My Lords, it is a great honour and pleasure for me to move that the Bill be read a second time. It is also quite moving because, when we deal with prisons, custodial sentences and wrongdoers, we often have an enormous divide, but what is so great about the Bill is that it has the blessing of the department, the Government and most of us—it unites us all. It is a very simple Bill. Simon Fell, whom I know and have worked with, is a very committed Conservative MP up in Barrow-in-Furness. He has done the heavy lifting on the Bill, backed up by Nacro, which I praise: it has been banging away for decades and, if we have been able to treat offenders better, that is often to do with Nacro’s work. I would love to say that.
The Bill is very simple; there is no complexity to it. Let us allow our governors to release people on a day that is not the worst day of the week: Friday—or Saturday or Sunday. One-third of people are currently released on that day, and it is possible that over 50% of them need to find some form of support—to go to the citizens advice bureau, to the local council, to the social security office or to look for accommodation—because a very large number of people still leave the custodial system with nowhere to go. What happens if someone has nowhere to go? From personal experience, I know that when you have nowhere to go and are homeless, you tend to get into trouble.
First, you arrest someone for a crime and then you take them before a court and spend a shedload of public money. If they are found guilty, they are put away for a period of time, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds on occasions, if it is a longer sentence. You spend all this and then what do you do? You spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar. You let them out on a Friday and, as they have no family relationships and nowhere to go, they are lined up to fall down.
The Bill is really interesting to me. The greatest thing is that I say to myself, “If we can work cross-party and cross-Chamber, if we can bring in organisations such as Nacro to give us all the background we need, and if we can get committed MPs to lead this fight, why can’t we do this for so many other things?” Is it not wonderful that we can do so for this small thing, which involves an enormous amount of intelligence? If you have been away for two years and then end up with nowhere to go and no one to guide, lead and help you, as I say, you have a real problem. You might as well have thrown those two years, 18 months or three years away, and thrown away our tax money and opportunity to turn a ne’er-do-well—a naughty boy—into someone other than a naughty boy. Is it not extraordinary that we spend so much on keeping people in prison but do not help them very well with their exit?
I am pleased that there are some very good signs of the recovery of rehabilitation—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and I discussed this. I know this because I have been working with a group of businesspeople in Brixton who go into the prison before the person leaves and try to recruit them for a job. I have recommended this company to a business which is deadly short of office workers and so on in Brixton and elsewhere in south London. Why do we not look at the pool of people leaving our prisons, who are leaving without a stain on their reputation because they co-operated in their own rejuvenation? These are the most wonderful things we can do, so I am really glad to bless this Bill. I am hopeful that we do not look at this as a one-off; I hope that it will lead to a renaissance. I will not ask noble Lords to vote for a renaissance in our relationship to justice, but would it not be wonderful if we could invest in those wonderful things—rejuvenation and helping people out of the sticky stuff?
After the most important part of my life inside, I left on a Saturday—at another time, I left on a Tuesday. What was so wonderful about leaving that custodial sentence was that I had somewhere to go: I had family, friends and a social background, and I even had the offer of a job. All those things made me; I am here because some cleverness was practised on me when I was inside in those good old days when life seemed a lot simpler and the size of the prison population was a third of what it is now. The magic of that thinking—of people, communities and the Church coming together—was absolutely marvellous. I am the product of some very clever thinking.
If we want to make this change, first let us sort out this Bill and then look again at why we waste so much money. We spend £3 billion a year on keeping people banged up. The police bill is enormous; I think it is up to £17 billion. If we were to spend more—I would say that we vote for another £1 billion; it is not a lot—then we would not have to spend it later on police cars, courts or supporting children whose family members have ended up in prison.
I will not go on any longer, because we are running out of time, but I thank noble Lords very much for the opportunity to speak on this very simple, clever, thoughtful, grown-up and real Bill. I beg to move.
Your Lordships will soon gather from my croaky voice that I returned from a northerly cruise on Wednesday with something of a cold. It was 10 days without responsibility. No money was used on board; at mealtimes, all I had to do was sway my way into the restaurant, and the food was there ready cooked. There was no lock on my cabin door—but, with the North Sea all around me, I was going nowhere. I could circulate on the top deck for as long as I liked; a lot of exercise went on there, but, fortunately, it was not compulsory.
Arriving back in Dover on Wednesday was a bit of a shock. I had to check my wallet to see if I had any money. I had to get myself to Dover railway station, pay for a ticket and find a platform and a train. I had to make decisions, get used to traffic again and rush to reach your Lordships’ House in time for a committee. I was away only 10 days. The problems for a prisoner being released after a lengthy period in prison are very serious. The shock of being propelled through the prison door into the community—into a world of decision-making—must be profound. I strongly support the Bill as a very sensible means of reducing that impact, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and Mr Simon Fell on bringing it forward.
