My Lords, the purpose of this Bill can be summed up very simply: to improve the support we give to offenders in order to break the cycle of reoffending. There are many noble Lords speaking today who have championed reforms on this topic with successive Governments. Faced with such experience and expertise, it may seem unnecessary to dwell on why we need an Offender Rehabilitation Bill, but let me remind the House of the problems that have inspired this Bill, and of what has driven those who have campaigned long and hard for those reforms.
Last year, around 600,000 crimes were committed by people who had broken the law previously. Almost half the offenders released from our prisons offend again within a year. That goes up to a staggering 58% for those sentenced to prison terms of less than 12 months. And yet there is no statutory requirement for most of this group to receive supervision and support after release. As a result, many of them leave the prison gates with little more than the £46 in their pockets.
Such offenders have a host of complex problems: a shocking number of them will have been through the care system, and many have come from broken homes and are addicted to drugs and alcohol. As noble Lords will know, a greater proportion of women than men in custody are serving sentences of twelve months or less—21% compared with 10% of men in 2011—and many of those women will themselves have been victims of domestic violence.
The Bill aims to transform the support available for offenders given short prison sentences by introducing a 12-month period of rehabilitation in the community after release. The first part of this period will involve release under licence, in the same way as with longer-sentenced prisoners now. Indeed, the first clause of the Bill extends release on licence to all offenders given custodial sentences apart from those of a single day. However, for many offenders, this will not give long for those providing services to intervene. That is why Clause 2 creates an additional supervision period, solely for the purpose of rehabilitation, which will “top up” the licence so that every offender released from a sentence of less than two years has at least 12 months of supervision after release.
The conditions of this supervision period, which are set out in Schedule 1, reflect its explicit purpose of rehabilitation. They can include visits from the offender’s supervisor, drug testing and appointments in relevant cases, and participation in activities that the supervisor thinks will support rehabilitation. Activities may cover a wide range of different interventions. For example, they could include restorative justice where appropriate and where both victim and offender consent. I remind noble Lords of the Government’s strong commitment to increasing the use of restorative justice. In particular, I take pride in the fact that the Crime and Courts Act 2013 now puts pre-sentence restorative justice on a statutory footing for the first time.
We might also expect to see providers make greater use of mentoring. Excellent work is already going on, for example, in prisons. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister in a speech this morning drew attention to the work being done in Peterborough prison, where older, longer-serving prisoners are actively mentoring those serving shorter sentences. Given their experience, those who have been through the criminal justice system themselves can sometimes be most effective in convincing others that they really can and should turn their lives around.
Supervision after licence will allow maximum discretion for the professionals who work with offenders to tailor their interventions to the needs of each individual. However, it also balances that with a period long enough to tackle the complex issues that prisoners released from short sentences often face.
The Bill also creates a new role for the magistracy in overseeing the effectiveness of supervision after release. While the supervision period will apply automatically to all short-sentenced prisoners after release, magistrates and district judges will be able to hear cases in which an offender is alleged to have breached a requirement of supervision. Clause 3 will give them a range of options for dealing with a breach, including a fine, unpaid work, a curfew or, ultimately, committal back to custody for up to 14 days. This will give magistrates a much greater oversight of the delivery of sentences for this group of offenders. We intend to engage with the Judicial College and the Sentencing Council on the support and guidelines that this new role might require. I look forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on these matters, given his experience as a magistrate.
I now turn to the wider Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. Noble Lords will know that, on 9 May, the Government published their strategy for reforming the services delivered to offenders in the community. We will create a new public sector National Probation Service, working to protect the public and building upon the expertise and professionalism which are already in place. The National Probation Service will report to the Secretary of State as part of the National Offender Management Service. This will give the probation service a stronger role within NOMS and the Ministry of Justice. The National Probation Service will play a fundamental role in protecting the public from the most dangerous offenders in our communities. Probation professionals in the National Probation Service will continue to work to protect the public from those who pose the greatest risk of harm and have committed the most serious offences.
Alongside this, we will open delivery of services for offenders in the community to a diverse range of new rehabilitation providers, as envisaged in the Offender Management Act 2007. We expect to see a wide variety of voluntary and private sector providers, from local community groups to regional and national organisations. In particular, we want to see a system which values and utilises the local expert knowledge of the voluntary and community sector. These providers will work alongside the National Probation Service and will manage the vast majority of offenders. We expect that most staff currently performing probation roles will transfer to the new providers. We will put in place a new system where the skills and expertise of probation professionals, coupled with the innovation and versatility of voluntary and private sector providers, support the rehabilitation of all offenders.
Opening up these services will allow us to make savings which we will invest in rehabilitation. It will also allow us to make better use of the money we already spend on managing offenders. We will create incentives for providers to focus relentlessly on reforming offenders, giving those delivering services flexibility to do what works and freedom from bureaucracy, but only paying them in full for real reductions in reoffending. Our payment structure will ensure that providers have to work with all offenders, including the most prolific and hardest to reach.
Finally, we will also put in place an unprecedented nationwide through-the-prison-gate resettlement service. This will mean that one provider will give most offenders continuous support from custody to the community. We will support this by ensuring that most offenders are held in a prison designated to the area to which they will be released for at least three months before release takes place. I hope that noble Lords will be as enthusiastic about this last reform as we are. It has long been recognised that closeness to home is an important factor in an offender’s resettlement process—and something on which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has long campaigned. Our reforms will draw on the best that organisations across all sectors have to offer, allowing access to offenders at the start of their time in custody through to release and beyond.
Linked to these wider reforms, parts of this Bill will support individuals working with offenders—whether they are staff of the National Probation Service, voluntary and community sector workers and volunteers, or those working for new rehabilitation providers—to use their experience of working with offenders to provide innovative services. Just as the new supervision period provides the maximum discretion, so we have tried to match that for non-custodial sentences. For community orders and suspended sentences, Clause 13 will create a new rehabilitation activity requirement. This combines the existing supervision and activity requirements and gives those supervising an offender more discretion to tailor activities to their needs during the course of the order. Clauses 14 and 15 make similar reforms to the programme and attendance centre requirements. These reforms build on the efforts we have already made to strengthen community orders, so that sentencers and the public can be confident that they are a robust sentence which combines punishment with effective rehabilitation.
I am sure that today we will hear genuine concerns about the pace and direction of our reforms, but I remind the House that a number of noble Lords across all Benches have campaigned for many years for greater support to be given those sentenced to less than a year in custody. They have argued for better through-the-gate services and for more effective and better respected community sentences. These are ambitions which this Government share and this Bill gives a real opportunity for them to become a reality. The hard fact is that without our wider reforms we would not be able to afford to extend rehabilitative support to offenders released from short sentences, but neither could we afford the status quo, with offenders passing through the system again and again, with more victims hurt and more communities damaged. It is the need to tackle that cycle of reoffending, particularly for offenders released from the shortest prison sentences, which drives these reforms and is the central purpose of this Bill. If we can cut deep into the 58% reoffending rate for those sentenced to less than 12 months, it will change lives—not just for victims but for offenders, whom it may well help to move away from a life of crime.
I know that the objectives underpinning this Bill are supported by the whole House. The provisions themselves will be subject to close and careful scrutiny today and through every stage of the Bill’s passage through this House. But I believe it is a piece of genuinely radical reform deserving of your Lordships’ support, and I commend this Bill to this House. I beg to move.
My Lords, the whole House will join me in thanking the Minister for his very clear exposition of the Bill and the proposals relating to it, which do not appear in legislative form, and in welcoming efforts to reduce reoffending and its cost to the public purse and the life chances of the offenders themselves, and above all the damage to society at large and to the victims of crime in particular. That said, changes should be evidence-based, practical and cost-effective. A rehabilitation revolution is unlikely to be achieved on the cheap or by an ideological obsession with the market.
Members will wish to probe the details of the scheme for offenders on short sentences as well as those serving longer terms of imprisonment, to consider the implications of a binary system in which what are described as low to medium-risk offenders are dealt with by one set of providers and high-risk offenders by another, and to discuss the future of our successful probation system, which is effectively to be nationalised and then privatised under the proposals in the Government’s consultation document and their response to that consultation. Your Lordships will wish to examine the case for payment by results and the degree to which all relevant agencies, including local government, health services and the Department for Work and Pensions—to name but three—and the third sector can come together and be involved in the planning and delivery of services tailored to the needs of the individual offender and of the society to which we all want to see them return and in which they can play a useful part.
I begin with the proposals for offenders serving short-term sentences. The lack of supervision and support for this group has clearly been a major contributor to the high rates of reoffending. Welcome though a change in this position is, it is as well to recall that a thought-through policy would address the issues that lead many of these offenders into trouble in the first place. We are familiar with the early symptoms of a significant proportion of those who commit crime: low literacy and numeracy skills, truancy, early parenthood, mental health issues and, yes, poverty. However, in addition to addressing those matters, which involve policies across a range of government and local authority responsibilities and departments, we need to look at the justice system itself. As both Nacro and DrugScope point out in their responses to the consultation, greater use of community sentences would avoid custodial sentences, especially short ones, in the first place while still allowing the effective support envisaged under the Bill.
Experience of community sentences, however, demonstrates a potential problem with the Bill’s proposals to provide a sanction of two weeks’ imprisonment for non-compliance with the sanction order. There is a widespread view that in the existing regime there is an overreliance on this expensive and ineffective approach. The Criminal Justice Alliance suggests that recall to custody should be a last resort but sentence review powers should be available to all magistrates’ courts.
The Bill envisages supervision of all short-sentence offenders. Is this really necessary? To pick an example at random, should it apply to someone convicted of a road traffic offence, possibly combined with perverting the course of justice? There is surely a case for concentrating resources on those offences and offenders to which they are most likely to be relevant; otherwise, in a payment by results system, the low-hanging fruit will be too readily plucked by the providers, to the cost of the taxpayer.
In relation to the split between who supervises low and medium-risk offenders as against high-risk offenders, there are real concerns. These matters, along with payment by results and the radical changes to probation, are not part of the Bill. Therefore, in addition to a binary system of dealing with offenders, we have a binary legislative and policy process. This is an unsatisfactory, piecemeal approach, made worse by a flimsy—and belated—impact analysis.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations points out that a quarter of offenders change risk category during their sentence, and calls for,
“a clear and consistent process for changing levels of risk”.
Where there is a change of risk, and therefore of responsibility, it calls for a system of managing the transition, including,
“a clear process for the attribution of payments”.
What proposals do the Government have in relation to these matters? Would change to a higher-risk category constitute a reason for withholding payment in whole or in part, or would that happen only in the event of reoffending?
The House may wish to consider amendments to the Bill designed to address some aspects at least of the radical changes to the probation service which form part of the Government’s agenda but are not, as yet, encompassed by the proposed legislation. The need to do so is highlighted by this issue of risk. The category of medium risk would appear to include sex offenders and some of those guilty of violent crime. There must be a concern that such offenders will or may be dealt with, not by the established probation service on release, but by providers in the new and untested payment by results scheme. Given the recent revelations about the soaring number of cautions for what seem to be potentially serious offences, there is likely to be legitimate public anxiety about the issue, especially as offenders can and do move up the risk scale.
The whole question of payment by results raises huge doubts. The Lord Chancellor has form on this; he is a high-risk offender as the progenitor of the staggeringly unsuccessful Work Programme. Why did he cancel the two schemes in Staffordshire and the West Midlands and Wales, and why has the Ministry of Justice refused an FOI request to release details of the evaluation of those pilot schemes? I repeat these questions, which I voiced in the Queen’s Speech debate and to which I have received no reply. Such a radical change should, at the very least, be properly piloted and evaluated before being rolled out. The notion of G4S, Serco and the like extending their growing takeover of the public services is not one with much public appeal, even if occasionally dressed up with a modicum of bid candy in the form of modest third sector involvement. Why will public providers be excluded from working with the low and medium-risk offenders? What will constitute a failed result—any offence, or one of similar or more serious character? If the latter, how is gravity to be measured and for how long is the period of non-offending to be measured before payment is made? What discussions have Ministers held with potential bidders about how the scheme might work? What proportion of the payment will be related to success, however defined, and when will it be paid?
