To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the effectiveness of the National Probation Service.
My Lords, the National Probation Service supervises the highest-risk offenders. The Chief Inspector of Probation has consistently found the overall performance of the National Probation Service to be good. The Ministry of Justice has no existing plans to review the effectiveness of the NPS.
My Lords, the Justice Committee’s report is a damning indictment of the coalition Government’s so-called transformation of the probation system, with its split between the probation service and community rehabilitation companies, and with privatisation involving the usual suspects such as Serco. The committee is,
“unconvinced that … the … model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service”,
and asserts that,
“Staff morale is at an ‘all-time low’”.
CRC performance has been “disappointing”, and the voluntary sector is “less involved” than before. The committee also criticises the Ministry of Justice’s ability to let contracts. One shocking revelation by the Chief Inspector of Probation was that 40% of offenders are supervised merely by six-weekly telephone calls. She agrees that the system is “fundamentally flawed”. Do the Government intend at all to address these problems? And can the Minister reassure the House that the chairman of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill, will not be dispatched to Afghanistan when these matters are debated in the Commons?
My Lords, I am not aware of any Member of the other place having been dispatched anywhere. With regard to the Justice Select Committee report, we are of course aware of its terms, and we are taking action to consider the terms in which it has reported. As the committee observed, it is important to understand the effect that probation can have on those leaving prison. It is often a cross-government and cross-departmental issue; for example, it involves issues such as homelessness, as well as other through-the-gate services. With regard to the situation of the CRCs, there are some instances in which they are working effectively with the National Probation Service, but we accept that there have been challenges. It is clear to us that the CRC’s services need to be improved, and that is being addressed at the present time.
My Lords, can my noble and learned friend say how far the probation service has got with reviewing the cases of prisoners who are serving indeterminate sentences, many of whom ought now to be released?
My Lords, we continue to make advances in dealing with IPP prisoners, and the numbers continue to reduce. However, I am not in a position to say what the present number of IPP prisoners is in detention. If my noble friend wishes to see that figure, I will arrange to write to him and will place a copy of the letter in the Library.
My Lords, the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is about the remaining National Probation Service, but the Justice Committee severely criticised the private CRCs for failure through poor contracting, lack of resources and a half-baked payment-by-results system that does not incentivise good practice. So through-the-gate supervision has produced only a poorly functioning signposting service, and voluntary sector involvement in rehabilitation, which we were promised would increase, has reduced instead. Will the Government now commit to implementing the Justice Committee’s recommendations, and there are many of them, and take a long, hard look at reversing this failed part-privatisation?
My Lords, the Justice Select Committee observes that the model that was introduced by the coalition Government has been disappointing in a number of respects, and we will of course address the terms of the Justice Select Committee report.
My Lords, would the Minister agree that we have a very high prison population, and one of the ways of reducing part of the population is to provide the courts with an effective probation service? Can he say how this report will be implemented to make sure that the courts have every confidence in the probation service?
My Lords, we are conscious of the terms of the Justice Select Committee report which was issued last Friday, and we will give considerable consideration to its detailed terms. We agree that community sentences are often more effective than short prison sentences, particularly in reducing reoffending, and we certainly intend to look at that area in more detail.
My Lords, as the Minister will know, local authorities have a duty for care leavers up to the age of 25 to provide support with education, training and housing. As he looks at the probation service, will he ensure that there is more connection with local authorities so that they can discharge that duty properly?
My Lords, I agree with the observations of the noble Earl that there is a need to improve cross-government approaches to the needs and requirements of those leaving our prisons.
My Lords, whichever way you look at the report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation on the community rehabilitation companies, it is clear that the contracting mechanism has led to people using a tick-box mechanism instead of proper rehabilitation. What steps are the Government taking to alter that contracting system, which has clearly failed to do the job for which they set out that ambition, and is it really better to have a much different system now in place?
My Lords, I acknowledge the points made by the noble Lord. We are at present in the course of negotiations with respect to the CRC contracts.
Further to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Laming, what is the current prison population?
I understand that the present prison population is in the vicinity of 93,000.