Justice Questions

Nick takes questions as Minister of State for Criminal Justice

Drugs Act 2005

1. Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department of the effects on the size of the prison population of implementation of the provisions of the Drugs Act 2005. [32677]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We have not recently discussed this specific point, but both the Government's sentencing and rehabilitation Green Paper and their drug strategy include commitments to encourage drug-misusing offenders into recovery-based treatment.

Paul Flynn: Jailing drug offenders costs taxpayers half a billion pounds a year-£41,000 per prisoner. As health treatments are far better value and more effective, would not it be more sensible to treat drug addicts as patients, not as criminals?

Nick Herbert: It may be more sensible in many cases. That is why we said in the Green Paper that we published before Christmas that we would test options for intensive community-based treatment-both residential and non-residential-and couple that with more rigorous community orders. It is important to have a punitive element for offending as well. The goal should be to ensure that offenders get off drugs, but too often that is not the case.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new drug strategy represents a significant shift from the present treatment system, which is characterised by repetitive assessments and conflicting funding streams, to one of payment by results-those results being the number not of boxes ticked but of addicts in recovery beyond the prison gates?

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree: we do have a problem at the moment. A recent study showed that nearly a fifth of offenders in prison who had ever tried heroin had tried it for the first time in prison. In some cases, offenders get on to drugs, and we also have a problem with treatments, with drug rehabilitation requirements that are not completed. We have to get more rigour into drug treatment. That is why the payment-by-results model that we will pilot to get offenders off drugs, for both community orders and post-release treatment, is such an attractive way forward.

Prisoners (Rehabilitation and Reintegration)

13. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): What recent research his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners into society. [32689]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We continue to commission research and evaluation on that important subject. We have just commissioned an evaluation of the Peterborough social impact bond. We have also recently published the evidence report on the Green Paper on sentencing and rehabilitation, in which we reviewed and evaluated a large volume of research.

Tom Brake: Voluntary sector organisations such as Nacro and St Giles Trust play a significant role in delivering services to offenders, and in providing related research and evaluation. As we move towards payment by results and outcome-based commissioning, which is taking precedence in the voluntary sector, what role does the Minister envisage for voluntary sector-related research and evaluation?

Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the voluntary sector in helping us reduce reoffending. The great advantage of payment by results, which we will pilot for community orders and post-release supervision of offenders, is that the providers make the evaluation and take the risk, and we will pay for what works. That is different from the situation until now, whereby Ministers backed projects without necessarily knowing whether they worked in reducing reoffending.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): I urge the Minister to take an urgent look at the ongoing evaluation of the Choose Change project at Manchester prison and the intensive alternative to custody pilot, which Manchester probation service is running as part of a national scheme. I visited both yesterday and they seemed very effective and in line with the Minister's objectives, yet they face financial uncertainty. Will he see what he can do?

Nick Herbert: I would be happy to look at those projects. Our aim, assuming that the pilots are successful, is for all such schemes to be paid for by results. If they work, they will receive the funding. In spite of the prison population's reaching record levels and despite funding, reoffending rates have risen. We therefore need to institute a new system, whereby we pay for what works.

Topical Questions

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): In view of the case involving six defendants that was dropped yesterday, is the Secretary of State aware that there is a lot of disquiet about the crossing of the line from a police constable going undercover for seven years and his inciting illegal action? Would it not be appropriate for a senior Minister, be it him or the Home Secretary, to make a statement to the House? As I have said, there is a good deal of concern and disquiet about what has occurred.

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): These are, of course, operational matters for the police. I understand that there is to be an investigation into what appears to have been a lack of proper supervision of the officer concerned, but undercover operations are immensely important across a range of criminal activities, in keeping the public safe.

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11 January 2011

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