There are also problems with the centralising thrust of the Government’s approach. Local justice is already being undermined by the continuing process of amalgamating magistrates’ benches and court closures, coupled with increasing reliance on full-time district judges. Probation trusts, arguably too large already, will disappear as commissioning will be carried out nationally. How will this help to promote the necessary joint working so obviously required between the justice system in its various manifestations and other relevant agencies? We know that housing and employment are the key drivers in preventing reoffending. Health issues, particularly in relation to substance abuse and mental health problems, of course also loom large. There is a clear need for local authorities, as deliverers of key services and support, to be engaged alongside clinical commissioning groups, the NHS Commissioning Board, police commissioners and the DWP at local level, together with the courts. That will be extremely difficult given the proposal to establish only 21 areas for the contract packages. Moreover, with contract areas as large as this, the opportunity to involve third sector organisations, to which the Minister referred, which so often bring innovative approaches to difficult areas of social policy such as those we are discussing, is likely to be much more difficult. All the promises of involving such bodies in the Work Programme disappeared as rapidly as the Prime Minister’s resolution on the question of a European referendum. What concrete measures will the Government take to ensure that the role of the third sector, particularly small, local organisations, will be secured in the commissioning process? Do the Government recognise the risk that, as the NCVO puts it,
“using a PbR model alone threatens to significantly reduce the potential range of providers”.
That is its split infinitive, please note, Mr Gove, not mine.
Will the Government ensure there are no gagging clauses in the employment contracts offered by providers? For that matter, will the Lord Chancellor lift the gagging order he made on probation officers and court staff in relation to the probation proposals and the interpreters fiasco respectively? Will the Government, as Nacro urges, make quality, and not price, the key criterion when commissioning services, and for how long will contracts run? Who will evaluate performance, and will such evaluations be made public?
There is clearly a host of doubts and questions, not about the Government’s objectives in reducing reoffending, nor about many of the proposals—for example, in relation to drug-testing and the like—but in addition to the matters that I have raised and others will air, including my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, whom I welcome to his first, and by no means, I hope, last, appearance on the Front Bench.
I wish to suggest a new way of dealing with the problems of one particular group of offenders, namely ex-service personnel. I recently attended a presentation about veterans’ courts, now established in every US state. They do not replace the ordinary courts, but in cases not involving serious or violent crime, for which probation would not be an option, and after conviction or a guilty plea in the ordinary court, veterans are offered referral to a veterans’ court, presided over by a judge—it might the same judge as in the court of first hearing—where with a veteran mentor they enter a period of supervision and help to overcome the problems that they both face and perhaps pose. They return to the court monthly and if they fail to co-operate, or reoffend, they are returned to the court of first instance. There is a remarkably high rate of success in reducing reoffending and it is cost-effective—so much so that in Buffalo, New York, I understand, out of 300 cases the success rate in avoiding reoffending was 100%. Given the particular problems of a group of men and women who have served their country, often in dangerous and difficult conditions, and the relatively high incidence of mental health problems and offending with which they become involved after their service, it would be a fitting complement to the military covenant to pilot such an approach.
As the north-east is proportionately the biggest contributor of recruits, and as work is already under way in the region around the mental health problems of veterans, I suggest that a scheme of this nature be piloted there and, if successful, rolled out more widely. If, in a slightly different form, we can have special traffic courts, domestic violence courts and the community court in Liverpool, we should at least see whether what the US has adopted so successfully could work here. That would make in my view a potentially useful addition to carrying out the intentions that the Government have expressed and from which there would be no dissent in this House.
However, we are in a peculiar position of having a Bill before us that does not deal with many of the significant problems to which I have referred and other noble Lords may wish to address their remarks, with a wholly inadequate series of impact assessments and a great paucity of detail about how matters will work in practice. I am afraid that this is fairly consistent with the way in which Parliament and this House in particular have been treated over various legislative matters. Perhaps it is not too much to suggest that, when it comes to policy-making, the Government are in need of a rehabilitation revolution.
My Lords, in welcoming this Bill, I know the House is all too conscious of the degree to which the history of our penal policy during the past few decades has been one of failure. The failure has been a failure of our criminal justice system and our penal system to turn an acceptable proportion of convicted offenders away from lives of crime.
When offenders are apprehended and convicted, that process, and the contact with the system that it entails, should afford society an opportunity not only to punish but to work out what has gone wrong with offenders’ lives and provide help and support to try to put things right. Every offender for whom the prison gate has unnecessarily become a revolving door has blighted his own life, damaged his victims’ lives, often irreparably, and at least disrupted, but often wrecked, the lives of his family. Society has been infected with the harmful effects of crime and the fear of crime, and we have all borne the extra financial costs: victims, the criminal justice system, social services, the penal system, insurers and those who pay the premiums.
As the Minister pointed out, reoffending rates are appallingly high, disproportionately so for those released from sentences of less than 12 months, for whom the figure is more than 58%: not far short of half overall. The very fact that never before have we provided support for prisoners released from these shorter sentences is a disgrace. It is very important that this is now being addressed by Clause 2 of this Bill.
The commitment to through-the-gate services for prisoners on release is very welcome generally. However, it is crucial that, as is proposed, the link with those who will provide support services for an offender on his release is firmly established well before release. The goal must be a planned release. There should be arrangements in place, so far as can be achieved, for a released prisoner to have a place to go to, an occupation, whether in employment, education or continued training, and people to return to. With respect to employment, it is heartening to note that a number of companies, including Network Rail and National Grid, are training prisoners within prisons and employing them on release.
Those providing services preparatory to release should, so far as possible, be the ones providing the support following release. The mentoring system in Peterborough, mentioned by my noble friend, has been a success and should be rolled out. It is important that those mentors should be able to see prisoners before release as well as after.
To enable all this to happen, it is vital that the Government implement their intention, mentioned by my noble friend, to ensure that at least the last few months of every prisoner’s sentence are served geographically close to the community to which the prisoner will return on release.
I particularly welcome the increased focus on drug treatment provided for by Clauses 10 and 11. The new arrangements will enable supervisors to help offenders to tackle drug dependency. Drug appointments and drug-testing requirements will enable the more effective monitoring of drug use in the community, but it goes without saying that the rehabilitation of drug-dependent prisoners would be massively improved by a successful drive to stamp out the scourge of drug use in our prisons.
The Government propose a far-reaching reorganisation of the probation services, to be implemented under the umbrella of the National Probation Service. This reorganisation has the worthwhile aims of increasing the diversity and range of providers, of involving the many organisations within the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors in contracted services, which are already doing significant and ground-breaking work in this area, and of giving service providers greater autonomy. However, it is important that we bring the probation service with us in this reorganisation, and it is imperative that the expertise and the good will of our probation officers are retained within the newly reorganised services. It is important that we do not underestimate the difficulties that we face in achieving these aims in the context of larger probation trusts and difficult new arrangements for contracting.
The new proposed structures will inevitably be much more diffuse than the probation service hitherto with which we and the probation services are familiar. My noble friend the Minister has been considering whether and how the professionalism and expertise of probation officers might be marked and recognised within the context of the new arrangements. I believe that we should consider how we might achieve this. Something like a new chartered institute of probation officers might serve the purpose well, enabling professional qualifications to be fully recognised and enabling the profession to remain united and subject to a respected code, with employers having the benefit of a guarantee of professionalism and quality that would mark out members of such an institution.
The proposed arrangements for payment by results have been controversial, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, pointed out. If they work and prove practical to implement on a national scale, they might at best provide incentives and rewards for success by cutting reoffending and enabling more informed choices to be made between services that are proved to be effective and those that are not. However, there is always a risk that such arrangements might be seen only as a way of saving resources at a time when that is, rightly, a national imperative, even where the use of extra resources might be justified.
The cost to the United Kingdom economy of reoffending is estimated by the National Audit Office at between £9.5 billion and £13 billion. In a speech this morning, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister put the figure at £10 billion. These are staggering figures. While that expenditure cannot be eliminated, of course, I believe that a more enlightened and determined approach to rehabilitation can take people out of lives of crime and help them to lead useful and productive lives in their place.
That is the background to the general point that I made in the debate on the gracious Speech: that the changes to be brought about by the Bill and the Government’s proposals must be properly resourced and that the potential savings are so substantial as to justify, where necessary, a departure from the traditional approach of Treasury accounting to spending proposals, where the outcomes are savings that are of their nature, and almost by definition, unquantifiable. If they are properly resourced and if there is good will and determination on all sides—within the service, within government and, I might say, in co-operation with local authorities as well—I believe that the changes in the Bill, in the context of the programme of rehabilitation involved in the greater use of community sentences on which we have embarked, might now start turn to turn around the failure of the past few decades.
My Lords, we should all be grateful for two aspects of the Bill before us: first, that it has come directly to your Lordships’ House, with the experience and strong expertise of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in charge of it—albeit with many material government facts and figures by which to judge it still remaining to be disclosed—and, secondly, that in the Secretary of State for Justice’s strategy for reform he has accepted that short sentences serve little, if any, useful purpose, and cost the taxpayer huge sums. As he said on 9 May, and we have heard again from the noble Lord, almost half of all offenders released from our prisons offend again with a year, and the 58% of those with the most prolific reoffending rates are those sentenced to prison for less than 12 months.
So, all have accepted that change is essential and that to continue with the status quo is not the right way to go, as what existed before was valueless for both taxpayers and victims of crime alike. The Criminal Justice Alliance, among others, welcomes this focus on short-term prisoners, who currently get no support on release yet have very high reoffending rates. The concept of resettlement, which was mentioned, is an attractive idea, with appointed mentors to help offenders to get back constructively into their community and find employment or training and, at least as important, somewhere to live. If it is begun a few months before the offender is released, it is even more likely to succeed.
Although, as has been said, many questions remain to be answered, the Government’s plans for dealing with low-level crime make sense, especially the one calling for rehabilitation to be provided to all 50,000 of the most prolific reoffenders—those who are sentenced to less than 12 months in prison. However, the biggest question mark remains over just how this is to be financed.
Importantly, too, the Secretary of State has also acknowledged, as has the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that although serious offenders must be imprisoned, many come from chaotic backgrounds, have complex problems and addictions and have lived much of their life within the care system, and more must be done to help them get their lives back on track—not, as now, just releasing them from prison on to the streets with that famous £46 in their pockets. I hope that the Minister will share more of his plans, including the likely financial cost for this group of offenders, when he responds to the debate. Will the Government consider commissioning research to see how many generations back similar offending patterns have existed in the families of this group of offenders?
There are obviously many essential questions about the Bill that I hope will be answered by the Minister in his reply or during later stages. However, for me and many others, the most important question of all is the glaring omission of any specific policies for dealing with women offenders. That is despite the Government’s acknowledgement in their Transforming Rehabilitation strategy of the widespread support among those consulted that services specifically tailored to women offenders’ needs should be delivered by those chosen as the commissioned providers. The highly worrying assertion that opening up the probation service to market forces will strengthen services for women released from prison, as the Prison Reform Trust says, lacks an explanation of how this will be achieved via an untested payment by results scheme. It will probably mean, as the Magistrates’ Association also points out, that only large corporations can take the financial risk involved, not the small voluntary organisations which have experience in this area of work already. As I said in my comments on the humble Address, this continues the destruction of the probation service which the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, began under the previous Government with his suggested probation reforms, and continues to ignore the damage this approach would be doing to our highly trained, really invaluable probation service and the vital service it provides for the community, the courts and individual offenders.
While on the subject of women offenders and their special needs, do we have any accurate figures of how many members of a woman’s immediate family are affected if she is given a prison sentence? We all know that the vast majority of those looking after these children are women—mothers rather than fathers—and that therefore a highly likely result of a prison sentence for a female offender is for her children to be taken into care, resulting in considerable extra public cost as well as inevitable long-term emotional damage for the children concerned. How much better to ensure, as the Prison Reform Trust points out, that the majority of low-level offences—and most offences committed by women are just that—are dealt with by cost-effective, robust community sentence penalties made available to courts in all areas of England and Wales.