The Bill gives us the opportunity to talk about the critical step of release. I have spoken about Berwyn prison near my home in Wrexham many times in this House in very negative terms—its shortages of staff, the level of violence and the all-pervasive problem of drugs—but it is largely successful on the issue of release. The unannounced report of the prison inspectorate last year found that an average of 140 prisoners were released each month and that work to support resettlement was good. A workshop area—a resettlement hub—had been set up in a large open space with separate interview booths, bringing together all resettlement staff. The inspectors found that this was an excellent initiative,
“the best of its kind that we have seen recently”.
It was yielding promising early outcomes for prisoners nearing release, including job offers and improved outcomes for accommodation on release. In the hub, there are a range of resettlement services: a job centre, work coaches and housing support. Prisoners are supported in obtaining ID and in opening bank accounts. Job fairs are a regular feature, attended by local employers. The number of prisoners who gain employment on release has risen from 6% to 20%, and employers including Greene King, the Murphy construction group and Iceland are involved. An employment adviser helps connect prisoners to job opportunities, and a firm called Novus Cambria helps the men with their CVs, so opportunities to secure a job are there before offenders even set foot back into the community.
On accommodation, the prison is also successful. Currently, on the day of release, 85% of men are getting into prepared accommodation—the 15% who do not are referred to the local authority. The prison joined a construction industry training board pilot scheme, where offenders are trained in prison in trades such as bricklaying, plastering, joinery and welding. Components are manufactured in the workshops for affordable, environmentally friendly houses being built for more than 130 families in Ruthin and Llangefni on behalf of Williams Homes, and jobs are available with that firm on release. Next month, DesignLSM, in collaboration with the actor Fred Sirieix, will transform the food hall in the prison into a high-street business run by prisoners to provide them with the opportunity to gain qualifications and experience in hospitality.
Berwyn prison is the second-largest prison in Europe and the largest in the UK. It started off with good intentions of promoting rehabilitation. Cells were called “rooms” and wings “communities”, and internet was provided. There have been some appalling teething troubles, but the prison, its governor, Nick Leader, and his staff must be given full credit for the initiatives they have taken. I am sure that the Bill will be welcomed in that community.
My Lords, I was quite annoyed when I saw this Bill appear in Forthcoming Business. I thought, “What? This hasn’t been fixed yet?” We have talked about this issue for years. I was then even more annoyed when I saw that the Government are supporting it. Why could they not do so sooner? I simply do not understand why we should accept throwing former prisoners out on to the street without any sort of support network. We already put far too many people in prison, and we do not concentrate enough on restorative justice and on expecting people to find out how to improve their lives and not get sent to prison—including, sometimes, for quite minor and inconsequential crimes.
A report was released today about a farmer who has been sent to prison for 12 months because he absolutely destroyed two sides of a riverbank which was extremely precious from an environmental point of view. Quite honestly, I would not have sent him to prison; I would have put him into community service for as many years as it took him to recover every single blade of grass and leaf that he destroyed. I think that we could do more of this.
This kind of incident happens quite differently in Scotland, as Scotland does not release people on Friday, when they do not have any support network left. Why, if Scotland does it, have we not done it sooner?
I welcome this Bill, although I am still angry that it has taken this long—but I am glad that it is happening at last.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his enthusiastic introduction to this Bill, and it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I agree with all her comments. I feel certain that all the speakers today will be singing from the same hymn sheet. I am grateful to the House of Lords Library for its briefing.
During a prison sentence, especially if it is a long one, offenders lose touch with reality and often lose touch with their families and friends. Depending on their offence, their families may have decided to sever all contact, or they may have lived alone in rented accommodation. During their sentence, this accommodation will have been let to others. Many offenders, therefore, have no home to return to and no alternative accommodation on their release. With no accommodation, their ability to apply for work is limited, and they have nowhere to sleep. If they have nowhere to go, especially over a weekend, the risk of their reoffending is considerable.
Statistics show that adult offenders without stable accommodation on release are 50% more likely to reoffend, and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has referred to this. They need support and help, which is rarely available on a Friday afternoon. Those who are lucky enough to have retained contact with, and the support of, their families, may be many miles away from their home. That has an impact on their children. Some 15% of offenders are held more than 100 miles from their homes, and 41% are more than 50 miles away. When that offender is a young person, this can be very challenging for them to cope with. When offenders are released on a Friday, away from their natural base, they are effectively being set up to fail. I fully support proposed new subsections (3C) and (3D) of the Bill. Offenders should be released with at least one working day ahead of the day of their release, so that as much support as possible is available to them.
