Moved by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
82: Clause 125, insert the following new Clause—“Discretionary early discharge of prisonersIn section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961, after subsection (3) insert—“(3ZA) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations establish pilot schemes under which, where a prisoner is to be discharged on a Friday or the day before a bank holiday, they may at the discretion of the governor of the prison be discharged up to two working days earlier than the day on which the prisoner would otherwise be discharged, provided that—(a) it would be helpful for the prisoner’s reintegration into society, and(b) the prisoner has served a custodial sentence of more than 30 days. (3ZB) The power to make regulations under subsection (3ZA) expires after the period of two years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, and any pilot scheme must have concluded within that period.””Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would enable trials of schemes for early discharge from prison which would reduce the bunching of releases on Fridays to take place during a two-year trial period.
My Lords, Amendment 82 is concerned about Friday prisoner releases, or perhaps I should say the bunching of releases of prisoners on Fridays. I place on record my thanks for the support that I have received from around the House, from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Ramsbotham, and from NACRO, which has done a lot of work and research on this subject over many years.
There is always the danger at this stage of a Bill’s proceedings that you just rehearse familiar arguments and regurgitate facts that have been introduced before. I want to avoid that tonight and instead state briefly the central thesis that concerns me and my fellow supporters; state how we have changed and amended it to meet the points made by the Government at the earlier stage of the Bill; and then explain why we have retabled it in this new form today.
The basic thesis is that when you are sentenced, the court sets a calendar date for your release, not a day of the week. If that calendar date falls on a Saturday, a Sunday or—if it is a bank holiday—a Monday, the prisoner will be released on the previous Friday. A quick bit of mental arithmetic will show noble Lords that some three-sevenths of all prisoners are likely to be released on a Friday. Equally, it is clear to us all that Friday is the last day of the week and so, as the afternoon wears on, the local authority and voluntary services begin to wind down. Because a greater number of prisoners are being released, inevitably they are reaching the places where they can access those services later, so they are even more likely to be closing down. Added to that, the prisoner may well have been released from a prison that is some way from his home town, and in the event perhaps he has no home anyway.
Wrap all that together with the discharge grant, which has now been raised from £46 to £76, a sum on which he or she has to live for two or three days, after allowing for any travel expenses that may have been required. The result is that prisoners who may have no accommodation or support, facing the challenges of freedom after a period of incarceration, are having to do so on very limited financial resources. I suggest that it would be hard to construct a set of circumstances in which the temptation to reoffend could be greater.
In Committee, we argued that giving prison governors five-day flexibility on the day of release could help to tackle this issue of bunching and so improve the opportunities for rehabilitation and reduce the chances of reoffending. In his response, my noble friend Lord Wolfson, while recognising the force of the amendment and that it had a core kernel of truth that needed to be addressed, argued—quite persuasively, in my view—that the amendment was deficient in three ways. First, he said that efforts to avoid the effects of Friday bunching needed to be focused on prisoners where the chances of rehabilitation were greatest—a fair point. Secondly, he said that a five-day release window was too long—I understand that. Thirdly, he said that was particularly significant in the case of short custodial sentences. So we sharpened our pencils and tabled a revised amendment to meet those criticisms.
First, we addressed the issue of rehabilitation so that now the amendment says
“it would be helpful for the prisoner’s reintegration into society”— we focused on that. Secondly, we reduced the discretionary period from five days to two days. Thirdly, we limited the discretionary scheme to cases involving custodial sentences greater than 30 days, so that the reduction as a percentage of the sentence was greatly reduced.
With that, we put the amendment down in the Public Bill Office—but shortly after we tabled it, the Government published their Prisons Strategy White Paper. Paragraphs 139 and 140 address the issues and challenges of Friday releases, and do so in terms with which neither I nor, I suspect, my fellow supporters could disagree. I quote:
“We know that accessing timely support on release can be particularly challenging on a Friday, due to the limited time before services close for the weekend. We need to do more to support those with complex needs to access support on release such as older prison leavers who struggle to access social care and those that face practical challenges such as travelling significant distances to access services on time. We will therefore explore allowing prisoners who are at risk of reoffending to be discharged one or two days earlier at governor discretion”.
What is not to like? Nothing is not to like there. What is not to like is the fact that there is now a proposal for consultation. The next paragraph reads:
“Should we take a legislative approach, as described above, for those at risk of reoffending … If so, how should we structure this approach?”
If, as seems likely, primary legislation will be needed to give effect to any new scheme, and if it is to be preceded by a period of consultation, the chance to include anything in this Bill is gone—finished—and we will have to wait another two or three years before another appropriate legislative vehicle comes along. To put it no higher, this seems an unconscionably long time before addressing an issue that all parties agree is serious.
