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Ministry of Justice Questions
Nick takes Oral Questions in the House of Commons as Minister of State for Criminal Justice
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Based on a survey of nearly 1,500 adult prisoners, we found a number of factors associated with reoffending on release: negative childhood experiences; poor educational backgrounds; low employment prospects; and poor health prospects, including drug usage. Research has also shown that criminal history, age and gender are strong predictors of future reoffending.
Guy Opperman: I thank the Minister for that answer. Almost half of all serving prisoners have very basic literacy and numeracy skills. What steps is he taking to transform the literacy training that offenders receive in prison?
Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend about the problem. The majority of prisoners do not have the necessary reading and writing skills to do most jobs in the labour market on release. That is why assessing literacy and numeracy skills is a priority in prisons and why those with a need are offered classroom-based courses and individualised support, but there is also a role for the third sector, with organisations such as Toe By Toe providing mentoring for prisoners and by prisoners to help them learn reading skills.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Minister has not mentioned young people, and high numbers of them continue to reoffend. What strategy is in place to give them guidance and support so that they do not reoffend when they come out of prison or young offenders institutions?
Nick Herbert: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that reoffending rates by younger people are particularly high and that that is where we need to focus attention. The guidance he mentions is particularly effective when it comes in the form of mentoring, which can be provided by third sector organisations, and we have seen some very effective examples of that. It is a question not only of statutory supervision and support, but of what others can bring.
Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): May I urge the Minister to take an even closer look at the voluntary sector's work in that area, especially the charity KeepOut, which I have recently become aware of? It is a crime diversion scheme delivered by teams of serving prisoners that aims to steer young people away from the conveyor belt to a criminal life and represents a positive step for many prisoners on their rehabilitation journey.
Nick Herbert: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the work of organisations such as KeepOut that provide exactly the type of mentoring service I was talking about, helping those who are or have been prisoners to dissuade young offenders from pursuing a life of crime.
Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): I have listened to the Minister's answers. We were promised a rehabilitation revolution, but unfortunately the chief inspector of prisons can find no evidence of it. In the interests of looking at outcomes, can the Minister let us know when we can expect to see this decline in reoffending and by exactly how much it will decline?
Nick Herbert: I think that the whole House agrees that reoffending rates are too high. They have been persistently high, and we need to tackle that issue. That is why the rehabilitation revolution is important, and I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not appear to support it. We have particular proposals on payment by results, and we are now seeing them extended throughout public sector and private sector prisons, where we will ensure that we pay for what works and incentivise providers to reduce reoffending. We are determined to reduce reoffending by using innovative means, not the familiar means that Labour always proposes, which involve simply spending more public money.
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We are supporting local areas to develop integrated approaches to managing offenders and testing payment-by-results arrangements for providers working with short-sentenced prisoners.
Mrs Grant: Around 4,000 women are in British prisons, most of whom are serving short-term sentences. Does the Minister agree that community women offender projects can provide a very real alternative to custody?
Nick Herbert: I suspect there is a consensus across the House about that issue. It is worth reflecting on the fact that, 15 years ago, there were only 1,800 women in prison. The Prison Reform Trust has pointed out that:
Some women need to go to prison, and it is important that custody remains available. However, we are focusing on developing suitable, intensive community sentences that can prevent such a flow into the custodial system wherever possible.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister aware that stalking is a pernicious crime that often attracts short sentences? Those sentences are no good at all if the quality of the treatment for stalking is not up to a good standard; those people are free to go back and stalk usually the very women they were stalking before.
Nick Herbert: That is an example of the fact that prison plainly plays an important role in relation to both punishing and incapacitating offenders. It must also play a role in the rehabilitation of offenders. The system has too often failed in that third role, including for the most serious crimes.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The way to stop foreign national prisoners who serve a sentence of a year or less from reoffending is to return them from whence they came to their country of origin. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that that is being done on each and every occasion?
Nick Herbert: I know my hon. Friend's long-standing interest in that issue. It is absolutely right that those prisoners who have served a prison sentence should expect to be returned to their country of origin. We are returning more than 5,000 a year, and we will continue to make every effort to do so.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): The hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) is right about women prisoners. Under the previous Government, an inter-ministerial group was set up to try to implement the recommendations of the Corston report. Will the Minister describe what efforts he is making to maintain that work in Government?
