Ministry of Justice Questions 13/12/2011

Nick takes Oral Questions in the House of Commons as Minister of State for Criminal Justice

5. Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with representatives of employers and training organisations to develop his policy on rehabilitation. [86098]

9. Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): What recent representations he has received on promoting links between employers and prisons for the purposes of improving skills among prisoners and increasing employment opportunities on release. [86103]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Promoting links with employers and business is central to our plans to make prisoners work and improve rehabilitation. We have established a business advisory group, which meets regularly to advise Ministers and officials on how to increase both work in prisons and private sector involvement.

Nick de Bois: Will the Minister extend the good practice shown by the National Grid young offender programme? About 1,000 graduates from the scheme have been released from prison into real jobs, which has led to single-figure reoffending rates.

Nick Herbert: I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for that programme. The National Grid young offender programme is a really good model of effective engagement with the private sector. I would particularly commend Dr Mary Harris, its director, who has driven it energetically. The programme has recently been extended to two prisons in Wales and one in the west midlands, and we would like to do more with it.

Margot James: It is well known that employment is the most significant determinant of effective rehabilitation. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on his plans to incentivise Jobcentre Plus, Work programme providers, further education colleges and local employers to get involved and maximise the number of job opportunities available to ex-offenders?

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Finding a job on release plays a significant part in reducing the reoffending of prisoners. That is why we have worked with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that prisoners being released who are eligible for jobseeker’s allowance will be mandated immediately on to the Work programme. We are also re-commissioning learning and skills in prisons. One of the main objectives is to ensure that learning focuses far more on employability, and our employers forum will encourage employers of all sizes.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): A constituent of mine aged 60 was offered a job recently as a handyman in a care home and his Criminal Records Bureau check was called for. It showed that he stole a bag of coal in 1983, 28 years ago, and the job offer was withdrawn. I would allege that this had no relevance at all to the job that he was offered, so will the Government look again at the use of CRB checks?

Nick Herbert: We are reviewing the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. We have to strike the right balance between protecting the public and ensuring that those whom we want to resettle in society and get the right kind of work are able to do so.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): Earlier today I visited Bronzefield women’s prison in Surrey with my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman). We observed a financial literacy course run by Principles in Finance. What plans does the Minister have to increase the amount of financial training available in prisons, given the link between debt and reoffending?

Nick Herbert: I mentioned that we have re-commissioned the provision for skills with a focus on employability. That must be the right approach. It is important to address the causes of offending to establish whether this is one of them and to ensure that we have proper programmes of rehabilitation in prison that will support people on their release to enter the world of work and responsibility.

Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): Does the Minister agree that literacy is a key part of any rehabilitation strategy? Will he update us on what the Government are doing to tackle poor literacy, not only to help the future employment opportunities of those convicted, but to increase the prospects for work within prisons to be meaningful and transformative?

Nick Herbert: Again, this is an area where we seek to improve provision. There is, of course, a role here for the state, but, as I mentioned last time, there is a role for voluntary groups as well. I mentioned the excellent Toe By Toe scheme, which uses former offenders or prisoners to encourage literacy and to teach skills to others. There is a very high correlation between illiteracy and the learning difficulties of prisoners in our jails. We need to address those issues if prisoners are to have a chance of not reoffending on release. 

16. Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): What plans he has to use restorative justice to divert more children and young people away from the criminal justice system. [86113]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The proper goal should be to divert people from crime. When offending takes place, the criminal justice system should respond effectively, and we are keen to promote restorative justice to deliver better outcomes.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the Minister, but the issue is that the Government’s approaches to restorative justice for children are embedded in the youth justice system so they only deal with children once they are inside that system. Why are the Government not investing in diverting young people from the criminal justice system, for example by rolling out the very successful youth restorative disposal pilots?

Nick Herbert: We certainly want to make more use of restorative disposals, which can be valuable. They give greater victim satisfaction when the victim consents, and they can reduce reoffending. We have plans to announce more in relation to our neighbourhood justice proposals, which we will say more about at the beginning of next year. There have been many expressions of interest in that. The goal of the criminal justice system should be to deal with offending when it has taken place. I disagree with the contention that we should be diverting offenders from the criminal justice system. We should be diverting people from crime.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The police in Kettering spend a great deal of time checking compliance with overnight curfews issued to repeat juvenile offenders. This could be solved by tagging those people, but local magistrates tell the police that they are prevented from doing that by sentencing guidelines. Will the Minister go away and have a look at those guidelines?

Nick Herbert: Yes, I am happy to go away and look at them.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Does the Minister think that restorative justice and guiding people away from the criminal justice system would be a more appropriate way of dealing with the minority of young people who were peripherally involved in disturbances last August, rather than the large number of long sentences that have been handed out to them, with all the obvious consequences for them?

Nick Herbert: We do not see restorative justice as an alternative to the criminal justice system; we want to see it embedded in that system. The idea of offenders making amends to victims is a good one, but we have to remember that the figures show that three quarters of those brought before the courts in relation to the riots had previous convictions and that a quarter of them had been in prison before. Perhaps people were caught up in those riots, but a great number of those involved had been in trouble with the law before and we should remember that.

Nick Herbert