Reducing Reoffending

Justice – in the House of Commons at on 26 March 2024.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Reducing reoffending is a core mission of this Government. That is why, for example, we rolled out the genuinely transformational policy of 12 weeks’ guaranteed accommodation for offenders on release, and it is why we have invested heavily in employment; there are prison employment leads in every resettlement prison. The plan is working: the reoffending rate has fallen significantly since 2010, from 31% to 25%, and in the two years to March 2023, the proportion of prison leavers in employment six months after release more than doubled.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his answer. He may be aware that the Welsh Affairs Committee has recently heard from businesses such as Timpson and Williams Homes about the work being done to train and recruit prisoners in Wales. While there was a lot of praise for the New Futures Network, which brokers partnerships between employers and prisons, what is being done to expand the number of release on temporary licence schemes? As we have heard, they are really important for improving employability and giving prisoners a better chance of holding down a job when they get out of the gate.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank my right hon. Friend for the interest he is showing in this issue. He is absolutely right to pay tribute to the New Futures Network, which does exceptional work in custody. Of course, it is very often able to liaise with employment advisory boards—local business people in the area—to ensure that prisoners are trained in the skills that they need for jobs in that area. When I went to HMP Berwyn, which is of course in Wales, one of the things that I was so impressed by is that its employment hub has a video suite, so that prisoners can be interviewed by employers on the outside. On my right hon. Friend’s point about ROTL, that is something that prison governors keep under review. Certainly in the right cases, where ROTL is safe for the public, it can be a useful tool to ensure that prisoners are rehabilitated and get into work, so that they can be law-abiding citizens in the future.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

The Secretary of State will know that one of the ways to reduce reoffending is to break the cycle of drug misuse. The problem of course is that in too many prisons there is a high incidence of drugs getting in, so what is he doing to reduce the amount of drugs in our prisons?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Member is right: it is of course really important that we tackle drugs coming into prisons. We have rolled out £100 million in prison gate security, to ensure that there is airport-style security. There are scanners, including body scanners with very high resolution, so that people coming into jails can be scanned for illicit contraband that may be being transported internally; that is important. We are also rolling out additional technology that can scan mail for psychoactive substances impregnated into the paper. That is just one of a suite of measures that we are taking—plus there are the drug abstinence wings.

May I take this opportunity to say that I misspoke earlier? Ian Coates was the third victim of the Nottingham attacks.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s comments about the progress made on tackling reoffending, but he will be aware that it remains stubbornly high. We are in an unfortunate position: we imprison more people than most of our neighbours in Europe, but still have higher rates of reoffending. Does that not posit the fact that we need to make more intelligent use of prison, and of alternatives to custody, as parts of a joined-up system? Would he agree that the Sentencing Bill is particularly valuable in this regard, and can we hope for its swift return to the House?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his excellent point. He says something with which I passionately agree: strip out the emotion and follow the evidence. The evidence shows that there are tools available to this generation of politicians that were not necessarily available 10 or 15 years ago. I am talking not just about GPS tags, which we have doubled, but alcohol tags, with which there is a 97% compliance rate. The reoffending rate among those who live with the sword of Damocles hanging over them can be much lower than for those who spend a short time in custody.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. You are never going to let me forget about my birthday.

I very much thank the Secretary of State for his answers, and for his very clear commitment to physical and skills training. The other important issue is education. If we keep people’s minds and bodies active, they will not wish to offend when they leave prison, so what is being done to help, educationally? Will the Secretary of State share the ideas he clearly has with the equivalent Minister in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Absolutely. Importantly, we are rolling out a prison education service, with a considerable sum of money—about £150 million a year, which is significant. However, it is critical to have tie-up between the local employment advisory boards, liaising with the governor, and the New Futures Network to ensure that the education provided is tailored to the jobs on the outside. People are being assisted with literacy, for example, so that they can do jobs in hospitality, kitchens or horticulture. Education works when it is tailored to job opportunities on the outside. That is how we get prisoners motivated and engaged—and yes, I am happy to engage in the way that the hon. Member proposes.