Noble Lords will have heard some details of this again from the introduction of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Can the Minister tell us what action and incentives are planned to ensure that a range of community services is uniformly available across the country to help prevent at least the unnecessary break-up of families?
I have not yet mentioned the generally welcome news for women offenders—indeed, for us all—of the creation of a women’s ministerial advisory board, led by Justice Minister Helen Grant. Returning to the issue of offending patterns continuing over generations within the same family, can the Minister also consider commissioning research here to see if the breakup of families by a mother’s unnecessary imprisonment leads to a repeat pattern of offending over generations? I put this idea forward because such evidence would help to make the already strong money-saving case even stronger for a full implementation of Frank Field and Graham Allen’s early-intervention strategy.
Apart from today’s speeches, I shall look forward to the debates on the Bill during all its stages. With the considerable expertise in your Lordships’ House, it is certain to arrive in the other place in very much improved shape—if the Government listen.
My Lords, as we have heard, the Bill deals with two broad issues. First, there is the extension of the licence and supervision requirements placed on offenders in the community, which I warmly welcome. Secondly, there is the national commissioning of services to support those requirements, inevitably bringing in private companies—as they are now called, “lead providers”—in 21 large contract areas. I have considerable misgivings about aspects of that development. The Government claim that it is needed in order to finance the supervision arrangements but, in principle, those are two quite separate matters.
I declare an interest: for the past 15 years I have been president of Norcare, a Newcastle-based charity which provides housing and personal support to vulnerable ex-offenders, and to those recovering from drug addiction and substance misuse. Throughout its history, Norcare has developed considerable expertise and has worked closely and constructively with the probation services and the local authorities in the region. We have well established and experienced staff and systems in place, and are already delivering contracts with an element, anyway, of payment by results about them.
I welcome the fact that the Government’s response to the consultation process has taken account of some of the points and issues raised by churches, voluntary bodies and third-sector bodies. The key for the future, for me, will be the importance of preserving and developing those existing partnerships. However, I fear that there are real dangers and difficulties ahead. There is the danger of the fragmentation of services. There are the risks of perverse incentives to providers. There is the question of how best practice is to be shared and developed. There is the question of how good communication between all parts of the system can be established.
The speed of change to an untried national commissioning system is a major concern—not least the use of payment by results, which is a very inexact science indeed. Behind all that there is the greater danger of dissipating the accumulated wisdom and expertise of existing probation teams and services. I worry about the underlying assumption that public is bad and private is good, when there is no evidence of which I know to support it. Fundamentally, if this is a step towards the dismantling of the probation service, that is a tragic mistake which will leave a hole in the criminal justice system, which will one day need to be filled again.
I return to the extension of supervision, both for those released after short sentences and for those serving community-service sentences. I welcome of course the extension of rehabilitation support to those serving short sentences; it would be even better if it began before they are released from prison. To offer structured support to that large group which, as we have heard, is most likely to reoffend will be a major step forward.
However, when the Bill is considered in detail there are bound to be a number of detailed concerns. Some people imprisoned for very short periods may well be drawn into the toils of the criminal justice system, with the threat of breach proceedings hanging over them for a full year after release. The provision forbidding somebody to change residence without permission and the power to impose compulsory attendance at drug appointments are further examples of a creeping culture of control.
The probation service has served our country very well down the years. It has enshrined the key values of vocation, service, care and compassion, with the rehabilitation of the individual at the very heart of it. That can seem a far cry from the kind of contract culture being proposed, and I worry that the needs of the individual and the importance of the local will be lost. I worry when the language is that of the supply chain. Local schemes, working closely with individuals, must not find themselves disempowered or dismissed by the new world we are about to enter.
Of course there can be benefits if the efforts of the voluntary, statutory and these commercial bodies can be combined well to support those released after serving short sentences. However, how are we to avoid the bureaucratic nightmare of expensive contractual structures that could so easily crush local initiatives, deny local experience and dismiss existing expertise? I hope that the Minister can allay some of my fears and reassure me, at least, that service, support, care and compassion will remain at the very heart of any new arrangements.
My Lords, I will speak only briefly on the purpose of this Bill, as I spoke on these matters in response to the gracious Speech. Again, I declare my interest as a trustee of the charity Kainos Community.
When I looked in more detail at the outline of the release on licence and the supervision requirements for offenders serving less than two years, I could not help but think, “Why have we not done this before? It seems so obvious”. The Bill will increase public confidence in our sentencing regime because short, sharp shock sentences will no longer seem derisory and will no longer be easy, cheap headlines for newspapers. In fact, as is outlined in the very helpful Explanatory Notes to the Bill, a six-month sentence will comprise three months in custody, three months on licence and nine months of supervision. This is a total of 15 months during which, either by virtue of the original sentence or for the period of supervision, the offender will be under the purview of the courts. This is the best blend of getting tough on crime while also increasing the focus on the rehabilitation of the offender.
Although it is now many years since I did many breach of community orders in the Crown Court, it was very rare for the person to be sent back to prison. This led to many offenders not taking seriously the requirements of their community penalty. In fact, I always remember seeing the usher call a case, only to have to go and wake up the defendant, who was having 40 winks in the waiting area, such was the gravity he placed on the breach of his order. Although ultimately it is a matter for judicial discretion, I hope that the sentence of up to 14 days in prison is utilised. However, does the Bill mean that that short period of imprisonment for breach of a supervision order will trigger, in and of itself, a supervision order? I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that point.
I am also very pleased to see clarity in the Bill, rather than in a statutory instrument, about which functions connected with bringing court proceedings for review of a community order, a suspended sentence or the drug rehabilitation requirements are exercisable only by a public sector provider. With the expansion of the involvement of the private and voluntary sector providers, such clarity of functions is essential.
The most pertinent parts of the consultation, and now of the Bill, are competition in the delivery of rehabilitation services, ensuring that the new system is responsive to local needs and paying providers for their services according to results. The highly imaginative concept of payment by results is, as I understand it, already part of the provision of rehabilitation within the prison estate. I would be grateful to know from the Minister what the practical experience is of calculating the results that have been achieved. What will be the position, once the Act is in force, if someone under a supervision requirement provided by one charity goes back into prison and on to a project, such as St Giles in Peterborough, then goes back under a supervision order provided by a different charity and is then reformed? How is it determined whose result this is—or is it a score draw, with everyone getting paid by the state for the outcome?
Furthermore, how will the new structure of the probation system ensure that it is responsive to local needs? The Ministry of Justice, along with the Department for Work and Pensions, issues huge contracts. Will Serco, Atos and G4S be the providers, with SMEs and local charities unable to get involved? How these principles will work in practice will depend on this, and some indication from the Minister would be most welcome.
Tucked away in paragraph 129 of the Explanatory Notes is a major key to the outcome of these initiatives. The paragraph suggests that it is anticipated that a large part of the funding for this additional service provision will be,
“dependent on the outcome of competing provision of probation services”,
which is not directly part of the Bill. It is essential for the success of the Bill that this “competing provision” delivers a service that is effective in qualitative terms. With the design of the new probation structure, it will be important that this is done with certainty from the outset, as I can say as a trustee of a voluntary organisation that the many reforms and changes to NOMS and ROMs were very destabilising. The new service needs to be robust in order to maximise the likelihood of the Bill having the intended highly beneficial effect.
Finally, we often speak of the low levels of literacy, mental health problems and drug issues of many prisoners, and of course that is true. However, when I have gone into Her Majesty’s Prison Stocken in Rutland to see Kainos work, I have always been struck by how talented a lot of prisoners are. Of course, there are some whom you would not wish to bump into in a dark alley. However, when I hear in conversation of their complicated family backgrounds and of how many people, usually men, came and went in their childhoods, I cannot keep track. It is like a family tree where part of it is stuck on temporarily with Velcro and then torn away. When playing dominoes on one occasion, a prisoner insisted that he was really good with numbers. My response was, “Yeah, yeah”, partly because I thought he was blagging and partly as I have to concentrate very hard on the dominoes because beating prisoners at pub games is very difficult. However, I had to eat my words when I discovered that he had got eight years for a first offence. It turned out that he was the banker for a multimillion pound drug racket. I then told him about the Prince’s Trust and starting his own business.
Although our role is to review and scrutinise legislation, I wonder whether practically your Lordships’ House could help with rehabilitation. In the Robing Room the largest painting is entitled “Hospitality”, which is something that the House does so well. Some noble Lords may be aware of a charity called The Clink, which runs restaurants in certain prisons where prisoners are trained to work in the hospitality industry. It is most successful, and it would be an excellent role model if the House employed a graduate from The Clink. Noble Lords may think that ex-offenders might fail our stringent security test. My contention is that while the House has ex-offenders on its Benches, ex-offenders should serve at its tables. I hope that the Bill succeeds and that short sentences will become part of reducing crime rather than having their current adverse effect of just equipping prisoners for further criminality.
I, too, welcome the intent of this Bill, but I am afraid that the devil may well be in the detail; that is what we will discover in the days and weeks to come. It would be rather disingenuous of me not to welcome much of the intent, because such things were being worked on in the previous Government. Indeed, I tremble to confess, particularly to my own Front Bench, that I was probably the first person to discuss payment by results with the Treasury. I was doing so in relation to children in care and the relationship between central and local government. We discussed how one would look at outcomes when the young person was, say, 22 or 23. If they were in work and in a stable home, should the local authority not be rewarded for that? On the other hand, if they were in the criminal justice system, should it not be paying some of the costs of that to the state? Even then, I was interested in a more innovative means of ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society were looked after, because I had to accept that very often in our society the value we place on a service depends on money. That was what I was concerned about, and the Treasury went on to do a lot more work in this area.
There are one or two things, however, that Ministers have either not been concerned about or not taken seriously enough. First, if you are going to enter into this area of activity, you have to have a very good database and evidence base. Much of what I wanted to do when I was Minister for Social Exclusion could not be done because our initial baseline data were insufficient, even on domestic violence. We therefore set in train a whole series of measures to collect better data so that we could then see how to measure movement, change and so on. I am concerned that the Secretary of State does not seem to believe in evidence bases. He says, “Anybody needs to go and look at Peterborough and see that the social investment bond there works” and so on. Actually, however, those of us who have been trying to develop models of social investment bonds in order to invest in payment-by-results programmes know that there are many things that you must right and must know about before you can enter. I suggest that that is why the real excitement created around Peterborough has not manifested itself in lots of other social investment bonds and lots of other work.
There are two things of which the Government need to take account, and I say this in my role as chair of the Cyrenians, which is based in Newcastle. I am beginning to think that there is a sort of a north-east conspiracy here; I hope that does not say anything about offending in the north-east, but rather about what good programmes there are in the region to tackle it. Indeed, the right reverend Prelate used to be on the board of the Cyrenians and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, also has a role as a mentor and supporter of my chief executive, so we all have a little insight into this.
We have been approached by both the Ministry of Justice and the DCLG to develop social investment bonds. We have a real problem in the areas for which they want us to do that simply because we do not have the numbers going through. That is particularly true for people sleeping rough because we do a very hard job making sure there are not dozens of people on the streets of the north-east sleeping rough. I do not want it to be otherwise, but that means we cannot then develop the model which gives us the levels of investment in order to do a PBR programme. However, that is also true of other programmes. One of the programmes that I think is extremely successful, and is absolutely relevant to the Bill, is what the women themselves call the WoW project—the Women Outside Walls project. That is an example of what the Ministry of Justice would call a Corston project established with support from the MoJ to keep women out of prison. Evaluation of the first two cohorts of women who took part in the project shows a 45% drop in reoffending rates. I think that we all welcome that figure and I know that the Ministry of Justice welcomes it. Small numbers were involved; the two cohorts amounted to some 53 people, but the project was absolutely the right thing to keep them out of prison. Some 90% of the women with whom we were working had experienced abuse, rape or domestic violence. Our support did not comprise merely seeing them once a week to sort out their needle exchange or address whatever was the practical immediate issue. We offered very important support of a different nature given the background of those women. More than 80% of them had a range of health needs, which included a high prevalence of mental health issues. Therefore, we had to access not only mainstream health provision for them but get them involved in group and other situations which addressed the issues that had led to their offending.