My noble friend Lord Wolfson was kind enough to see a group of us to discuss the ways in which we might tackle this. We explored the possibility of using an interim period to carry out some real-life practical research that could inform and improve the shape of any future Friday release scheme, when or if it is introduced.
We withdrew our amendment and tabled another one. This amendment allows the Minister by regulation to establish pilot schemes to test new approaches to Friday release that meet the outlines I described. These could form a useful part of the proposed consultation exercise. It was in this spirit that we ensured that the regulations had a two-year sunset clause.
I will pull all the threads together. It is generally agreed that the bunching of Friday releases has a number of undesirable features that are likely to increase the chances of reoffending. Secondly, it is agreed that any flexibility in release dates needs to be short and focused on cases in which the chances of rehabilitation are the greatest. We argue that to allow another two or three years to elapse before any action is taken to tackle this problem is, I am afraid, wrong.
The formulation of revised Amendment 82 meets all the policy objectives and at the same time provides a temporary bridge to enable real-life work to begin on testing the best way to tackle this problem in the future. I hope my noble and learned friend will recognise the efforts we have made to address and answer the points that he and his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, made. I do not for a moment suggest that the current drafting of the amendment is suitable so I hope my noble and learned friend will commit to taking it away and bringing back a redrafted version at Third Reading that meets the points we have all been making. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 82, to which I was very pleased to add my name. I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, for his tenacity on the issue of Friday releases. I am also grateful to the Minister for meeting us last week and for his helpful letters on universal credit—which I am pleased to see is also addressed in the recent prisons strategy White Paper—and on how the power to avoid some Friday releases has worked in Scotland.
However, as I said to the Minister at our meeting, the latter tells us about the “what” of the small number of releases made under this power but nothing about the “why”. While I quite understand why the Scottish Prison Service could not, as the letter said, comment on the facts of individual cases, I would have thought it could have pulled out some patterns to help our understanding. Such an analysis would surely be of value to the Home Office, so I hope it will pursue the matter further. The fact that the Scottish Government are currently consulting on the possibility of ending Friday releases suggests they are not happy with the current—I would say—overbureaucratic procedures.
It is very encouraging that, as we have heard, the prisons strategy White Paper shows that the Home Office has been listening to concerns raised about Friday releases. I quite understand why the Minister does not want to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation, as he explained when we met. Hence, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, noted, the amendment has been carefully drafted so as not to do so. Indeed, the adoption of pilots as envisaged would provide useful evidence to guide the Government when they are ready to legislate on the matter. Like that of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, my understanding is that it probably will require legislation.
The pilots could be established at the end of the consultation period so that they could take on board views expressed during that consultation. However, we have no idea when legislation will be possible because—even if everything goes smoothly and even with the best will in world—another legislative opportunity might not come along for quite a long while, as has already been suggested, in the wake of what is an extremely large Home Office Bill. It surely makes sense for the Government to support this amendment, which, by enabling the adoption of pilot schemes in the short term, contributes to longer-term, evidence-based policy-making. It could make the world of difference to a number of prison leavers and their reintegration into society.
I hope therefore that the Minister will accept it or at least the principle of it and, as has been suggested, come back at Third Reading with the Government’s own amendment. If he does not, I fear it will send out a message to those working on the ground that, despite the consultation, the Government are not in fact really interested in evidence and how best to address speedily the problems, which they now acknowledge exist, created by Friday releases.
My Lords, when I was a child and my parents stopped me doing something I would say “That’s not fair” and they would say “Well, life isn’t fair.” I would argue that this House is where we can make life fairer and obviously Friday releases are not fair. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, on persisting because this is an injustice, and it is a relatively small fix—I would hope.
I understand the point about consultation, but we all know that it is not fair. This amendment is a simple practical solution to the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said “What’s not to like?” There is something not to like: it gives Ministers discretion, whereas I think that they must implement these schemes, so I am less giving than the amendment.
If you want to be tough on crime and want that to be your legacy, you have to break the endless reoffending cycle and give people the best opportunity you possibly can to reintegrate with society. Friday releases are the polar opposite of that. They make life much harder for released prisoners before they have even got on their feet. It is obvious that this has to change.
My Lords, I raised the issue of Friday releases at Second Reading and in Committee. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, for pursuing this issue now we are on Report. I agree wholeheartedly with his remarks. I was encouraged in Committee by the number of noble Lords who supported this amendment.