Nick Herbert: We do seek to maintain it. The focus must be on developing suitable community sentences that can satisfy the courts, address the causes of reoffending and also be sufficiently punitive. It is important that the public have confidence in such sentences, so that we can ensure there is a satisfactory alternative for women who do not need to be sent to prison. The absence of satisfactory alternatives in the past has been part of the problem.
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We have started piloting payment-by-results models to drive what works and drug recovery wings. We are supporting the piloting and roll-out of mental health liaison and diversion services in police custody and courts. We are also developing plans to make prisons places of hard work.
Mr Clappison: Would not the task of the employment and work programmes to which my right hon. Friend has referred be improved if prisoners actually worked while in prison? Is it not the case that far too few prisoners are given the opportunity to work in prison workshops for a full working week? Would that not be of benefit to prisoners and their victims?
Nick Herbert: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The Government are committed to ensuring that prisons are places of work and restoration. We are focused on a programme to ensure that, wherever possible, we introduce work into prisons. There are problems with the physical estate, but we are determined to make that happen wherever we can.
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Parc young offenders institution in my constituency had a report from the chief inspector of prisons recently that revealed that 60% of the 64 inmates were admitted with drug-related problems, that 25% had alcohol-related problems and that 89% had truanted from school repeatedly. What steps are we taking to ensure that rehabilitation is a real possibility in private sector prisons?
Nick Herbert: Rehabilitation is important, whether in a public or private sector prison. The movement to payment by results will ensure that providers are focused on what they need to do to reduce reoffending. Ensuring that offenders get off drugs and deal with their alcohol problems is an important part of that. That is one reason why we are piloting drug recovery wings in prisons. We will maintain our focus on those areas.
Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work that has been done to introduce work for prisoners. However, my constituents and I are concerned that local companies that are full of honest, hard-working people may lose contracts to prisoners, who are effectively subsidised by taxpayers' money. Will he assure me that that will not be the case?
Nick Herbert: I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern. We will design the schemes in a way that ensures that that does not happen. However, we must not lose sight of the importance of ensuring that prisons are places where offenders are not simply idle, but where they are rehabilitated and introduced to the world of work and responsibility.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): One factor that means that prisoners are less likely to be rehabilitated on coming out of prison is the lack of access to housing. Many prisoners are released with just a cash voucher and no chance of anywhere to live. What is the Minister doing about that scandal?
Nick Herbert: I agree with the hon. Lady that that is one of the very important factors that determine reoffending. That is why it is important that we have a concerted effort to ensure that on their release, prisoners, and particularly short-term prisoners who are not the subject of statutory supervision or support, receive the necessary support and entitlement to services. That can be done through the integrated offender management programmes that we are supporting, and also through the payment-by-results schemes that we are piloting, whichthe Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) described.
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We are committed to delivering more restorative justice across the system, ensuring that more victims have a chance to explain the impact of crime upon them and that offenders face up to the consequences. Many areas already use restorative approaches, and we are considering how we can increase capacity to enable local areas to provide more effective responses to crime and disorder.
Mr Buckland: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Both the youth offending team and the police in Swindon are using restorative justice procedures to very good effect, particularly in the sentencing process and as an alternative to prosecution. What specific plans does he have to support that invaluable work?
Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend about the value of that work, which can both provide enhanced victim satisfaction, whereas victims are otherwise too often an afterthought in the process, and reduce reoffending rates. That was why the coalition agreement committed us to introducing neighbourhood resolution panels, which we intend to take forward. We have invited expressions of interest and had good interest in them, and we will set up pilots in the new year.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): What steps will the Minister take to support restorative justice programmes in prisons, such as that offered by the Prison Fellowship's "Sycamore Tree" programme?
Nick Herbert: It is important that we support restorative justice as a principle that applies across the criminal justice system, not just in any one part of it. The idea that offenders should make amends and, when victims want it, be required to confront their victims, is good, and where such schemes are successful we want to see them extended.
T9.  Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Do the Government agree that magistrates are a vital and integral part of the justice system, and that they must be supported and encouraged to play a part in neighbourhood justice?
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Yes, we do. As we develop our proposals, including for the neighbourhood resolution panels that I described earlier, we want to consider what role magistrates may play in that. They are, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, an important lay resource, and we should think of new ways to make use of them.
8 November 2011
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