The Minister knows I am a bit concerned that Northumbria probation’s redesigned programme is a box-ticking exercise. We will not engage with it on that basis as we know that it will not have the same results as the work we have undertaken. We are looking to see whether we can supplement through other means what the probation service is able to offer given the cutbacks it has undergone. If we can do that and we can secure other funding, we will continue with the project. The Minister needs to understand that that is the reality on the ground.
It is a case of numbers and length of time. We have a very successful programme for getting people into work. We have got people back into work who had been written off. Delegations from the DWP have come to see how we have done that. The main lesson we try to instil is that you cannot do this in three months. That is why we have not been able to take part in the Work Programme and why we continually have to look for other independent funding, so projects are done on a piecemeal basis year by year. If you want effective interventions which prevent reoffending, you cannot do that on a short-term basis. That means you have to put sufficient investment into the small charities. We are quite a large charity employing more than 250 people in a range of work but we cannot do anything on a sustained, long-term basis without investment in our projects. There is no evidence at all that the Government will match their ambition with that reality. The Government must get hold of the detail in both time and numbers.
I know that everybody else will talk about probation but I want to make one point in that regard. When I was a Member of Parliament, I had a very good relationship with the probation service. Whenever a difficult offender was about to be released into the constituency, the probation service would talk to me. I would work out the relationship of the schools with the service because it did not know the details in the small villages and so on. On one occasion, when an ex-probation officer who had been involved in child pornography was coming out of prison, we worked with the school and we had a public meeting. That was very successful. We worked with the parents on ensuring that they helped their children to understand what was going on in a way that did not damage them. The fragmentation will make that very difficult, but, again, I am not sure that Ministers have thought about that.
My Lords, this morning I visited the offices of NACRO, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders—I declare an interest as its president—to listen to a speech by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on victims, the rehabilitation of offenders, and crime. I am delighted that the rehabilitation of prisoners remains at the heart of the coalition Government. I welcome the Bill and the Government’s clear recognition of rehabilitation in any strategy to reduce crime. The Bill will transform the way offenders are rehabilitated by ensuring supervision for all offenders leaving prison.
One of the advantages of being deputy to my noble friend Lord McNally is that I can knock on his door to talk about party business. Inevitably, most of the time we end up talking about criminal justice matters. I am well aware that he has recognised that the current system of rehabilitation is just not working. This is just not good enough for offenders, victims of crime, or the community, which has invested so much in our criminal justice system.
I welcome in particular the proposal to introduce post-release supervision for short-term prisoners. These prisoners constitute the majority of those we send to prison each year, and they have higher reconviction rates than any other group of prisoners. Although their crimes, taken individually, are not the most serious, many short-term prisoners are prolific offenders who are responsible for much of the high-volume offending that makes life a misery for so many people living in high-crime areas. It is indefensible that for so many years we have been prepared to imprison so many more people than other European countries, only to put them back on the streets with no supervision and little if any support.
There is, however, a need for caution when we talk about rehabilitation strategy. Providing post-release supervision for short-term prisoners creates the risk that it could also lead to the courts imprisoning more people. I will explain. At present in borderline cases, courts might decide not to imprison offenders because supervision in the form of a community sentence is more likely to divert them away from offending.
Under the new arrangements, the courts might feel that by imprisoning the offender, they can get the best of both worlds: both the punitive impact of imprisonment and supervision of the offender when he or she is released. This is where we need to be absolutely clear: this would be a very short-sighted view, as even a short period of custody can lead to an offender losing accommodation, losing a job and fracturing family links, all of which make it more likely that he or she will reoffend. To guard against this risk, perhaps I may ask my noble friend Lord McNally to examine whether it is possible to provide by law that no one should be sentenced to custody, except for very serious offences, if they have not previously been subject to an intensive community sentence.
I greatly welcome the reorganisation of the prison system that will accompany these legislative changes. This will involve most prisoners spending at least the last three months of their sentences in a resettlement prison near their home area, making it easier to build up links with the local agencies responsible for providing support and supervision before and after release, and I do not think we should underestimate the role that local government can also play in this. This is an important step forward in the provision of resettlement and rehabilitation for released prisoners.
The Government are proposing a new system of service providers. As the Minister has explained, a new National Probation Service will supervise high-risk offenders and carry out risk assessments for the courts and the Parole Board. Low and medium-risk offenders will be supervised by providers from the private and voluntary sectors, or by consortia of private and voluntary organisations working together. We all know that this is a controversial proposal that is causing considerable anxiety among professionals, and we shall need to examine carefully in Committee how far the Government have got these proposals right. It is crucial to ensure that there is the rigorous monitoring of contracts to ensure that providers are delivering a high-quality service for the rehabilitation and supervision of offenders.
As president of NACRO, I am keen to see an extension of the valuable work of the voluntary organisations in the rehabilitation of offenders. Voluntary does not mean amateur. Many voluntary organisations have highly professional expertise in the key resettlement areas of accommodation, education, employment, drug and alcohol treatment, mentoring, family support and community engagement. All these factors can make a huge difference to an offender’s chances of avoiding reoffending. Some voluntary sector organisations have expressed fears that they could be squeezed out if contracts are given only to large private sector companies. It is important to make sure that any organisation given a contract to provide supervision and rehabilitation services works in partnership with voluntary organisations in arrangements that give the voluntary sector full cost recovery. This is vital if we are to make full use of the voluntary sector’s expertise in the resettlement of offenders. This is a once in a generation opportunity to fully involve the people and organisations who know how to unlock and mobilise local resources and shift the focus from isolated and disconnected pockets of service delivery to rebuilding the lives of victims, offenders and communities.
I have talked about NACRO, which knows from five decades of delivering community-based services to offenders, ex-offenders and those at risk of offending that the reform of the current system offers an opportunity to break new ground and deliver collaborative change across government and with the involvement of local communities. These reforms offer the opportunity to address the multiple and interdependent social outcomes of crime and reoffending: homelessness, unemployment, ill health and all the other factors that are responsible for crime and criminality in this country that we have talked about. Voluntary organisations are well equipped to deliver. They combine practical help with emotional support, training in social skills and problem solving, and attrition prevention activities. This balance of measures is designed to match the offender’s risks and needs upon release.
As has already been mentioned by many colleagues, one risk under the new arrangements is the loss of the expertise of probation officers who do not go into the new smaller National Probation Service. The Government envisage that many probation officers who do not enter the new service will transfer to work for other providers. I hope the Minister will be able to deliver a clear assurance that suitable jobs will be available to ensure that no probation officer need have any fear about their future career prospects under the new system. This will help to reduce the risk that uncertainty about the future will lead to probation officers leaving for other areas of work so that their expertise is lost to the field of offender supervision. I also hope that the contracts with providers will be of sufficient length to ensure the stability of service provision. As long as providers are providing a good quality service, it is important that the provision of services is not subject to constant uncertainty and instability because organisations have to compete too frequently to keep on providing the service.
It is important to make sure that everyone supervising offenders has the right kind of training and expertise in a number of key areas. These include knowledge of the criminal justice system and the operation of offending behaviour programmes, the protective factors that can prevent reoffending, the interpersonal skills necessary to supervise offenders effectively, and ways of monitoring the warning signs that can indicate that an offender’s risk is rising. Low and medium-risk offenders may not be the most serious offenders, but they are often difficult, intractable and prolific. Their risk can rapidly rise if they return to alcohol or drug abuse, start associating with old criminal associates, become homeless or unemployed or lose motivation to change their way of life. Most serious offenders have a previous history of minor offending. Those supervising them must have the skills and knowledge to recognise when that risk is increasing and to take appropriate action.
The Bill aims to create a system that does more to tackle high levels of reoffending. However, once people have served their sentences and have turned their lives around, it is important that society recognises this and ensures that there are no unnecessary obstacles in their way. That is why I welcome the Government’s proposal to reform the system of criminal record checks so that people with a single conviction that did not lead to a prison sentence will no longer have it revealed when applying for a job except where the conviction was for certain offences. Evidence from Unlock, a charity for people with convictions, shows that the proposed filtering system will enable many people to compete for work on a level playing field.
However, I am keen to see the Government go much further so that genuinely reformed individuals are able to wipe the slate clean when it comes to finding employment. For example, the filtering proposals are limited to one conviction only. This fails to recognise how two identical cases may end up in court: one as one conviction only and the other as multiple charges. One sentencing event would seem to be a more sensible threshold. The one-conviction limit also ignores the reality of petty offending, particularly when committed by young people, whose offending is dealt with by way of a small number of minor convictions. The case of Bob Ashford, former prospective PCC candidate, is a perfect example of this discrepancy. Nevertheless, along with the forthcoming changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which I hope the Government will shortly announce will be in force by the end of the year, the system is certainly moving in the right direction.
I hope we can explore these and other areas in the course of the Bill’s progress. I am keen to ensure that the new arrangements deliver a quantum leap in rehabilitation for offenders. I hope that the Government will be open to discussion and, where necessary, amendments to ensure that the risks of these proposals are minimised and the benefits are maximised. In conclusion, this is the best way to ensure that the Bill helps many more offenders to turn their lives around and reduces the damage which crime inflicts on our communities.
My Lords, we have heard some hugely impressive speeches generated by the action that the Government are proposing in the Bill. Those speeches raise the hope that we may, at last, be able to do something about reoffending, which has unfortunately been low on the agenda of successive Governments, certainly during the periods when I have been involved in criminal justice.
I should disclose that I am now the chairman of the Prison Reform Trust. The matters raised in the Bill are of considerable importance to the trust, which has, as I am sure the Minister is aware, done some very valuable work in preparing for this debate.
Like every other speaker in this debate, I welcome the Bill with enthusiasm. However, I urge the Minister and his department to pay heed to the words of caution that have also been expressed. Those of my seniority—in age, at any rate—know that other attempts that have been made in the past have bitten the dust because what started as very optimistic progress turned to something very different when it was found that these proposals would not succeed without resources. They did not succeed because they did not have the financial backing necessary for change on the scale that is now proposed by this Bill. They also did not succeed because the groundwork that is necessary to introduce reforms on this scale had not been undertaken. I am afraid it is obvious that, because they are understandably in a hurry, the preparations that the Government have made for the introduction of this scale of change are very modest indeed. I urge the Ministry of Justice to proceed with caution, even though its objectives are excellent and the possible rewards are considerable.
It has been pointed out that the numbers involved in the exercise—of those sentenced to short periods of imprisonment—are very large indeed. We are talking about more than 50,000 people, who will be coming before courts up and down the land. The Bill will create problems, as has already been indicated, as there will be a temptation in some courts to undermine the objective of the Bill by seeing the proposals for dealing with reoffending as justifying short sentences. I am one of the many who have previously urged courts not to impose short sentences because they are destructive of the process, as they are extraordinarily difficult for the Prison Service to manage. The consequence of short sentences is the reoffending rate of which we are aware. What can be achieved by a short sentence in prison can always be better achieved, in my experience, by a community sentence. Of course, there comes a stage when courts have to use short sentences. Magistrates up and down the country will tell you that they need short sentences when there is no alternative. However, short sentences should be limited to those cases where there really is no alternative and where the length of the sentence is as short as possible.
I wonder, and ask the department to consider carefully, whether the blanket approach, of taking a category of short sentences and applying the process proposed in the Bill to everyone caught within that blanket, is the right process. Is there to be no judicial involvement in determining whether the case is one that really needs the expense of the rehabilitation process involved? There are offenders, who have to go to prison, for whom the one sentence of imprisonment is likely to lead to the end of any further problem so far as they are concerned. We tend, in the Bill, to focus on the cases that fail; but however bad the statistics are, we have to realise that there is the other percentage—if it is 58% or 42% who do not come back before the courts. Who will judge whether this case is one that needs to be the subject of the action that is taken?
