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Female Offenders

Volume 644: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2018

9. What steps the Government is taking to improve the management of female offenders in the criminal justice system. (906355)

I am pleased that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out, on 27 June we published our new strategy for female offenders. This set out our vision and plans to improve outcomes for women in the community and in custody, but, most importantly in doing so, to help reduce reoffending and see fewer victims of crime. A key theme of the strategy is the need for a joined-up approach to addressing the often complex needs of female offenders, including through new women’s residential centres, which give judges an alternative to short custodial sentences.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new role. East Sutton Park prison in my constituency has a fabulous reputation for preparing women offenders for life back in the real world. For instance, 90% of its inmates do not reoffend within two years, which, as he will know, is much better than the general national statistics. While I welcome the plans to reduce custodial sentences for women, may I ask for his support for this model prison in my constituency and invite him to come and see it for himself?

As I highlighted in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), while a custodial sentence should always be an option, there is strong evidence that short custodial sentences do not achieve the best rehabilitation and reduction of reoffending outcomes. I recognise that women’s prisons, including East Sutton Park, of which my hon. Friend is a strong champion in this Chamber, are among our best. We will continue to work with it and I would be delighted to visit.

Given that Baroness Corston’s seminal 2007 review of women in prison set out a clear case for the benefit of women’s centres and said that they should be at the centre of a successful strategy on female offending, why are the Government insisting on piloting this when we already know that it works? Is it because of lack of funding?

I pay tribute to the work of Baroness Corston in her ground-breaking 2007 report, and indeed to the work of the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), who took some of this forward in his time as a Minister. The landscape of the evidence base on reoffending has continued to evolve and change. We continue to work with that model. We believe that the steps we have set out for five residential women’s centres as a pilot is the right way to approach this, but it remains only a first step on a journey.

I welcome the Government’s new women’s strategy. May I encourage the Minister, who I welcome to his place, shortly to meet the all-party parliamentary group on women in the penal system, and to work with me and Baroness Corston to ensure that we can deliver these reforms at pace?

I pay tribute to Baroness Corston for her work. My hon. Friend is far too modest to highlight her own significant contribution in this area and her significant work with Baroness Corston. I have already written to the APPG that she chairs and would be absolutely delighted to come and meet it.

Well, it runs in the family, because the hon. Lady’s dad, as many will remember, was a very modest man, with nothing to be modest about.

New Hall, one of the largest women’s prisons, is close to my constituency. The message that I am getting from it recently is, first, about the evaluation of whether new prisoners are literate or numerate, and whether they have problems with autism. Secondly, it demands that all women prisoners should be safe and secure from sexual depredation when they are serving their sentence.

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that safety should be at the heart of everything we do in our custodial estate, be that for female prisoners, male prisoners or young offenders. That is safety for the prisoners, safety for their fellow prisoners and safety for the prison officers who are looking after them. It remains a priority for me.

The Government’s Advisory Board for Female Offenders identified £50 million that had been earmarked for building women’s prisons. Can the Minister guarantee today that all of that £50 million will be reinvested in the female offender strategy, or is this just another example of the Government’s refusal to properly fund that strategy?

First, I pay tribute to the work of that panel and those on it. Although I have not yet had the opportunity to formally chair a meeting of the panel, I met a number of panel members at an informal meeting. The Ministry and this Government have never put a figure on the prison building programme. That is not a figure that I recognise. We have been very clear that our priority is investing in the strategy that the Secretary of State launched. We have already set out £5 million for that and made it clear that it is only the first step.