Some prisoners are lucky in that their families keep in touch with them while they serve their sentences. This means that on release they have somewhere to go. Others find that their friends and family no longer wish to be associated with them. It is not for me to comment on this aspect. It is those without support mechanisms on the outside that this amendment seeks to assist.
I will not repeat the remarks I made in Committee but just say that even the most well-organised and enthusiastic local authority housing department will have difficulty finding a suitable place if someone turns up at 3 pm on a Friday afternoon looking for accommodation. A roof over their head may be found but it may not be suitable due to previous difficulties such as drug and alcohol addiction. They may have been able to get themselves off their addiction during their time in prison but finding themselves in an overnight hostel on their release is not conducive to maintaining their willpower to remain clean and sober, or to their rehabilitation.
We are not suggesting that a definitive release date is suggested at the time of sentencing; that would be wholly inappropriate and unreasonable. But we are suggesting that prison governors should have discretion over the final days of the sentence so that the release date is not on a Friday, weekend or bank holiday for those without friends and family to support them, and that local authorities can be notified when someone is due to be released who may not have accommodation to go to. This seems to be a very reasonable way of ensuring that those released from prison have the best possible chance to keep their life on track and move forward positively. The prison strategy is welcome but waiting two years before tackling this issue of Friday, weekend or bank holiday releases is unacceptable.
My Lords, I do not disagree with a word of what has been said but regarding “What’s not to like?”, what I do not like is looking at the symptoms rather than the cause of this. I have understood over many years that the problem arises because there is no—I do not like the word—“upstream” work undertaken to support prisoners coming up for release. It needs a lot of preparation if the situation that my noble friend Lady Bakewell has just described is not to be encountered. Proper preparation for the release of prisoners is what requires attention. As I said, I do not disagree with a word of what has been said and I am happy to support the amendment, but I hope that what is proposed and what the Government are proposing will not be seen as a panacea because it is not; it is a much bigger problem than just Friday releases.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots. I agree with everything that noble Lords have said so far. I moved a similar amendment in Committee, which worked slightly differently from my noble friend’s amendment.
I am surprised that Ministers have not resolved this issue, especially as it was specifically referred to in the White Paper, which talked about a consultation. Who would be against it? What does the Minister think the cost is if a prisoner reoffends immediately on release and has to be sent to prison again? It costs £40,000 per annum so a six-month sentence could be £20,000, simply for releasing the prisoner on an inappropriate day.
I strongly support my noble friend. If he takes this to a Division, I will support him. I hope that my noble and learned friend the Minister seriously considers reflecting upon this issue and coming back at a later stage. There was a guffaw from the Front Bench.
My Lords, I too have signed this amendment. It amazes me that we have unanimity on the problem—a problem that may be solved in a number of different of ways but something which everyone thinks is a problem and should be solved—yet we are being asked to wait a number of years for that to happen. Talk to any Minister who has an interest in taking forward a new proposal, and the first thing that they will say is, “Ah, there is a problem with how much legislation we can get through in a year”, or whatever the space of time between the Queen’s visits.
Clearly, it is a difficult route for anyone to take through a Bill. I am sure that there would not be a Bill talking about the Friday release problem as a piece of primary legislation. It is bound to fall within another piece of legislation, but it is surprising that the Government support the principles upon which this amendment is created but cannot find the route for it to happen more swiftly. Let us remember the point that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, just made, that the cost of not doing something here is immense.
If you stand outside a prison gate at a particular time on a particular week, you will often see people lined up at a bus stop with the same plastic bags containing their total belongings, their total life, and with their £76, if they have not already spent some of it on getting themselves some food. That is how they face the life in front of them. My noble friend Lady Hamwee was quite correct that the absolute certainty of getting this right is in the through-the-gate services which the Government must provide. It is one of the sad reflections that the gate is seen as a wall rather than as a place from where opportunities which commenced inside the prison can continue. I always relay to anyone who wonders about this that about 60% of the people who do my local recycling are on day release from prison and go back in the evening. The advantage is that they can earn a bit of money and eventually find their way back to employment more swiftly.
We know the difficulties here and it surprises me that the Government have not yet taken the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who has sharpened his pencil and come up with the right answer. The right answer is that, if the Government want to take this forward in a bigger piece of legislation, in the interim you create the regulatory powers for the Minister to be able to give discretionary powers to the prison governor to identify those prisoners who are most at risk, and give them the opportunity to sort the problems out with local government. We are talking about a simple matter here.
As my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville said, local authorities have a major problem with housing. I experienced this with a couple of people coming out on a Friday. They went to the local housing office and were told there was nothing available. They wandered round from one local authority to another attempting to find a link between them, and I honestly do not know where they ended up, but it certainly was not in a place where their lives could continue and they could make a future for themselves.
