With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Government’s plans to reform the system of sentencing in England and Wales. This morning, I laid before Parliament a White Paper entitled “A Smarter Approach to Sentencing” and I wanted to come to the House to outline the measures contained within it.
The first duty of any Government is to protect their people, but the complex system of sentencing in England and Wales does not always command the confidence of the public. At one end of the spectrum of offending, there are serious sexual and violent criminals who, by automatic operation of the law, leave prison halfway through their sentence. We are going to ensure that more of these serious offenders stay in custody for longer.
There are also criminals who, while serving time for their offence, may become a danger to the public but who currently would be eligible for automatic release. We are acting to prevent fewer of these offenders from leaving prison without being assessed as safe by Parole Board experts. These measures will keep offenders who pose a risk to the public off the streets for longer and help to restore public confidence that robust sentences are executed in a way that better reflects the gravity of the crimes committed.
At the other end of the spectrum, protecting the public from the effects of lower-level offending means finding new ways to break cycles of crime—to prevent a revolving door of short custodial sentences that we know offer little rehabilitative value. Criminals in that category often have chaotic lifestyles and their offending can be driven by substance misuse, poor mental health or learning difficulties. They often have limited education, few job prospects and experience generational patterns of offending.
Rather than continuing to send them back and forth to prison—doing the same thing but expecting a different result—we instead want to empower the sentencing system to use more effective community sentencing to get them off drugs and into the jobs that we know can lead them to a better life. We will do that by better identifying individual needs, providing treatment options where appropriate and utilising technology, such as sobriety tags, to drive compliance. These measures will support offenders to change their lifestyles for good and, in the process, protect the public from the ongoing effects of their crimes.
The reforms will not work unless they are underpinned by a world-class probation system that can understand and implement sentencing properly, backed up by a high-quality probation workforce. I pay tribute to the probation service and everyone who works within it to supervise offenders. We have set ourselves an ambitious target to recruit 1,000 new trainee probation officers in 2020-21, and over the next few years we are determined to invest in the skills, capability and ways of working that probation officers need to do their job to the best standard.
Within the new probation arrangements, we will unify sentence management under the National Probation Service to further grow confidence between probation and the courts, with which there is a much closer relationship than under the old model. The 12 new probation regions will have a new dynamic framework, making it easier to deliver rehabilitation services through voluntary and specialist organisations. We will legislate to give probation practitioners greater flexibility to take action where offenders’ rehabilitative needs are not being met or where they pose a risk to the public. These measures will empower probation services to be more effective at every juncture of the criminal justice system.
The White Paper also contains measures to reduce stubbornly high reoffending rates by utilising GPS technology to drive further compliance, and to make it easier for offenders to get jobs by reducing the period after which some sentences can be considered spent for the purposes of criminal records checks for non-sensitive roles. In the youth system, it puts flexibility into the hands of judges to keep violent young offenders in custody for longer, while at the same time allowing courts to pass sentences that are tailored to the rehabilitative needs of each young person.
The White Paper builds on the current sentencing framework to create a system that will be much better equipped to do its job effectively, and throughout this document there are contributions from other ministerial colleagues right across Whitehall. That is an acknowledgement of the cross-Government approach that will be required if we are going to make a success of these reforms. We have got to come together to fulfil our manifesto commitments, to bring in tougher sentences, to tackle drug-related crime, to treat addictions, to improve employment opportunities for offenders, to review the parole system and much more.
A smarter approach to sentencing will grow confidence in the criminal justice system’s ability to deal robustly with the worst offenders and reduce the risk of harm to the public. It will also be smart enough to do the things that will really bring down crime in the longer term. I look forward to bringing its various measures through Parliament. I commend the White Paper and this statement to the House.