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House of Lords Hansard
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Prisoners: Contribution To Upkeep
25 January 2001
Volume 621

3.25 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether making prisoners contribute towards their upkeep in prison will help towards their rehabilitation.

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My Lords—

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My Lords, I have not asked my question.

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My Lords, I will not be silenced!

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My Lords, I believe that my noble friend is unaware that we have moved on to the fourth Question and that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has already put it.

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My Lords—

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My Lords, effective resettlement work, in particular improving the opportunities for prisoners to obtain employment and accommodation on release, is a key priority for the Prison Service. It has recently established a new custody-to-work programme and has given one of its directors overall responsibility for resettlement.

Where a court order has already been made for the confiscation of assets obtained through the proceeds of crime, there may be scope for some of those funds to be used to offset the costs of imprisonment and the Government are carefully examining that option.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Anyone who watched David Frost's programme last Sunday would have wondered from where within the Home Office such a proposal emerged. Does he accept that, although there is general support for the confiscation of criminally acquired assets of wealthy offenders who have been involved in large-scale criminal activity, many prisoners have few assets other than homes and furniture?

Does the Minister further accept that it would be ridiculous for the basic necessities of such people to be confiscated by the state? Taking into account the fact that prisoners who are released homeless are two-and-a-half times more likely to reoffend and that prisoners without family support are seven-and-a-half times more likely to reoffend, does not the Minister consider that such a proposal will be of no help in reducing crime?

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My Lords, in general, we are referring to making prisoners pay and it is right that where it is possible, practical and feasible, those in prison should make a contribution to their care and custody. However, I accept that as regards that policy we must tread most carefully. From 1st April this year, we shall create a recovered assets fund and 50 per cent of the value of assets seized from crime will be paid into it. We are considering most carefully the criteria for expenditure from the fund, which is the right, sensible and pragmatic approach to adopt.

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My Lords, as a deterrent rather than rehabilitation, would not a common-sense approach be to require people who go to prison to pay for their keep, which averages £28,000 a year? Why should not those who can afford to do so pay their own "hotel bills"?

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My Lords, if the noble Lord had listened carefully to what I said, he would know that in principle I have not disagreed with him. It is worth reflecting on the fact that last year the turnover from prison industries and farms was the highest ever, at £53 million. Obviously, all prisoners who are working in those prison industries make a contribution to their keep—the noble Lord put it in that common-sense way.

We are trying to ensure that prisoners come out of prison with a greater potential for gaining employment. We are trying to double the number of prisoners obtaining a job because we believe that that is the best way to keep them away from a criminal future.

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My Lords, in the light of the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, about prisoners paying for their own "hotel bills'', can my noble friend say whether such a policy has been implemented in other countries, and, if so, what effect it has had on the rate of reconviction?

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My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend the precise detail that he seeks. I am content to ensure that further research is undertaken. However, the general point that I make is an important one. The more people we can train and educate so that they are able to get jobs when they leave prison, the greater the chance that they will not reoffend, and that has a beneficial impact on offending rates within society generally. I believe that everyone supports that common-sense approach.