Prisoners: Early Release — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 20th January 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Sharples Baroness Sharples Conservative 2:53 pm, 20th January 2009

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many prisoners have been released under the early release scheme.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, there are two schemes under which prisoners may be released into the community before they have served half their sentence. The latest published figures show that 147,334 prisoners have been released under the home detention curfew scheme and 44,720 prisoners have been released under the end-of-custody licence scheme.

Photo of Baroness Sharples Baroness Sharples Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. How many of the released prisoners are immigrants? I understand that they receive cash to compensate for food and board, but how long is it before they are deported? Is the home detention curfew working well?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, foreign nationals in prison who are due for deportation are not eligible for either scheme. If the noble Baroness means such prisoners when she uses the term "immigrant" in this context, the answer is none.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative

My Lords, how can the public be expected to have confidence in the criminal justice system when early release—which used to be called executive release—is no longer a measure resorted to very rarely in an emergency but seems now to be a settled practice?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Justice Secretary has said on many occasions that we will end the end-of-custody licence when headroom allows. We are working extremely hard to build new places, with the fastest ever creation of prison spaces. When Ministers judge that it is safe to do so, we will end that scheme. The other scheme, the home detention curfew scheme, plays an important role in managing prison population by reducing overcrowding and, at the same time, we believe, improves the resettlement and rehabilitation opportunities for less serious offenders.

Photo of Lord Woolf Lord Woolf Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that having a policy that will result in an increased population is hardly wise if there are these problems with the existing prison population? The practical result is that the courts are being required to shovel people into prison by the front door and then they are released by the back door.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, what the noble and learned Lord says is, of course, right to the extent that overall prison capacity is high at present. There is an obligation for the courts to send to prison those who are dangerous and serious criminals, but we believe that tough community sentences are a proper alternative to prison in many cases.

Photo of Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Labour

My Lords, is there any difference in reconviction rates between prisoners released under the two schemes that we are discussing and those released in the normal way?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, as I understand it, the figures for reconviction under the home detention curfew scheme are happier than those for prisoners released in the normal way.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the early release scheme has been fairly successful, apart from occasional hiccups? In the light of that, does he have it in mind to review the parole system to ensure that more people spend sentences in the community rather than in custodial institutions?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, it has been successful to the extent that it has reduced the problems with regard to the prison population. On the other hand, it is not entirely a satisfactory scheme, which is, as I said, why my right honourable friend wants to end it as soon as headroom allows. I repeat what I said to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf: where a non-custodial sentence, a tough community sentence, can be imposed, of course we want more of them, but the House must accept that there are people who really have to go to prison.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, is the Prison Officers' Association actively involved in discussions prior to those releases?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, of course the prison administration in each prison takes these matters very seriously. Before a home detention curfew can be awarded to a prisoner, there will clearly have been many discussions about whether the prisoner is appropriate, and that will include prison officers. As for the end-of-custody licence, provided that the prisoner meets the qualification—that is, that he or she is serving a sentence of more than four months and less than four years, is not imprisoned for serious violence or terrorist offences and is not on the sexual offences register—they will automatically be released up to 18 days before their sentence ends.

Photo of Lord Kingsland Lord Kingsland Shadow Lord Chancellor, Parliament

My Lords, when my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew posed his question to the Minister, the Minister responded by saying that the temporary scheme would be finished "when headroom allows". Will the Minister inform the House, as accurately as he can, what he means by the expression "when headroom allows"?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I mean when there are enough new prison places for prisoners to be able to serve the whole of their sentence. I find it hard to understand why we should be attacked for having had systems that allow for prisoners to be released before they are half way into their prison sentences. When the noble Lord's Government were in power, they ensured on four quite separate occasions that the same facilities were available for prisoners. In other words, the prisoners could be released less than half way through their sentences. I cannot think why his party should suddenly have turned against this.