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The Government published our response to the Green Paper last week and I made a statement to the House about it. We have also introduced the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to give effect to proposals that require primary legislation. We will debate the Second Reading of that Bill tomorrow.
We need to encourage charities and social enterprises to invest in helping offenders and ex-offenders with their rehabilitation. In addition to payment by results, could my right hon. and learned Friend consider introducing Lord Chancellor’s awards for those charities, non-governmental organisations and social enterprises that are among the best at helping to support rehabilitation and prevent reoffending?
We all wish to give support to the many people who, through voluntary or charitable activity, try to help society as a whole by tackling the reoffending and rehabilitation problems of ex-offenders, so I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend’s interesting suggestion. I would love to give Lord Chancellor’s awards to a large number of worthy people, but unfortunately, the financial crisis that the Government have inherited does not enable me to give an instant response to his idea.
Surely the Secretary of State has gone backwards. He has done a U-turn on early guilty pleas; he is reviewing his review on indeterminate imprisonment for public protection; and he has made massive cuts to probation services. I have had letters from probation services, and in Gloucestershire the cut is 7.9%, in West Yorkshire, it is 9.8%, and in Kent, it is a staggering 13.6% this year. How can we have a rehabilitation revolution if there are no community resources?
As the hon. Lady knows, we are debating the Bill tomorrow, which is enormous—I apologise for that—and has huge implications, but we are having to reform fundamentally a criminal justice system that does not help society as it should, because it does not cut reoffending. We are having to reform on a very wide scale a legal aid and civil justice system that encourages unnecessary litigation and is not particularly user-friendly. We have taken over a mess, and we are going in for massive reform of it. We may have changed quite a lot of proposals in light of consultation, but the underlying need for a balanced package of radical reform is certainly there, and we will tackle it.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of people released from prison after serving an indeterminate sentence was 206 at the end of last year. The number who have reoffended since they were released is just 11—a reoffending rate of 5%. The Lord Chancellor says that what is most important to him in the criminal justice system is reoffending rates, so why on earth does he want to scrap the single part of the criminal justice system that is best at reducing reoffending?
About 200 people have been released, but 6,000 are in prison serving indeterminate sentences, and we are adding about 80 a month. They are released only when they can demonstrate to the Parole Board that they are a minimal risk to society—that is the present test—but in a prison cell they find it almost impossible to satisfy that test, so they are in a Catch-22 situation. We need long, determinate sentences for serious criminals; that is the way that the criminal justice system works. The experiment introduced by the previous Government has most undoubtedly failed; we will have one in 10 of the prison population serving indefinite sentences if we do not find a better alternative soon.
I am sure that I can arrange for one of the team to have a meeting with that interesting organisation. A large number of ex-offenders—not too many, but some—do very valuable work in stopping other people making the mistakes that they made. The social impact bond financing the payment-by-results contract that we have with Peterborough prison is largely delivered by an organisation called St Giles Trust, which has an excellent record of using ex-offenders as mentors. Anything that we can do to encourage that, where there are suitable ex-offenders who really are able to give valuable advice, would certainly be welcomed.
A national inquiry, “Community or Custody?”, commissioned by Make Justice Work, has highlighted the success that effective alternatives to custody can have in tackling reoffending and diverting petty criminals from a life of crime. Does the Secretary of State expect his proposals to lead to a reduction in the number of offenders serving short-term prison sentences for non-violent offences and a rise in the number of those involved in tough community sentence programmes?
We need the right sentence for the individual circumstances of each offender. I have never suggested that we get rid of all short-term sentences of imprisonment because sometimes magistrates and others have absolutely no alternative, but we are interested in strengthening community punishments and giving more confidence to magistrates and the public that those can have a genuine effect. We are proposing to strengthen the community payback scheme, which is unpaid work. Improving the extent to which tagging and curfews are available is one part of trying to make sure that, where they are likely to work, non-custodial community sentences are employed with some confidence by the courts concerned.