The challenge in paragraphs 139 and 140 of the prisons strategy White Paper we were presented with is to get on with it—that is the Government’s intention. I am sure the intention is not to hold back from it. This is a straightforward, simple resolution of the problem, which meets all the Government’s objectives. I support this amendment, and I hope the Minister can tell me the answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson: what is not to like?
My Lords, my first interest in criminal justice came about 20 years ago, before I became a magistrate, when I was a trustee of the Wandsworth Prison visitors’ centre. Like all those centres, it was set up on the recommendation of Judge Stephen Tumim, and we dealt with the needs of the families of prisoners. It was then that I first came across this problem—it is not new—and the fact that it is very much the management of small issues that is of central importance for the prisoners and their families.
We owe a debt of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. He has indeed gone into the detail of this problem and come up with a highly practical way of resolving it—tonight, potentially. This House should take advantage of that opportunity. In one sense, I will be intrigued to hear what reasons the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General for Scotland might give for not pursuing this, but this really is an opportunity. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has addressed the three original points made in Committee in his new amendment, and I really encourage the noble and learned Lord to take advantage of this opportunity.
My Lords, this amendment seeks to reduce releases on a Friday, or on days before bank holidays, including releases of persons whose release falls on a non-working day, by creating a power for the Minister to establish a pilot scheme via secondary legislation that would grant prison governors the discretion to release earlier in the week, where that would be helpful for the prisoner’s reintegration into society.
I thank all noble Lords who have participated, particularly my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for their constructive and entirely commendable approach to this. As my noble friend put it, rather than simply rehearsing the arguments made at an earlier stage, they have gone away, considered the matter and sought to refine them in answer to the points made by my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar.
The question posed ultimately by the noble Lord, Lord German, rehearsing the one posed by my noble friend, was: what is not to like? Regrettably, I cannot answer that with “Nothing”, which I suspect was the answer being fished for. I will endeavour to explain why.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, highlighted the existence of a discretionary scheme in Scotland, in terms of the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Act 2015. We have engaged with the Scottish Government and looked at research carried out by the Scottish Prison Service, and we have seen that the uptake of this discretionary scheme since 2015 is extremely low: only 20 prisoners in that period have been granted early release. I submit that that gives us some indication of the complexities attendant upon the point. It is not as though we have in the neighbouring jurisdiction a solution to this matter which could be taken from the shelf and applied in England and Wales. We plan further engagement with the Scottish Government to look at the matter in more detail, and we will share the results of that engagement with the noble Baroness.
I am sorry to interrupt, but the Minister seems to be using this as an argument for not accepting the amendment. I have two points. First, there is no reason why the pilot should follow the example of the Scottish procedures, which, to me, seemed very bureaucratic when I read the helpful letter sent by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson. Surely the whole point of pilots is to think about other ways of doing something before the Government actually legislate.
Secondly, yes, a very small number has been helped. We do not know why that is. Certainly, the letter I was sent tells us the what but not the why. But even a small number being helped is better than no one being helped in the period until such legislation can be passed.
The point is not simply to equiparate the example of Scotland; the point is to emphasise the complexities which underlie the matter. I will expand upon that in the rest of my answer.
We recognise that a high number of releases take place on a Friday. We accept that this can create challenges in some cases when it comes to prisoners accessing services, support in the community and finding accommodation, especially if they have multiple complex needs or a long way to travel to their home address.
I echo the observations from my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. As the House now appreciates, our recently published Prisons Strategy White Paper is allowing us to consult on the issue of Friday release from prison. In the course of that consultation, we will invite views on allowing prisoners who are at risk of reoffending to be discharged one or two days earlier, at the discretion of the governor of the relevant institution, where a Friday release can be demonstrated to be detrimental to an individual’s resettlement.
However, it is important that we allow time to understand the views of stakeholders, including operational colleagues, prison staff and the third sector. We submit that it would be premature to provide in statute for the pilot of a new release scheme, regardless of whether a sunset clause is attached—as the promulgators of the amendment have proposed—because, as mentioned, we are in the process of consulting on whether a legislative approach is necessary and, if so, what form such a scheme should take and how it should operate. We want to see the outcome of this consultation before we bring forward proposals. We will issue a response to the White Paper consultation in April 2022, and we will set out our plans on Friday releases moving forward from there.
