Time Spent in Cells: Reoffending Rates

Justice – in the House of Commons at on 20 February 2024.

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Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Labour, St Helens South and Whiston

What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the length of time that prisoners spend in their cells on reoffending rates.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the length of time that prisoners spend in their cells on reoffending rates.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

We know that activities such as education and training can help to give prisoners skills that they need to get a job on release, thus reducing the likelihood of reoffending. That is why we launched our new national regime model for prisoners last month. It sets out core expectations for regime delivery, so that prisons are getting the most out of the working day and aiding the rehabilitation of prisoners. Of course, we are also seeing improved staffing numbers to facilitate those regimes.

Photo of Marie Rimmer Marie Rimmer Labour, St Helens South and Whiston

Reoffending costs £18 billion a year, but there is not just the financial cost but the impact on society in general, as well as on the individual. Some young prisoners are still getting only one hour out of their cells, so there is no time for rehabilitation—they can perhaps do a little exercise, but that is not the same. How confident is the Minister that all young prisoners will get the re-education that he has outlined? When does he think all young prisoners—if these people have to be in prison—will get proper rehabilitation and the support they need when they come out of prison to get a home, to have somewhere to stay and to go into further training? Will he please give me some reassurance that better times are coming, not just for young offenders but for society as a whole?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that. As she knows, I have a huge amount of respect for her, and she raises a hugely important point. We have heard from the Lord Chancellor that reoffending rates have come down from 31% to 25% since 2010. So we are making progress, but we want to drive them down further. She also rightly highlights the importance of purposeful activity leading to the opportunity on release for employment, accommodation and so on. That is central to the opportunity for prisoners to rehabilitate themselves.

We have seen significant progress made in our youth estate. The hon. Lady talked about young prisoners and rightly said that we need to go further, but we believe the national regime model that we launched in January will go a long way to doing that. The additional staff we have recruited into His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service are central to doing that, as they enable that regime to be put in place. However, she is absolutely right to highlight this issue.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I welcome the Minister’s acknow-ledgement that more education in prisons means cutting the reoffending rate and that clear link to crime. I welcome the national regime model and will be interested to see how it plays out, because I have seen chronic staff shortages and sickness absence, in particular at prisons such as HMP Wandsworth, which I have visited. Those things mean that prisoners are entirely missing out on any education, training and working opportunities. When will I be able to go back to HMP Wandsworth and see the increase in staff and retention that is needed there? When will the Government get a grip on the prison officer recruitment and retention crisis?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Again, I have a lot of respect for the hon. Lady, but I am afraid that what she is suggesting does not entirely reflect the facts. If we compare the figures for 2023 and 2022 for band 3 to 5 prison officers, we see that there are over 1,400 more now, which is an increase of 6.7%. In HMPPS, sick rates are down in the past year, when just over 12,500 people joined and 7,500 left—again, that reflects an increase. We are investing in our prison officers and increasing their number, and that is being reflected in retention. I pay tribute to them for the work they do; we should be talking them up, not down.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

I am encouraged by my right hon. Friend’s comments about the number of additional prison officers recruited. I have seen many of them and the fantastic work they do, both at HMP Aylesbury and across the prison estate. Will he say a little more about how we can ensure that we retain them once they have been trained and they go on to the wings? This is an incredibly important career—it is key to reducing reoffending—and prison officers deserve credit and the support of everybody in this House.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. He is absolutely right about the importance of not just recruiting new prison officers, but retaining experienced ones in our prisons. That is why the pay deal done last year with HMPPS staff was hugely important, in recognising the important work that prison officers do day in, day out. It is also reflected in the fact that the leaving rate for prison officers is down in 2023 from where it was in 2022. However, there is more to do and we will continue to do it.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

Prisoners are spending up to 23 hours a day locked up in their cells as a direct result of overcrowding and the prisons capacity crisis caused by this Government. However, I hear congratulations are in order following an announcement last month, not on the Government actually delivering any of the new prisons they have promised or on even getting spades in the ground, but on their submitting yet another planning application for the Leicestershire prison that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has already ruled on once. Is not about time that the Minister renamed the new prisons programme the no prisons programme?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

For a moment I thought the shadow Justice Secretary was referring to her own party’s record when in government—7,500 prison places in three Titan prisons that failed to be built, whereas we are committed to building six new modern prisons. Two have been built, one is being built at the moment and two have planning permission.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

While prisoners are serving their sentence, they are not being allowed to leave their cell, but ironically the Government are also releasing some of them early. Despite a multitude of letters, questions and even a point-blank request from the Justice Committee, the Government are refusing to tell us how many prisoners are being released early and from where. The public and Parliament have a right to know, so will the Minister finally come clean on how the early release scheme has been used so far? If not, can he tell the House what he has to hide?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

As the shadow Justice Secretary will know, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor has made clear that in line with other statistics, for example death in custody statistics, we will publish those figures on an annual basis.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree with me that the rehabilitation of offenders can be greatly assisted by activity and work outdoors, in particular on farms and at horticultural establishments. Will the Minister reassure me that he is committed to increasing the quantity of work available outdoors and let me know what has happened to the prison estates in recent years?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of a range of purposeful activity for those in prison, from skilled industrial work in workshops to outside work. A good example mentioned recently on “ITV Racing”, of all things, was about getting farriers and those working in the equine world into prisons—the example was a prison in Solihull—to teach prisoners about job opportunities in the equine world. There are a range of opportunities out there, and it is important that they are available to those in our custody.