbers, which has doubled, and the reduction in crime, which has almost halved, is merely a chronological coincidence. It is not. It is a causal relationship between the two. Secondly, prison is not just about punishment, rehabilitation or reform. It is also about the protection of society.

Let me make a prediction, without judging how these consultations will end. If they end on the premise on which they started—perhaps thousands fewer police on the streets; 10,000 more felons not sent to prison; potential softer sentencing on community sentences, which will be optional; and the dropping of more serious sentences for knife crime—tragically, I believe that we will see a proportionate increase in crime over the next few years. I predict that will be the case rather than what I am sure the Government and everyone in the House are seeking, which is a continued reduction in crime, following on from the past 15 years.

I acknowledge the experience of the noble Lord in these areas, but his little catalogue at the end was just the kind of fear and alarm about these issues that we have heard. We have to ask whether if what he said is so, perhaps we should double the prison numbers again. I think that I have mentioned previously in the House that I once went to a talk given by Ronald Reagan’s former prison adviser, which I think was at about the same time as the noble Lord was Home Secretary. He estimated that the proper size of Britain’s prison population should be about 170,000, because that would, as the noble Lord suggests, get all the offenders out of harm’s way. But it does not seem to remove public concern about crime. It does not seem to address this issue of re-offending. We are not going to deal lightly with knife crime, as the Statement makes clear, but neither are we going to put every juvenile who is found to be carrying a knife into prison. That would be absurd. There are other things in his litany that would go.

To listen to some, one would think that next Friday, Ken Clarke is going to throw open the gates of the prison and usher out the first 3,000 who want to leave. If anyone reads the Green Paper, they will see a measured response that does not ignore the fact that there will be other things that will come into play quite often. As the noble Lord and others with experience know, addressing this is often like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube; when you get one bit of it right, you look round the other side to see that that has gone wrong. Within the paper there are some innovative, and, I hope, optimistic views of the way we can approach this situation which may make some of the noble Lord’s pessimistic predictions wrong. As always, we will have to wait and see.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on a reappraisal of what might be termed the classic Conservative attitude towards penal policy over the past decades. I exculpate completely, of course, the noble Lord and his party in respect of that, but that is another matter.

On the question of indeterminate public protection sentences, does the noble Lord recollect that when the 2003 Act was passed, it was estimated by Ministers that the prison population would increase by 900 in respect of that piece of legislation? By this year it had increased, as the noble Lord has already said, by 6,000. The most tragic aspect of that is that 2,500 of those are persons who have already served more than the recommended period of imprisonment that was mentioned by the sentencing judge. That is a denial of justice. It is a totally impossible and unacceptable situation. What are the Government going to do about that? Are they going to increase the size of the Parole Board, which is the sieve through which these cases must pass? Are they going to relax the rules? Or are they going to act in some other way? Those, I respectfully suggest, are indeed fundamental questions that the Government have to answer at this stage if this issue is to have any credibility. As I say, I congratulate the Government on doing the right thing, but for all the wrong reasons.

I am sorry there was that sting in the tail from the noble Lord. I have to remind him that what he termed a classic Conservative approach to penal policy over the past 20 years was being carried out for at least 13 of them by the party opposite. I notice the noble Lord, Lord Reid, nodding vigorously. Yes, it is a change of approach; it is an attempt to see if some new measures, new thinking, and new ideas can come.

On the noble Lord’s point about IPP, he has put his finger on exactly why we want to consider the measures. As he said, when it was introduced it was going to apply to a very limited number of prisoners. His figures are quite right because we now have more than 6,000 prisoners on IPP sentences, 40 per cent of whom are now well beyond their tariffs. We are in consultation with the Parole Board and others about how to deal with this. But we are where we are, and what we obviously cannot do is simply release people who may still be a threat to the public. This has to be handled carefully—with full consultation but with a determination that we do not find ourselves with 10,000 people in this situation in five years’ time. We are going to address the problem we have inherited and change the guidance for future sentencing.

