My Lords, most convictions become spent after a specified period and the person is then treated as though they had not committed the offence. The Government have reduced rehabilitation periods and allowed more convictions to become spent. However, to maintain public protection, certain spent convictions are disclosed for sensitive occupations.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer, but would he not accept that sending someone to prison is the punishment and that the purpose of prison, wherever possible, should be to rehabilitate so that that person can return to normal life and live a normal life? I accept that that is not always possible, but in most cases it should be. It is grievous to think of young people, in particular, who have had a successful career but who have made a mess, not being allowed to do that and almost being encouraged to reoffend.
I entirely accept that at least a significant part of imprisonment should be concerned with rehabilitation. I also accept what my noble friend says about the importance of encouraging ex-offenders to resume their life in so far as possible. We do, however, expect employers to be sensitive to re-employing offenders, depending on the particular nature of the employment.
My Lords, while acknowledging the importance of the opportunity to resume career and noting that many men who come out of prison have a family home to which they can return, is the Minister aware that for the overwhelming majority of women coming out of prison, accommodation is their priority, not employment? They want somewhere to live with their children. Is he aware that women who are remanded for 28 days and who are not then charged lose their home and their children, with little chance of getting either back?
That is clearly a matter of concern. The Government are aware that that can be an issue and are anxious to ensure, so far as possible, that when offenders leave prison they are given as much support as possible. The noble Baroness will be aware of the transforming rehabilitation steps that have been taken by this Government. We wish to ensure, so far as possible, that the return to the community is as satisfactory as it can be.
My Lords, will my noble friend agree with me that the provision in my Private Member’s Bill, which is now incorporated in the LASPO Act, has benefited a large number of young people and a large number of offenders leaving prison? Will he therefore now look at the international dimension, in particular at what is going on in Sweden, and at how such provisions can help to reduce the prison population in this country?
The noble Lord makes a number of allegations about the unsatisfactory nature of our prisons. There are different reports for different prisons. I cannot possibly deal with all prisons at the Dispatch Box. I do not share his gloomy view of the state of our prisons, having visited a number of them. The work done in our prisons is of a very high standard and we have a dedicated body of prison officers who take great satisfaction in their work. I do not accept his description.
My Lords, will the Minister agree that the size of the prison population has reached an almost all-time record and that that is a cause for concern, particularly given the difficulties there are now for courts in finding alternatives to prison for relatively minor offenders and those who have serious problems, such as drug or alcohol abuse? Would it not be worth while thinking again about the status of the probation service in this country?
The number of offenders who are in prison depends, of course, on what judges decide is appropriate and on the number of offences committed. I accept that the prison population is high at the moment; I do not accept that there is overcrowding within conventional definitions. However, I entirely accept what the noble Lord—who has great experience in this field—says: we should be looking, in so far as possible, for alternatives to prison, particularly to combat difficulties with drugs, alcohol or other matters that predispose people towards offending.
My Lords, we have an employers’ forum for reducing reoffending, which is there to recruit employers who are willing to take on offenders. This is a success story; 200 offenders have been employed in the last 12 months. The story that we receive from employers is that, on the whole, ex-offenders are extremely good employees. They are grateful for the job and have a very high retention rate in employment.
My Lords, will the Minister place on record that he and the Government are satisfied with the health services provided for people in custody? Will he give the figures for prison officers and those working with prisoners in care and education? Have the numbers gone up, or have they gone down at the same time as the number of prisoners has gone up?