The most recent attempt to do something similar to these government proposals was custody-plus in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This became law with the same admirable objectives proposed here, but when the department at that time was faced with the question of whether to bring it into law, it turned away. We must not make that mistake again.
So many other points have been drawn to the attention of the House and the department that indicating them again would not help. However, I remind the House of the experiment—briefly referred to—of the Liverpool community court. It showed that there are other features which are important for rehabilitation —in particular, the fact that those who need special rehabilitative assistance should be provided with it promptly. This is an administrative problem. Unfortunately, the successful community court experiment in Liverpool has not been repeated to the extent that it should have been up and down the country. The reason is again a lack of resources. I am afraid that resources will be at the heart of this reform and I hope that the Minister’s department will think carefully about the introduction of these reforms, to ensure that the resources will be available.
Finally, it is welcome to see the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, come here to assist the Opposition on this. The practical experience of a magistrate who has dealt with these matters over many years is something to which everybody should pay attention.
My Lords, I wish I could wholeheartedly welcome this Bill as the way forward to reduce reoffending, encourage people to live purposeful lives and save taxpayers’ money, but I fear that in the end too little will be achieved. Instead, despite the best intentions of some in the Government, the Bill may set people up to fail, lead to longer sentences and put more people in prison. Of course, there is a pressing need to change the system whereby prisoners who have served a sentence of 12 months or less are released with £46 and typically receive no support on the outside. I welcome the Government’s acknowledgement that this cannot continue.
Prisoners sentenced to short terms often lead particularly chaotic lifestyles and have higher levels of need in relation to homelessness, joblessness and drug and alcohol abuse; 58% of people who have served a prison sentence of 12 months or less reoffend within a year of leaving custody. I am disappointed that the opportunity finally to implement the Corston report, authored by my noble friend six years ago, which called for the end of imprisoning women who pose no risk to the public and the closure of women’s prisons and their replacement by small custodial units for serious and dangerous offenders, has not been taken up. Instead the Government intend to commission all rehabilitation services under a single contract, regardless of the different offender cohorts.
Rather than wait for the promised review of women in prison expected this summer, the Government are rushing ahead before the specific needs of women have been considered. The Howard League rightly warns that the proposed payment-by-results system poses a particular threat to the continued provision of services for women. Many are small, local, holistic and gender-specific, and some could now face closure as they are not large enough to bid for contracts. However, the circumstances surrounding women in prison, as set out in my noble friend Lady Corston’s report, reveal that incarceration is not the best way to help these already vulnerable women. Most women prisoners are mothers; some are pregnant on entering prison; they are often drug users with £200 a day crack and heroin habits; many are alcoholics; and many are in poor physical and mental health. Common experiences include sexual, emotional and physical abuse leading to chaotic lifestyles and, often, to self-harming.
Women commit a different range of offences from men; they commit more acquisitive crime and have lower involvement in serious violence, criminal damage and professional crime. Relationship problems feature strongly in women’s pathways into crime. Coercion by men can form a route into criminal activity for some women. Mental health problems are far more prevalent among women in prison than in the male prison population. Self-harm in prison is a huge problem and more prevalent in the women’s estate.
Women represent just less than 5% of the overall prison population, and 20% of sentenced women entering prison serve sentences of less than 12 months. Not only do women suffer grievously by being imprisoned, but so do their families. It is estimated that more than 17,000 children are separated from their mothers each year by imprisonment. Only half the women who had lived with or were in contact with their children prior to imprisonment had received a visit since going to prison. Maintaining contact with children is made more difficult by the distance from their home area that many prisoners are held. Taking children away from their mothers and into care only creates the next generation of vulnerable youngsters, many of whom will end up in the criminal justice system, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, has already mentioned. I support her call for further research into this.
However, the Government’s proposals in this Bill to address reoffending could make the situation far worse. The Howard League for Penal Reform warns that the proposals,
“are likely to result in negative and costly unintended consequences”.
Breach and return to custody may be a very real prospect for many.
I welcome the acknowledgement that prisoners should be supported through the prison gate and have argued for this in the past, along with many other bodies, especially where young offenders are released back into the community with no change in their circumstances in terms of housing, jobs or training. Often their situation is made worse by having lost relationships and contact with their families.
However, the Government are in danger of going too far by insisting that engagement with rehabilitation will become mandatory over a 12-month period for all prisoners released from short custodial sentences. Each year 50,000 to 60,000 additional people will receive support on release, but it is difficult to believe that efficiency savings will pay for it, as the Government claim. It would be better significantly to reduce the use of short-term prison sentences and invest in intensive community sentences as an alternative. A prison place costs on average £40,000 a year, whereas community sentences can be a tenth of that cost.
There is a danger that these proposals will create disproportionate sentences for minor crimes so that a two-week prison sentence becomes a year and two weeks of being trapped in the criminal justice system. All those released from short custodial sentences will first be subject to a standard licence period for the remainder of their custodial sentence, served in the community, followed by an additional supervision period. Magistrates may “up-tariff” and sentence offenders to prison, when a community sentence would have been more appropriate, in order for them to qualify for the 12-month statutory rehabilitation, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, warned earlier. However, breaches while on licence could result in offenders being recalled to custody until the end of their sentence. Breaches while under supervision could result in the offender receiving a fine, unpaid work, a curfew or ultimately a return to custody for up to 14 days.
The Howard League estimated:
“If probation services are extended to those 60,000 people a year sentenced to custodial terms of less than 12 months, a substantial number will breach the conditions of their licence or fail to engage with rehabilitative services and may be sent back to custody as a result”.
The Government’s impact assessment states that there will be court costs associated with breaches, including,
“additional pressure on the prison population arising out of offenders being recalled to custody and further electronic monitoring starts. Initial estimates of these costs are of the order of £25m per year”.
I fear that the decision to extend drug testing to class B drugs and to require offenders to attend drug appointments will only increase the likelihood of breach unless there is a radical change in the way addiction is dealt with, not only in prison but on release, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle has already mentioned.
The impact assessment also states:
“We want to enable providers to tackle offenders’ drug misuse issues and to support offenders to desist from crime. We have not quantified these benefits as we cannot predict the success rate of the probation providers”.
Indeed, there is much in this Bill that is difficult to predict and the danger of unintended consequences is very real.
My Lords, we return once more to the question of how we should be more effectively managing offenders in our society; an issue which is rather like the holy grail, so seductive yet elusive. We now have a new Minister at the MoJ, who is bringing to bear his own perspective and his own solutions to the challenges of the criminal justice world coming, as he does, from the world of business. We have seen, in particular, the initiation of payment by results, where financial incentives are being introduced as a means of encouraging service providers to step up their efforts to change offending behaviour through financial reward. Starting in Peterborough, which I have indeed visited, and Doncaster prisons, they have been regarded as pilots to this new approach, which is still in its relatively early days. Now, fired by the idea but ahead of fully-tested results, we are seeing the proposed extension to the management of a particular group of low-level, persistent offenders. This has significant implications for the probation service, the range of voluntary agencies in the field of offender management, the private sector—which has been growing like Topsy in the past few years—and, of course, the offenders themselves.
It is important to start with the current context; the number of people being sentenced to prison is dropping and last year there was a 5% decrease on the year before. Recorded levels of crime are at their lowest for 30 years, and youth crime is down 47% since 2001, thanks to the YJB. Surprisingly, the prison population itself fell in the last 12 months for the first time since 1999. However, the group that gives the greatest cause for concern consists of those relatively minor offenders, who are serving a year or less of whom at least 57% will reoffend—the figure goes up, the younger the offender. This is more than 50,000 people annually, as we have heard, so it is a huge problem which costs us all billions and which the Government are now attempting to address.
The focus of this Bill is on the 50,000 to 60,000 persistent, low level offenders who are serving anything from a few weeks to a year in prison and who currently have no automatic statutory follow-up support in the community and usually precious little during their time in prison. This is the most intractable group in the system and the Government’s aim to provide for them with a year’s statutory supervision and help, targeted to their needs, is potentially very important and welcome. This is, typically, a very vulnerable and challenging group with a range of coexisting difficulties, including drug and alcohol addictions, learning difficulties, mental health problems and generally chaotic lives. Again, this has been alluded to. Most have had no education past the age of 14, are unemployed, homeless and all are in need of help to turn their lives around if they are not to end up in prison again and again as they currently do. The benefit of individual support is not only the guidance it can give and the connections made but, ideally, the experience of a positive, personal relationship which is precious. The Government are to be congratulated on recognising and addressing this. This has the potential for changing lives if it is properly done. However, as anyone in the business, as I have been for years, knows, desistance cannot be imposed—prisoners must want to change.
The Bill raises as many questions as it answers, because the practicalities of catering for 50,000 to 60,000 additional offenders are huge and complex. How it is to be administered, by whom and with what skills or supervision, and at what cost, are left entirely unclear. There is no reference to what provision already exists across the country which could be built on and where there are already signs of success. Who are the skilled providers needed for such a task with such a large and challenging group? How many are available and how geographically spread are they? How will the Prison Service manage the reorganisation of about 70 prisons into “resettlement prisons”? Above all, once again, the question has been asked: at what cost?
The Government have said that there is no new money. It is expected that the private sector, and possibly the voluntary sector, will be in charge of the bidding for contracts, but how they will deliver such a service nationwide and how the need for budgetary arrangements for essential cross-departmental working at both national and local level will be choreographed are not clear. As we have already heard quoted, the Government’s impact assessment simply says that,
“we expect there to be significant downward pressure on costs from competing the delivery of rehabilitation services … This has the potential to cut prison and probation costs, reduce court backlogs and allow for savings on legal aid provision”—
“we have not quantified these benefits as we cannot predict the success rate of the providers”.
So it is an act of faith aimed at an end that we all seek but with means that we are yet to discover. I ask my noble friend the Minister to elaborate on the expectation of costs, without which I do not believe that this House could agree to these proposals.
One likely outcome, which is of widespread concern to many who already work in the field, is that of breach. With more than 50,000 to 60,000 people caught up in the criminal justice system through supervision for a statutory year, particularly for relatively minor crimes, this could have unintended costs. The experience with custody plus in 2003, already mentioned by my noble and learned friend and hero Lord Woolf, demonstrated that and was then scrapped as a result—it was a parallel scheme and was simply going to be too expensive. The very nature of this group’s needs means that the likelihood of breach is high, and already 6% of all prisoners are in prison for breach of licence conditions due to the lengthening of licence periods. Tailored, targeted and flexible supervision arrangements are therefore vital.
Moreover, young offenders, who are as adolescents particularly vulnerable to problems of transitions of all kinds, will find that, once they turn 18, they come into the Government’s new world of supervision, causing change and disruption at a difficult time in their lives. Currently, continuity of YOT supervision past 18 is routinely maintained to ensure continuity. The YJB and many others working with young people are very concerned that, without flexibility, including in the length of supervision, there is an increased risk of breach with this group, with all the costly, associated results of recall, courts, possible prison and general upheaval.
Can the Minister clarify the Government’s plans for the handling of the transfer of supervision to a new probation/private provider for this group? The YJB has responsibility for under-18s, and its work and skills are outstandingly successful. It has made it quite clear that the transfer, whenever it occurs, should be managed by public sector probation. It should be listened to as an expert on whom the Government rely. What are the Government’s plans for the handing of the transfer to a new probation/private provider and what scope is there for flexibility for this particular group?
Another element of concern is that young offenders who turn 18 before release will be treated for the purposes of their supervision as adults, with the same expectations and demands. This is contrary to accepted practice by the YJB that young people should not be managed as adults. Transition to adulthood does not have a neat cut-off point, and each young person’s development and maturity must always be the governing issue. The T2A pilots in three areas are examples of support tailored to these young people, both as part of community sentences and after release. NOMS and the Sentencing Council have recognised that this group needs properly tailored arrangements. It is a highly skilled and sensitive area and a particularly relevant one here, as these young people represent a significant proportion of the group as a whole. This in turn includes the issue of breach and how it is to be managed, which can have crucial implications for how young people in particular are managed. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can clarify why there is no reference to this in the legislation and little provision to ensure that custody will be used only as a last resort for breach. Otherwise, I fear that positive, constructive work risks being undone.