I would call into question the appropriateness of using a sunset clause in relation to a pilot scheme. Sunset clauses are used only for temporary situations where the provision is needed only for a specific period of time and is not designed to remain on the statute books—for example, in the recent coronavirus legislation. This, I submit, is not appropriate for a pilot, as its purpose is to test out a policy with a view to fully enacting that policy if the pilot is found to work. A sunset clause would not allow this, so that, if we decided the right approach was to pilot and it was effective, we would still be required to wait for the next legislative opportunity to be able to rule it out fully. Therefore, tying our hands to a pilot scheme would likely extend the timescales required to enact full rollout of a new release scheme, if that was decided to be the most appropriate approach.
More than once, even today, this House has emphasised the importance of moving forward on the basis of evidence. The Government’s view is that it is appropriate to complete the consultation proceedings, interrogate them and decide how best to move forward.
My suggestion was to wait until the end of the consultation, which we are told will be next April, review the evidence, which surely should not take that long, and then run the pilot on the basis of what is found out in the consultation.
When this Government want to bring in some quite nasty legislation, they can move very fast. I do not see why they could not bring in some rather nice legislation very fast as well.
My Lords, notwithstanding the fact that we are in the season of Advent, approaching Christmas, I am not prepared to argue on the basis of what is naughty and what is nice, or what is nasty and what is nice.
What I mean simply is that the noble Baroness, doubtless with the best possible intention, is using simplistic language to categorise the Government’s legislative approach, which language I do not accept.
On the subject of the holistic approach—if I may put it like that—which was urged upon us by the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, it is indeed important that we acknowledge the funding the Government are making available to provide just such an approach. Our December Prisons Strategy White Paper set out plans to reduce reoffending and protect the public. We will spend £200 million a year by 2024-25 to improve prison leavers’ access to accommodation, employment support and substance misuse treatment, and for further measures for early intervention to tackle youth offending. We will make permanent the additional £155 million per year provided in the years 2019-20 for a new unified probation service to support rehabilitation and improve public protection, which will be a 15% increase on 2019-20 funding. This expands upon our Beating Crime Plan, which was published in July, setting out how we will cut crime and seek to bring criminals more swiftly to justice, reduce reoffending and protect the public. That included new commitments to recruit 1,000 prison leavers into the Civil Service by 2023, to expand our use of electronic monitoring and to trial the use of alcohol tags on prison leavers.
In addition, in January, a £50 million investment was made by the Ministry of Justice to enhance the department’s approved premises to provide temporary basic accommodation for prison leavers to keep them off the streets, and to test innovative new approaches to improve resettlement outcomes for prisoners before and after they were released. Then there is £20 million for a prison leavers’ project to test new ways to prepare offenders for life on the outside and ensure that they do not resume criminal lifestyles, and £80 million for the Department of Health and Social Care to expand drug treatment services in England to support prison leavers with substance misuse issues, divert offenders, make effective community sentences and reduce drug-related crime and deaths.
For the reasons I have outlined, including the overwhelming notion that these questions are not simplistic and we cannot simply move forward without the necessary evidence, as well as the assertion that an appropriate consultation is under way, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. I thank all those who contributed to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is always sharp on these matters; she has been well up to her reputation tonight. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, this is a small fix. As the noble Lord, Lord German, pointed out, it is not an expensive fix either; in fact, it may result in a net gain to the Government because, if we can stop some people reoffending, we will save more money than any cost—there is probably no cost here, or at least very little—and we could be better off as a result. I am grateful to those noble Lords and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Hamwee. My noble friend Lord Attlee asked who is against the idea. I have not yet heard much about people who oppose it. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his remarks and the fact that we are better than we were last night.
On my noble and learned friend the Minister’s comments, I do not think that the House buys the Scottish experiment as an example here. It is just not relevant. Nor do I buy the argument about the sunset clause being inappropriate; I think that is just the officials reaching for some reason to try to rubbish this amendment. I accept my noble friend’s point that we need time to understand and his commitment to a consultation finishing by April 2022. Most interesting is the possibility that legislation might not be needed and there might be other ways of achieving what we all wish.
So we have a sort of balance here. On the one hand, an immediate opportunity is being missed and progress seems glacial, to put it no more roughly than that; on the other, we have an encouraging set of statements in paragraph 139 of the White Paper. My judgment as to whether to divide the House on this amendment and possibly damage the concept is that we would really be dividing the House on whether we want to try to create a bridge and find a way to start some work on this project immediately. On balance, the Government have offered us half a loaf. I think we should probably take that half a loaf tonight; I therefore seek leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 82 withdrawn.
Amendments 82A and 82B not moved.
Schedule 13: Community and suspended sentence orders: special procedures relating to review and breach