As I have said recently, there is persuasive evidence that short custodial sentences do not work in terms of rehabilitation. In certain circumstances, community sentences are more effective in the reduction of reoffending and therefore keeping the public safe. The reoffending rate of offenders who serve fewer than 12 months is around 65%, but earlier research has shown the reoffending rate for similar offenders who receive a community penalty to be lower. We will look at what more we can do to emphasise that short custodial sentences should be viewed as a last resort.
The Secretary of State may be aware that the rate of women reoffending and being recalled to prison is higher than that of men, with three out of every five women offenders being recalled or re-prosecuted and sent back to prison. There is now a real need to implement the female offender strategy and ensure that women are given as much support as they can be given. There is also a real need for the Secretary of State to take action on short-term offences and look into other ways to sentence women, because the current approach simply is not working.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He referred to the female offender strategy; as he will be aware, its focus is on alternatives to custody, particularly for minor offences. There are particular issues for females offenders in respect of the nature of the offences and the issues that female offenders face, so it is right that we implement the new strategy.
Over the past five years, the use of community sentences has declined, and it has declined fastest for theft and drugs offences. Does the Secretary of State think that prison is the best place for people with drug addictions and shoplifting convictions? If not, how is he going to reverse that trend?
Often, it is not the right place, which is why my hon. Friend the Prisons Minister and I have been clear that we need to consider alternatives to custody and explore what more we can do with community sentences. In some cases, the issue is getting to the heart of the problem, which often might be drug dependency and so on. Some encouraging pilots are ongoing in respect of community sentence treatment requirements. Those are some of the steps that we are taking. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for our approach.
Short-term sentences are catastrophic for reoffending rates and if the Government are serious about reducing both crime and our prison population, they must recognise the importance of early intervention. With the Home Office now pursuing a public health approach to violent crime, will the Minister tell us how he is engaging with this strategy?
We are very much engaging with the strategy, and it is a strategy that I support. We are ensuring that we work across government to intervene as early as we can and that we have strong alternatives to custody that are not soft options but are effective. I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the work that we are doing on community sentence treatment requirements as a way in which we can work across government to address some of these issues. For some people, prison is the right place, but for many of the petty offenders, there are more effective things we can do, and I welcome her support for the approach we are taking.
The Justice Committee report into transforming rehabilitation recommended a presumption against short sentences. Statistics show that the reoffending rate for women prisoners currently stands at 61% for those serving sentences of less than 12 months, yet, since 2010, community sentences for women have nearly halved. Will the Secretary of State therefore fully commit to the Committee’s recommendations and implement a presumption against sentences of less than 12 months?
We are looking at various options in this context. I know that Scotland introduced a presumption against three months. I think it is fair to say that that did not make much of a difference, and it has now been extended to 12 months, and we are looking at the evidence from that. I hope it is very clear to the House that, when it comes to reducing reoffending and to rehabilitation, we do question the effectiveness of short sentences.
Would not the effectiveness of all custodial sentences be increased if we reduced the number of prisoners who were released on a Friday night when no public services are available for them, often leaving them to fall into the hands of the local drug dealer and go straight back into a life of crime?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that concern. There are different ways in which one can address that matter. More support could be provided. For example, there could be release on a temporary licence a few days before the final release so that many of the public services can be accessed. Whether we look at release on a particular day or at other ways of addressing that matter, I completely understand his point. We need to make sure that when people are released, they are in a strong position to access accommodation and a job and to be able to maintain their family links; that is what we want to do.
The figures from the Ministry of Justice consistently show that the longer people spend in prison the less likely they are to reoffend. When the Secretary of State says that he wants to see the end of short-term sentences, does he agree with me that those people should be sent to prison for longer, or does he agree with the Opposition that those criminals should not be sent to prison at all?
I had a feeling that the consensus was not going to last much longer. The reality is that, for petty offenders who tend to be prolific and tend to be repeat offenders, the evidence shows that non-custodial sentences are more effective at reducing reoffending than custodial sentences and that is the approach that we want to take.
Would not reoffending rates for those on short-term prison sentences go down if life was made as uncomfortable as possible for them while they were in jail? Instead of spending all day in their overcrowded prison cell either on their mobile phone or going through the satellite TV channels, should they not be out breaking rocks in a quarry or picking up litter in the rain?
People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment. The purpose of prison should be about ensuring that when people are released, they are less likely to reoffend. I do not think that my hon. Friend is setting out an effective approach.
I support the idea that short custodial sentences often serve little purpose in reducing reoffending, but does the Secretary of State agree that to convince the public of this—to take them on this journey—they need to see both transparency of sentencing and that any discounts on tariffs are rewards, rather than the rule?
It is important that there are incentives—both carrots and sticks—in the prison system. Good behaviour in prison should be rewarded, just as bad behaviour should be punished. That is the approach that we need to take.
My party agrees with the Secretary of State regarding the evidence on the inappropriateness of many short-term prison sentences, but community sentences need to be properly resourced to ensure that they work as an appropriate alternative. Will the Government increase funding to local authorities for the delivery of effective community sentences alongside any presumption?
We need to make sure that the alternatives to custody are effective—that they are not soft options, but that they do enable people to turn their lives around—and that the public have confidence that this is the proper course of action to take. That is our ambition.