All the evidence shows that community orders are the best option for low-level crime. It reduces reoffending by 8% to 12 % and costs one-tenth of a year in prison. The Government are right to say that supervision and support are needed for virtually all the low-level offending that we are discussing. Even one short prison experience significantly undermines the chances of a person going straight and increases the likelihood of reoffending. The Government are absolutely right to say that supervision and support in the community are what work for this low-level offending—support which is flexible and tailored to need but which should not be used as an adjunct to prison.
This is precisely the work that the probation service has been doing for the past 100 years or so. It continues to offer supervision as successfully as any other provider for this group of offenders. I declare an interest as a patron of the probation trusts, along with my hero, my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf. The probation service has the skill, experience and knowledge, accumulated over its history, as well as a demonstrable willingness to work with the Government in taking forward their plans and cross-sectorally with a whole range of other providers, including the private sector—or “probation providers”, as they are to be called. There is a structure and a presence all over the country, so no set-up costs are required. The fact that the present Government plan to leave it with the role of working with the most difficult, high-risk offenders demonstrates a recognition of its skills and that it is a very safe pair of hands.
My concern is twofold. First, if this experience, skill and knowledge—which are not gained overnight—relating to this lower-level offending group are to be organised exclusively by the private sector, they are lost to this group. Secondly, the continuity of offender supervision would be fractured, particularly with the probation service taking the high-end offenders, because assessment of risk is not a static concept, and public protection will become a real concern.
The other responsibility that remains with the probation service is the management of potential or actual breach. In Transforming Rehabilitation, the Government state on page 23,
“the public sector will decide on action in relation to all potential breaches beyond a first warning, and will advise the courts or Secretary of State on sanctions or recall to custody”.
They go on to say that this is to be sure to avoid,
“the potential for perverse incentives for providers in breach decisions”,
“will mitigate any risk that commercial interests play a part in contracted providers’ decisions on whether to instigate breach or recall proceedings”.
This is to acknowledge the possibility that “commercial interests” risk influencing or affecting decisions by private providers on the service or advice that they give and that the financial self-interest of a provider could influence the future of a vulnerable person on possible recall or breach proceedings. Meanwhile, it trusts the probation service to be properly accountable to the court. In the light of this, I ask the Minister to look again at this fundamental issue, which could undermine the basis on which plans for private providers are being presented. It questions the accountability of private providers for the delivery of community orders, which is highlighted here by the issues of breach and recall. Does it not also apply to the other services that they provide? I look forward to my noble friend’s reply.
The Government really do not need to reinvent the wheel. What is needed now is continuity, consistency and co-operation between all the professional agencies, which share an unqualified commitment to the reduction of reoffending that should be harnessed to deliver the outcomes that we all seek.
My Lords, I have to admit that I am deeply uneasy about the Bill, not because I do not agree with its general objective of reducing reoffending—of course I do—but because of the many questions about the implementation of its associated strategy that remain unanswered and the speed with which it is being rushed through this House. I entirely associate myself with the wise words and caution expressed by my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf.
The problem with the Bill is not what it contains so much as the fact that it is a cart being put before a horse before we know whether it is going to be pulled by a horse or a tractor. Knowing his support for the probation service and his appreciation of the practical, I welcome the fact that it is the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who will take the Bill thorough the House, while sympathising with him in his role of conveyor to the messianic Secretary of State of the fears expressed by many noble Lords in this House.
Until last summer, the criminal justice system was embarked on a rehabilitation revolution led by a Secretary of State whose method included careful examination of practicalities and attention to the all-important role of people in the rehabilitation process. In the new rehabilitation revolution on which we are now embarked, people appear to be made to play second fiddle to the market, while the timing appears to be determined by the need to present tough achievements to the electorate in the 2015 election manifesto. The problem with it is that in addition to punishing offenders it also punishes those who work with them, particularly the probation service, for all the wrong reasons.
My unease stems from the inconsistency in two statements by the Justice Secretary. First, in launching the consultation associated with Transforming Rehabilitation on 9 January, he said:
“Despite significant increases in spending on probation under the previous government, almost half of those released from prison still go on to reoffend within 12 months”.
This confirmed my fear that—for entirely illogical reasons, because this is the one group of offenders for whom the probation service currently has no responsibility—he blamed probation for the fact that three-quarters of the annual cost of reoffending could be attributed to this group and was bent on total reorganisation, despite all the various changes that had been imposed on the service over the past 15 years and the fact that it was hitting all its targets.
Secondly, in his foreword to Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform, published on 9 May, the same day as the Bill, he says:
“Through the savings we make, we will extend rehabilitation support to those on short-term sentences, who currently have the highest reoffending rates but who are typically left to their own devices on release. This support will be guaranteed through legislation, which is the only way to ensure we target the hardest to reach and most prolific offenders”.
When has legislation ever been able to guarantee the consistent availability, provision and affordability of the money and people required to produce that support?
To go with my caution, I have many questions about the practicalities of the transforming rehabilitation exercise but I intend to focus on the impact assessment, which became available only four days ago and is about as thin and inadequate a document of its type as I can remember. I have discovered in the past that the quality and content of an impact assessment invariably reflects the quality and quantity of the thinking behind the measure it is designed to assess. The fact that, although signed on 9 May—the same day as the publication of the White Paper and the Bill—it was made available only last Thursday, makes me wonder whether Ministers had it during their work on the Bill or whether it was written later to justify decisions that had not only been taken but laid down since before the consultation exercise was launched.
To question the few assessments it contains of the implementation of a policy whose objectives it states will be reviewed at a date to be determined, may I ask the Minister what factors were taken into account in estimating that there would be a cost of only £25 million a year associated with the breach of licence and supervision conditions for short-sentence prisoners? How many offenders were assessed as likely to breach? Were any facts, and therefore costs, deliberately excluded from the assessment? What factors did the Government consider in estimating that there might be additional police costs of only £5 million a year? What is the Government’s estimate of the cost of providing a rehabilitative service to offenders released from custodial sentences of less than 12 months and how much of that are they looking to recover through competition? Surely, the Government know the cost per individual of drug testing and treatment and, based on existing figures, how many offenders are likely to qualify for the testing and treatment that this legislation purports to guarantee? Why then has the cost not been quantified on that basis so that the affordability of the measure can be assessed? Finally, does “not applicable” in the box showing the full economic assessment on page 2 mean that the Government made no assumptions in coming to their decision and believed that there were no associated sensitivities or risks? What about the risk to the public?
Those are all the assessments that the document contains. There is no mention of the cost of extending rehabilitative services to short-sentence prisoners—an expense that the previous Government found to be unaffordable—or evidence to explain how it may be balanced by competing services. There is no mention of any assessment of the ability of the private sector, which failed so spectacularly to provide security staff for the Olympic Games, and to provide trained and accredited staff who can be relied upon to provide the regular contact needed with offenders, whose chaotic and dysfunctional lifestyles are described in the White Paper. There is no mention of the cost of the proposed reorganisation of the probation service, of any assessment of the cost of training and accrediting non-public sector responsible officers, or of whether the requirements of the Private Security Industry Act will apply. Nor is there any analysis of the timeframe or content of the results for which providers will be paid, or any estimate of inevitable IT costs. There is no mention of how reoffending will be measured. In this connection, I wish that the Government would drop the use of “reoffending” when talking about measurement because, as the Home Office statisticians told me on my first day as Chief Inspector of Prisons, when I asked what it meant, it simply cannot be measured because nobody knows. We all know that reconviction rates can be measured, so why do we not just use those?
On top of all that, there is no assessment of how many additional short-term sentences are likely to be awarded or of the impact of the new provision on either prisons or the supervision of those awarded community sentences. Then there is what I can describe only as spin in relation to some other measures. Nothing is worse than announcing something that is unanimously welcomed, only to have to admit that it cannot be delivered because it cannot be afforded. I am always suspicious of the word “new” when all that is meant is a redistribution of existing responsibilities. In connection with this, there are many questions about how the governance of the probation service will be exercised, many of which have been asked already. However, I am currently concerned that probation trusts are in the lead of an array of essential local partnerships that I will not list. Under the Government’s proposals, it appears that these trusts are to be abolished. How are these partnership responsibilities to be reallocated? How do the Government think that the introduction of the market will improve existing arrangements in this respect?
On prisons, I am glad that the Minister mentioned the welcome intention of regrading resettlement prisons. However, this, too, is incomplete and comes 22 years after the original direction from the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, then the Home Secretary, following the recommendation made by my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf. Bearing in mind that everything done with and for prisoners during their sentence should be aimed at helping them to live useful and law-abiding lives, why not go the whole hog and, instead of disrupting half the prisons in the country, activate regional clusters to enable local rehabilitation of local prisoners to take place throughout their sentence and not just at its tail?
In conclusion, while I accept that there are good things in the Bill, I am concerned about the timetable. The Government justify that by alleging that, by legislating early, they can give potential providers clarity over the service that will be required, allowing them to prepare their bids and form partnerships. However, while the Bill may be clear to those who have drafted it, there is a considerable lack of clarity about the achievability of what it is designed to enable. I ask the Minister to seriously consider delaying the Committee stage of the Bill—which I note is to be on 5 June, three days after the House resumes—because it leaves precious little time, either for noble Lords to prepare amendments or for the Government to provide answers to the questions that have been asked this afternoon, including those that the Secretary of State was unable to answer on a recent Radio 4 interview.
I admit that, during all the thinking about the Bill, some words of Shakespeare have been coming into my mind, from act 3, scene 2 of “The Tempest”, in which Caliban says:
“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not”.
I am afeard that the isle that is the transforming rehabilitation exercise, including the Bill, is full of soundbites and hot air that give hurt and delight not. Like other noble Lords, I look forward to having those fears allayed during the passage of the Bill.
My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who must be foremost among all prison reformers of the present generation and who knows more about this subject than anyone, I fear that my only contribution for my friends on the Front Bench in speaking in support of the Bill might be to allow them a gentle eight minutes in which to receive messages from the Box to respond to the noble Lord. None the less, I hope that that might be a useful function.
I firmly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on one thing: the value of our probation services. Sometimes it is very easy to cast aside their contribution to the criminal justice system. Yet the whole tenor of and reason for the Bill is an argument based simply on the fact that the reconviction rate beyond 12 months is substantially less than that under 12 months. The answer, of course, is the intervention of the probation services in cases where people have served a longer period, and their absence in the cases of those with short sentences. That is worth drawing attention to. It points to a fact, in Annexe C of the report that we are considering, Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform, that for those who have served a sentence of more than 12 months, the reconviction rate—or reoffending rate, in the report’s terms—is 35%, due in large part to the intervention of the probation service. For sentences under 12 months it is 58.2%. These are therefore significant sums, and at the outset it is worth paying tribute to the work of the probation services in bringing about that change.
There are many reasons why this Bill is necessary and should be welcomed. I would argue that chief among them are the crimes that are committed by those who reoffend upon leaving prison after a short sentence. Again, they are highlighted in Annexe C. In the year to September, there were 208,699 offences, including,
“35,000 violent crimes; 66,000 burglaries, robberies and thefts; and 6,600 sexual offences”.
Therefore, a reduction in that rate is undoubtedly the greatest prize on offer.
Second to that is undoubtedly the financial cost. The numbers have already been mentioned: the £10 billion cost of those crimes, the £3 billion spent on the prison system, and the £1 billion spent on community services. These sums are significant, and in a sense it is sad that we need an economic downturn, with economic constraints and fiscal reorganisation, to focus on this massive proportion of government spend and the need to reduce it.