I thank the Minister for the Statement and his helpful answers to the questions put to him so far. We on these Benches broadly welcome the Statement and the proposals set out in the Green Paper. The Christian churches are bound by our belief in the possibility of redemption, so we welcome a renewed commitment to rehabilitation, which is one of the marks of a decent society. I want to salute the work of chaplains and their colleagues, most particularly initiatives such as Alpha for Prisons and so on. I acknowledge too all the volunteers who work in prisons. We see genuine conversions and changes of life in what are sometimes the most unpropitious of circumstances. However, prisons that are overcrowded and filled with people who ought to be elsewhere to be treated for mental health and addiction problems are limited in what they can achieve. It is to be hoped that the diversion of offenders with severe mental illness into suitable treatment will be pursued vigorously, as was recommended in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, which has already been mentioned.

I also welcome the use of community sentences where appropriate, and the recognition that such sentences must carry the confidence of the judiciary and the police. There is obviously a need both for well designed programmes and for publicity aimed at local communities about what they involve. I applaud the commitment to promote co-ordinated support for the resettlement of offenders in society, which leads to my main question at this point. If this is to succeed, it will require adequate funding arrangements and appropriate performance indicators. It is a standing joke in my part of the world that one of the growth industries in Staffordshire is that of providing new accommodation for young offenders. Nevertheless, we have in my own diocese the wonderful North Staffordshire Community Chaplaincy, which provides housing and other services for ex-offenders. It has an excellent record. I am told that the reoffending rate is only 10 to 12 per cent, even though the most vulnerable and likely to reoffend prisoners are chosen. I hope that the Minister will be willing to look again at the funding for these schemes because we have been told that there is no money for this kind of investment.

I pay tribute to the chaplaincy service of all faiths in our prisons as well as to those who take on volunteering and mentoring work. It is often the faith-based organisations that help so much in our prisons.

On the challenge of resettlement, resources are in short supply. The payment by results initiative may be one way of providing them. I reaffirm what the right reverend Prelate said. In the six months that I have been in this job, I have been impressed by the fact that where there are interventions the reoffending rate falls. So there is an immediate come-back and pay-back if we can get such schemes working.

My Lords, I apologise to the right reverend Prelate and to the House for being a little previous. Does not equipping prisoners to live a useful life when they are released remain the overriding objective at the head and forefront of the prison rules? If it be the case that today nearly 50 per cent of people who are in prison reoffend within one year of their being released, is it not disappointing to hear asserted—as it was by the noble Lord, Lord Bach—that this review is only about saving money?

Once we move from the parliamentary knockabout stage to a proper examination of this issue, we will try to identify schemes that have the real impact to which my noble and learned friend has just referred. As I said at the beginning, illiteracy, homelessness and lack of a job are common factors. Another common factor, which fills me with shame, is that 24 per cent, I think, of offenders have been in our care at some stage or another. If we can address that basic lack of skills, we can also tackle the reoffending rate.

The Minister has not so far mentioned youth justice so perhaps I may ask him some questions about that issue. I welcome much in the Statement about rehabilitation and reoffending, but is he aware that many of the issues of concern expressed in the Green Paper—such as young people’s first entry into the criminal justice system, restorative justice, reducing custody, improving the rates of reoffending when they have been sentenced and giving the courts more options on sentences—have been pioneered by the Youth Justice Board and the changes in the Crime and Disorder Act? Can the Minister explain why the Government want to abolish a body that has done the very kind of things that are in the Green Paper?

My Lords, I pay genuine tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, as the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, and, as I have done before at the Dispatch Box, I put on record my admiration for its work. The decision to bring it in-house within the MoJ and to include it in the list of arm’s-length bodies to be abolished is a matter that is still before the House, but we of course hope that it will accept our recommendation. The general feeling is that the YJB had been a successful operation over the past 10 years. There were some criticisms of it here and there but, on the whole, it had been a success. However, that success now allows us to move to a stage where youth justice is much more a local and community responsibility undertaken by the successful operation of youth offending teams. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Warner, does not see the decision to abolish the YJB as a condemnation of it; it was a stage in the progression to what we hope will be a successful youth justice operation.

House adjourned at 7.10 pm.