There are also the lives of the 17,318 who reoffended during that period of one year. The question of why they did that needs to be addressed. Of course, as regards the answers, this area is not short of analysis. All the causes have been mentioned and are known to us. We know of the very high proportion of people who are subject to alcohol and drug addiction, and there are welcome things in the measures in this Bill that seem to address that for those who are released on licence. People also leave prison and have no home to go to, or were homeless before they came to prison. Housing is a critical element, so the joining up of the health services and local authorities with the criminal justice system, which this Bill provides for, seems very welcome.
I conclude my remarks simply by referring to an area that is absent: education. I know that there are good reasons for that, but they ought to be addressed none the less, because there might be further legislation coming down the tracks later in the year that seeks to respond to the consultation paper that is currently before us: Transforming Youth Custody: Putting Education at the Heart of Detention. We know the lack of education—of literacy, numeracy and IT skills—is the critical common denominator of those who find themselves in prison. It is also critical because however well meaning we are when we say that people need employment, if they do not have literacy, numeracy and IT skills it will be incredibly difficult to provide that. How we can miss that crucial element when we have a captive audience for education in our establishments and young offender institutions is beyond me. We have a requirement only for a statutory 15 hours of education, but the Centre for Social Justice, in its report, found that not even that is being provided. In most young offender institutions, the average is 11 hours. It should be 40 hours or more to make sure that people have the skills.
My honourable friend from another place, Guy Opperman from Hexham—to add to what the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, referred to as a north-east conspiracy, which I am happy to sign up to—wrote an excellent publication, which I commend to noble Lords, called Doing Time: Prisons in the 21st Century. In it, he came up with a number of innovative and progressive suggestions in education. One was the provision for what would in effect be academy prisons: boarding schools that would be secure detention areas but whose prime purpose would be not containment but education. That is an example of the type of thing that we should see. He quoted Victor Hugo, who said:
“He who opens a school door, closes a prison”.
That may not be strictly correct in numerical terms, but it argues for the centrality of education.
If the purpose of this is to join up provision across different departments and make sure that welfare, health and local authorities are all involved, we cannot exclude from that consideration the Department for Education. I know that legislation will be coming down, but it is crucial that we address the issue of education in this paving legislation. Whether in the supervisory arrangements mentioned in Schedule 1 or in some other way, we should recognise that education must be at the centre of reform and rehabilitation, particularly of the young.
“The isle is full of noises,
… that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices”.
I will leave it to my noble friend on the Front Bench to add his take on what those voices are saying. I certainly do not cast the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, as Caliban, who is offensive, aggressive, cringing and pathetic by turns. None of those applies.
The Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech with the description that it would,
“reform the way in which offenders are rehabilitated in England and Wales”.
Of course, as we know, the problem is that too many are not. Like other noble Lords, I consider it a statement of the blindingly obvious to say that I support rehabilitation—but I will say it.
I was struck by an observation in the recent report, Intelligent Justice, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, that perhaps the first practical step would be to ensure that any court sentence should observe a principle analogous to the Hippocratic one: first and foremost, it should operate to minimise harm. Too often, prison adds to the damage. It seems that the academies programme was in operation in prisons—that is, learning about crime—long before the Department for Education took an interest.
As other noble Lords said, one must ask whether there is any value in short prison sentences. As we have heard, there must be in almost half the cases. Among the problems is the potential loss of a job and a home, yet we know that what underlies offending and reoffending will include unemployment, mental health, family problems and the generally chaotic lifestyle to which my noble friend Lady Linklater referred. A community sentence is much less likely to add to those problems.
I am sure that the Minister will be able to reassure me that the Government are working with magistrates and the Sentencing Council on how the new provisions will operate and to avoid imprisonment when the position is borderline in the way to which my noble friend Lord Dholakia, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, referred. I hope that he will also assure me that the Government are working with local government, which has an important place in commissioning relevant services.
The mentoring programme could be very effective, for both the mentor and mentee. I, too, was at the speech by the Deputy Prime Minister this morning. Frances Lawrence talked about young people—although, as she said, her remarks applied to all mentors—and the value for them of acting as a role model and reaching out. The connection for them is life enhancing. However, it is not something that can be done on the cheap, and it is not something that is a substitute for—I hesitate to use the word, because I do not want to be pejorative about a mentor—professional work. They are complementary. Like my noble friend, I would not suggest that volunteers are by definition amateur, not at all, but there is a place for all in this programme.
There is much that a mentor can discuss, and ways in which he can discuss it, because he is talking to a peer with shared experience. If you like, the mentor gets it. Literacy is one of those things. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, spoke very powerfully about the importance of education, but we all know that education can be resisted if it is not promoted in the right way. Victim awareness is another thing that a mentor can, perhaps very effectively, raise. Supervision will be needed for offenders acting as mentors, not to control, but to guide, support and monitor. I am not clear whether supervision has been costed into these arrangements.
I hope to hear that there has been considerable consultation with prison staff. The Justice Secretary, in his Statement in the House of Commons, suggested that it was just starting—I do not suppose that it can only just have started—but another point made this morning was about a prison governor who refused access to an ex-prisoner. What message does that send to everyone about the possibility of there ever being rehabilitation?
The needs of women that are different from those of men have rightly been raised this afternoon. NOMS is reviewing the women’s custodial estate and is due to report soon. It is considering post-release supervision and support. There is also Minister Helen Grant’s group. How far are we appropriately anticipating what they might report? For women and men—but possibly especially for women with family commitments—the requirements for rehabilitative activity outside prison must be realistic. They must be seen as part of a programme, but not—and I have come across this in other contexts—imposed in a way that makes attending a course or being at a job impossible. I look forward to looking at the provision in the Bill for this.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked a Question in March about licence arrangements, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, told us that 5% of the prison population was on recall. As noble Lords have said, it would be self-defeating if a breach of supervision or a breach of a licence automatically meant recall to prison, bumping up the numbers. The penalties for non-compliance have to be flexible. The Criminal Justice Alliance has suggested that legislation may need to be considered to make recall to custody on breach genuinely a matter of last resort.
Turning to resettlement prisons, I am sure that the geography does not work, and this will have to be a matter of evolution. Like others, I would like to see all prisoners serving their sentences as close to home as possible in order to maintain family links. However, I believe that some prisoners positively do not want to return to their old environment, so we should not be saying that prisoners should be released near home. It should be a matter of choice for prisoners; they should have some input. After all, if you are not consulted, you feel downgraded. I am concerned about the transition here and in the probation services. We are looking for diversity and innovation and to incentivise the services, but the risk will be carried by providers. However, it is necessary to take risks in this work to achieve results whatever the definition of “result”, when the result will be assessed and how much will be withheld from payment for the result or non-result.
I was going to ask the Minister how the MoJ, which we know has to make very considerable savings, will be able to pump-prime or provide seed corn for the smaller players in this field. However, this morning, I was pleased to hear the Deputy Prime Minister announce a package of support for bidding but, as I heard it, that was for putting in the bid, which is not the same as what will be needed for providers to function, get going and develop. Is the MoJ working on something like a model contract for bidders to look to?
I do not want to seem unenthusiastic about what the Government are proposing. I am enthusiastic, with appropriate moderation. The momentum must be kept up. Thinking about today’s debate, it occurred to me that to be a reoffender must often feel to the person concerned like condemning oneself to a life of crime, and that the second occasion must be significant. As my noble friend Lady Linklater said, the younger the age of the offender, the more reoffending rates increase. Work at and outside the prison gate is hugely important, but so is work on the wrong side of the prison gate, and so is work, as often as that is possible, when there is no gate at all.
My Lords, I am making a guest appearance on the Front Bench and am in the unenviable position of making a speech that is far more moderate than the tremendous speech made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
It is common ground between all political parties that reoffending rates are far too high. This problem is particularly severe for prisoners who serve sentences of less than a year. It is also common ground that if reoffending can be reduced, this will reduce the number of victims and the overall cost to the criminal justice system. It is worth recording that the probation service is not responsible for those leaving prison who have served sentences of less than a year, so it would be wrong to blame it for the current high reoffending rates, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said. The figures we have heard this afternoon are stark. The most prolific group among those committing some 600,000 crimes are the 60,000 or so people who receive sentences of a year or less, as we have heard from a number of speakers today. Some 60% of this group are reoffenders and many go on to reoffend multiple times. Certainly in my experience as a magistrate, the vast majority of people I have sent to prison have offended multiple times while serving community sentences. It is comparatively unusual to send somebody to prison who has never offended while serving a community sentence.
The Government’s stated objective is to drive down reoffending. They will use the Offender Management Act 2007 to privatise large elements of the probation service. That measure and this Bill will provide private supervision in the community for the majority of offenders. The Government’s objectives can be divided into two parts. The first is the privatisation itself with payment by results, about which we have heard, which comes across as little short of an article of faith on the part of the party opposite. The second part is the administrative mechanism by which this is to be achieved. Under the Bill, there is to be a welcome expansion of support for offenders who leave prison having been sentenced to a year or less in custody.
On the first objective, the Government intend through this privatisation to make sufficient savings to fund the expansion of support for those leaving prison. On the Secretary of State’s figures, some 45,000 offenders will gain support financed through these savings. The Government cite the example of Peterborough Prison, where additional support has been provided to leavers financed by social impact bonds. I have read the independent assessment of the project and agree that there is good reason to be encouraged by it, although the project it is in its early days. Surely, the central point is the additional money provided for the project. That is the main reason why it is successful. As we heard from my noble friend, the Secretary of State himself is a repeat offender when it comes to the Work Programme, and he is unsurprisingly very cagey about the commercial arrangements likely to be entered into with the service providers. Surely it is appropriate for the House to know the scope of the payment-by-results contracts, their likely structure or even the Government’s definition of payment by results in this context. I know very well from my own experience that drawing up large complex contracts where both parties are breaking new ground is an unnerving experience. There is every reason to believe that things could go wrong, so it is reasonable for the House to be given reassurance on the structure of the contracts to be entered into.
It is, of course, regrettable that the pilot schemes initiated by the previous Secretary of State were abandoned by the current incumbent. I also believe that commissioning should be managed to maintain a diversity of providers. This point has been made and I know that it is addressed in the strategy document issued by the Government last week. I make the simple point that the greater the number of contract packages, the greater the scope for smaller service providers.
I return to the Bill and the Government’s second objective, as I have characterised it. This raises a whole raft of practical questions about the competences and qualifications of those who will support the offenders in the community, their payment and responsibilities in the event of breach. Indeed, as we have heard, 25% of offenders move between different case offender levels. What happens if, for example, an offender starts drinking? Would that be reported to the court? It is of central importance that the courts have faith in the probation service providers to bring to court in a timely manner offenders who have breached their conditions. I am not sure that any member of the public will distinguish between people being supervised in the community who have served a short prison sentence and those being supervised in the community who are on community sentences. There is a risk that the project could be undermined if there is inadequate supervision of those who are released from prison sentences.
It is worth reflecting that the Government are proposing to transfer many thousands of probation staff to different employers. A number of noble Lords have mentioned the invaluable work done by the probation service. It has to be said that under the new arrangements members of the probation profession will get a narrower range of experience as there will be a binary system, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Beecham. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to the possibility of a probation officer charter. I do not know whether he proposes to take the idea forward in the Bill but it is an interesting one. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle spoke about the dissipation of expertise through the new arrangement. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, wants an assurance from the Minister about the future prospects of the probation service. I was interested to hear him ask for that. However, I think it would be very difficult for the Minister to give that assurance given that those staff will be employed by the private sector.
It is also worth saying that co-operation on the ground between the various providers is key to the success of this venture. Nothing must be done which undermines this. A number of noble Lords have said that this is really centred around the local authorities working with a number of providers. It is the day-to-day management of these different providers of housing, YOT, social services and so forth, which is key to making any community sentence successful. I also note that the noble Lord has made positive comments about restorative justice, and it is said that he will be giving new comments about that in due course.
A number of organisations have contacted me about the centralisation of the commissioning process. First, I welcome that the police and crime commissioners will be part of the selection process of new providers. However, I want to mention one organisation in particular, and that is London Councils. It is particularly concerned that this would not be an appropriate arrangement for it. In London the PCC is the mayor, there are 33 local authorities, and there is an existing structure which could be used for the commissioning process. The Government often state their commitment to local services, local decision making, and local accountability. This is a question which I intend to explore at a later stage of this Bill.
I want to say, in brief, a word about the perspective of the courts on this. They are of course the sentencing body. Clearly, the recently introduced LASPO arrangements, whereby prisoners on sentences of less than one year are unconditionally released at the halfway point in their sentence, are to be reversed. Now there will be requirements on release. The standard requirement, as we have heard, will be a rehabilitation activity requirement, and the courts will have new breach powers. I make a number of comments on this. First, when the sentencer announces the sentence in court, it should be very clear what actually is to be said, because it is not always clear to magistrates and judges what one should actually say about the length of the period in custody, the period on licence and the period on supervision. I know from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that his ministry will be working with the Judicial College and working out suitable arrangements for this.
We had a number of very interesting comments in this Second Reading debate, and I want to address a few of them. First, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, quite rightly talked about the huge importance of education. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, set out how important it is. I used to be a trustee of the Wandsworth prison visitors’ centre and we provided to all the prison visitors education facilities at some cost—computers and the like. I have to say, very depressingly, that they were almost completely unused by the visitors to Wandsworth prison. While I wholeheartedly agree with the objectives, I note that the group of people we work with can be resistant when we are trying to introduce education programmes.
A number of noble Lords spoke about other matters which could be introduced to this Bill. We heard from the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Healy, about women offenders not being specifically discussed. We also heard a very interesting idea from my noble friend Lord Beecham about a court for veterans, which I hope he will take forward.
I want to raise a point that was mentioned by a number of Peers. That is the possibility of an increase in the overall custody levels because magistrates or sentencers would be using a custodial sentence for people who breach these sentences. In my experience, magistrates use custodial sentences as an absolute last resort. This is not a new problem. It is a very real dilemma when one has a repeat breacher of a community order, for example, for perhaps a relatively minor matter, but they just do not comply with the provisions of the community order. I believe that magistrates should, as a very last resort, have the possibility of enforcing custody, otherwise there will be even less incentive for certain people to comply with their community order.
Finally, I want to pursue the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, about the transition from youth to adult, and the work from the YOTs to the probation service. This was not addressed by any other Peer. It is a very important and practical point, and as the noble Baroness very rightly said, the YOTs—the ones I have worked with—have a more nurturing role, if you like, in trying to help young people. When they move to the probation service, it is quite often an unpleasant surprise for them. I hope we may explore that more fully.
In conclusion, we have the introduction of a payment system which is untested anywhere in the criminal justice world, the abandonment of the pilot schemes, and the removal of the 35 probation trusts and their replacement with a centralised commissioning service. We will judge this Bill in the wider context of the Government's rehabilitation strategy. We agree with many of the specific provisions of this Bill itself. Reducing reoffending while maintaining public safety must be any Government's objective, but ill-thought-out policies based on an unproven ideologically driven funding policy risks the very services which this Bill seeks to enhance.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for that measured response. I thought his peroration wandered into Beecham territory, but for the most part it was moderate and constructive, and for that I am most grateful. I see him as a kind of David Beckham figure, coming to dazzle us on the Front Bench and then all too soon going away again. However his participation today and, I hope, in Committee and at other stages of the Bill is now guaranteed.
It is very difficult responding to so comprehensive a debate. It is one where Governments can never win. We pilot, analyse and consult, and then we run out of steam. If we push ahead with radical ideas, we are going too fast and failing to consult. I am not quite sure how to respond to the tour de force of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. He ended on “The Tempest”, but his message was more from “Life of Brian”. He is quite sure that the Secretary of State is,
“not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”.
One rather more serious point, which I make in all comradeship to both the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friend Lady Linklater, is that sometimes if a department makes any move at all, they are so precise about what is wrong that you lose all sense of whether they are supportive of at least the attempt. Of course, there are questions about so radical and innovative a policy. I will try to cover some of them in this reply and I will also look forward to a very thorough examination in Committee.
Since he was one of the last speakers and his name is at the top of my pile of notes, perhaps I may thank my noble friend Lord Bates for his intervention. It gave me a breather and he made a very important point about education. We will be bringing forward thoughts on education and its place in the youth sector, but it also has an important role to play in rehabilitation in the adult sector. It ties in with a point that is often made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about mentoring and the benefit of initiatives such as the Toe by Toe project, whereby literate prisoners help illiterate prisoners to master reading and writing.
I will try to cover the major points in my response and note some of the key ideas. I will follow up the idea from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, on ex-service personnel because there is growing concern about how many of our ex-servicemen seem to end up in the criminal justice system as offenders. We will look at ideas that have worked and we will certainly follow them up.
A number of noble Lords expressed concern about whether there will be scope for small providers. We intend to put in place market stewardship arrangements so that the smaller voluntary and community sector providers can bid to be a prime provider or to be a partner. We are running a two-part £500,000 grant to support VCS organisations to overcome the barriers to participating in the rehabilitation reforms and, as has been said, this morning my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced further funding. I should also like to follow up with my noble friend Lord Marks the idea of a chartered institute of probation officers or some such body. That is something that sits well with the idea of a National Probation Service. I have said many times from this Dispatch Box that I have great admiration for the probation service and at no time have I suggested that it is the fault of the service that we have a 56% rate of reoffending, or indeed any other percentage. The service does an excellent job. What we are doing here is not a condemnation of the probation service but an attempt to restructure provision in a way that gets us better value from the money that we are making available for rehabilitation. I take the point made by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Healy, about women. It is something that we may explore in Committee.
I will deal with some of the broader points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle later, but I do not think that ever in my political life have the words, “Public is bad, private is good”, passed my lips. It is an absurd assumption and is certainly not part of the motivation behind this Bill. However, diversity, variety and flexibility are good, and those are what we are trying to promote in what we are doing. I will deal with the matter of breach, raised by my noble friend Lady Berridge, later, but perhaps I may flag up that I have visited one of the Clink restaurants, and very good it was too. They are a real and functioning example of rehabilitation; the hospitality world is one in which the range of skills required matches well with those of prisoners.
I have noted the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, that the previous Government themselves examined payment by results and were none the worse for that. As we have pointed out before, much of this restructuring depends on the 2007 Act. I am not scoring points here; I just want to make the point that it has been a direction of travel for a long time in both prisons and probation because, as has been said a number of times, the private and voluntary sectors have been involved in rehabilitation for a long time. I have seen provision by St Giles Trust, Turning Point and others that demonstrates that. We want to look again at social investment bonds. As the noble Baroness said, they could and should be a major long-term part solution to some of the issues we face. However, I acknowledge her experience and take her advice about the need to find a long-term basis for such investment.
My noble friend Lord Dholakia let it out of the bag that he is my long-term mentor on criminal justice matters, and I hope that I am all the better for that. He made the important point that we should not confuse voluntary with amateur. The voluntary sector has a great deal of professionalism to give us in this area. I hope also that we can press forward on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and we certainly intend to do so as soon as possible.
I take on board the warning from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that we should proceed with caution and about the danger that what we are doing will somehow legitimise and justify an inflation in short-term sentencing. I do not think that will happen. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, recognised, we are talking to magistrates and the Sentencing Council with this very much in mind. The noble and learned Lord also made the point that this kind of attempt has been made before with custody plus, and we will try to learn some of the lessons from that.
As well as raising the issue of women in prison, which I am very willing to explore further in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, warned against setting people up to fail. I see that as a proper warning and one that we will take to heart when putting these reforms in place. I was glad that my noble friend Lady Linklater welcomed the emphasis on mentoring. She, too, expressed concerns about the probation service and mentioned that it is now 100 years old. I do not believe that we will lose the skills base through these reforms. They will be redeployed across the sector. However, I will say quite frankly that I believe that a National Probation Service along the lines that we are contemplating will have far more status and influence on policy than the service did as, if I may say, the poor relation of NOMS within the Prison Service. Under our new structure, the National Probation Service will have within NOMS direct reporting to the Secretary of State, and I think that that is an advance on what has gone before. My noble friend Lady Hamwee also welcomed mentoring, and I take to heart the importance of getting a complete buy-in to this from prison staff.
I suspect I shall run out of time for all the other issues. We are trying to give discretion to the courts when they are sentencing. Applying the provision to all offenders then setting the appropriate level of supervision is a much more practical approach than deciding at the time of sentencing not to supervise an offender and then realising too late that they actually pose a risk of reoffending and need supervision. A blanket, one-size-fits-all type of supervision will not be applied; there will be proportionality and judgment in taking this forward. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, gave an example of somebody who has been in prison for an offence that is unlikely to be recommitted and has a minimum requirement for supervision: that is exactly what will happen.
My noble friend Lord Dholakia, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, spoke about the danger of raising the threshold for imposing custodial sentences. The Bill is focused on improving rehabilitation for those whom the court decides need to go to prison. We have already made changes to the community order in the LASPO Act and the Crime and Courts Act to ensure that sentencers have tough community sentences at their disposal. The fact remains that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, some people need to go to prison, even if only for short periods. The current custodial threshold is already high. The court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence is so serious that a final community sentence cannot be justified. Other matters on the details of application would be better left to be dealt with in Committee.
The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, asked me specifically whether 14 days committal for breach activates its own 12 months of supervision. It does not: committal is the ultimate sanction for breach but the objective is to get the offender back on to the original rehabilitation programme. That also covers how we intend to extend this to 50,000 offenders and apply it with a sense of proportion in each specific case.
On the question of women, we have, through my honourable friend Helen Grant, taken on a women’s advisory board and will be taking forward proposals on female offenders. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this in Committee.
A number of noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, raised concerns about the participation of small charities. Our reforms will open up the probation service to a far wider range of potential providers. We want to encourage partnerships between voluntary or charitable organisations and between VCs and the private sector. In reply to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle about faith group involvement in rehabilitation, I recently went to Liverpool as a guest of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and saw some of the projects being run there. The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, may be interested to know of Adelaide House, a very interesting project for the resettlement of women offenders. I want to put on record my appreciation of all the faith groups, which already have a network and a committed flock who readily make themselves available for rehabilitation work. That is something we want to work with and build on. In St Albans and Norwich, which I have visited in the past couple of years, the cathedrals are being used as centres for getting the various groups together on projects that work.
Lest I get into trouble for going on too long, I will just deal with the question of payment by results. Our payment mechanisms will ensure that providers have to work successfully with all offenders, including the most prolific and hardest to help, if they are to be paid in full. There will be a fixed fee for service, ensuring that they deliver the sentence requirements, and licence conditions for every offender. The remainder of their payment will be dependent on the reductions they make in reoffending. To be paid in full, providers will need to achieve an agreed reduction in both the number of offenders who go on to reoffend and the total number of offences committed by those in their cohort. So they cannot just focus on the easy wins; they will have to work with the most prolific offenders and keep working with those offenders who have already reoffended. We will be developing the details of our payment mechanism in discussions with providers and practitioners. I am sure that will be developed in Committee.
Those are matters of contract with the providers, but the noble Lord can probe me further on that in Committee, when I will try to give more specific answers.
It does not surprise me, given the speakers list today and the range of experience and expertise on view, that a lot of questions have been asked. I hope we can delve deeper into this in Committee. I do not accept that this is not worth pursuing. Most people have welcomed the objectives and, as I have told the House before, we must accept that, in these straitened times, the department cannot call on other resources to fund ambitious programmes. However, we are spending just less than £1 billion on the wide range of rehabilitation services. We have heard about holistic approaches and making sure that we have buy-in from other departments and from local government; these are all important to its success and I passionately believe it is worth trying. I understand the dangers but, in the end, you can spot so many dangers that you are paralysed. I do not believe that is the right approach. We should press ahead with this, let this House use its expertise to examine it in detail and see if we can put in place a piece of legislation that will give the framework to bring in ideas, flexibility, innovation and value for money in an area where there is a great deal of common agreement about objectives, as today’s debate has shown. As we take this Bill forward, our job is to see if we can tease out the practicalities so that it is also effective. I beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.