I turn to the issue of young offenders. I am pleased that there is specific mention in the Bill of young offender institutions and secure children’s homes. Statistics show that children looked after and those who are care leavers are overrepresented in prison populations. They may have had a bad start in life and have made mistakes and be paying the price for it, but this can be remedied if help and support are available at the most crucial and vulnerable point in their lives—the day when they are released back to society. It is, therefore, vital for help to be available and not clocked off because it is a Friday afternoon or the day before a bank holiday, when local authority housing departments are likely to be closed.
Of those offenders released, some will choose to reoffend as a life choice; others will have found the prison experience extremely sobering and be determined to alter their lifestyle and make a fresh start. Providing immediate help and support on the day of release is critical to ensuring success in preventing reoffending. If they have nowhere to stay and no support, it is not surprising that two-thirds of people released without access to accommodation reoffend within a year. The system has let those people down. There will be offenders who may have undiagnosed special needs, and their educational skills can be low. They may not have received the necessary help so far in their lives; those people need extra help and support to enable them to stay clear of the reoffending cycle.
This Bill is short, but it could have a dramatic effect on the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. Adults and young people, especially the 16 to 19 year-olds, along with children in secure accommodation, who should be released into the care of their relevant local authority, are unlikely to find a placement on a Friday. A day’s grace is all that is needed to ensure success, along with the early notification for local authorities to enable them fully to play their part in rehabilitation. Given that the Bill has the support of the Government, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise in the gap to sing from the same hymn sheet and welcome this Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his inspirational work and commitment to these matters. We need an urgent change in practice for those who leave prison. I know that my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who is not able to be here today but leads for the Church of England on prisons, also welcomes this Bill.
Others have already referred to the impact of releasing people from prison on a Friday, particularly in relation to access to services, including housing and healthcare. This affects men and women leaving prison, but for women it can be acutely dangerous, due to particular risks they face. A report published in 2020, Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison, found that late releases, and releases on a Friday, are known to jeopardise a woman’s chances of securing accommodation. Due to the configuration of the prison estate, women are often imprisoned far from home, leading to isolation and presenting further challenges to securing housing. Risks from perpetrators of domestic abuse are very real for prison leavers, particularly women. A recent Independent Monitoring Board report on HMP Bronzefield found that 65% of women face homelessness on release. I join others in hoping that changing the practice of releasing prison leavers on a Friday will go a long way to helping address this.
Finally, I shall touch on how this fits into the wider picture of resettlement and reintegration into society. We know that links to community and home help prevent reoffending, and we have many examples of good practice within the faith-based sector. The Welcome Directory is an organisation that signposts prison leavers to churches and worshipping communities of other faiths, aiming to “unlock the second prison” of the community. Prison chaplains do valuable work through the gate with external organisations to transition those in prison back into the community. Under the new probation model, the Church of England has been working at a national and regional level with the probation service to link up with faith communities, which do so much good in their localities.
In conclusion, I welcome this Bill and consider that it will make a significant change to the chances of prison leavers resettling well into communities and reducing the chances of recidivism.
My Lords, if I may, I shall also speak in the gap. In doing so, I ask the Minister to recall his young days at the Bar—and I shall do the same. One of the depressing features of my young days at the Bar—and I am sure that it was the same for the Minister—was the repeated offender. Time and again, you had convicted for further crimes those who had already been convicted and had spent time in prison. I do not know how far this measure will help, but it is one well worth taking, and I give full support to the Bill.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for his intervention, reminding us of the important work that the faith sector does in this area, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for pointing out that at the heart of this system is a horrible cycle of reoffending that is costly in financial terms and in personal terms for those who have to suffer from the reoffenders’ work. So I congratulate Simon Fell MP and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing the Bill thus far with such impressive cross-party support—I always think that “Bird on bird” is worth listening to. I also congratulate, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bird, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, NACRO, on the success of its campaign highlighting the problems of Friday release. One of my mentors in the criminal justice system was my colleague and noble friend Lord Dholakia, who cannot be here today but was for a long time the president of NACRO.
As a non-lawyer, I am a little surprised that we need an Act of Parliament to micromanage the handling of prisoners: perhaps the distinguished Minister can say. We are talking about amending an Act that is 60 years old. Perhaps it is a sign of how important we consider the restriction of freedom in our criminal justice system, but it does seem odd that we need the full panoply of an Act of Parliament in order to manage prisoners’ release. I share the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for all of us to work for alternatives to prison: it is an extremely expensive and in many ways not effective and not cost-effective way of protecting society. I also share my noble friend Lady Bakewell’s worry about a system that is set up to fail.
I was seven years at the Ministry of Justice, both as Minister and as chair of the Youth Justice Board. I will detain the House only a short time with just two things that struck me during that time. First, just over 10 years ago I went to Birmingham to see the new public library being built. There was a scheme of ex-offenders being employed on its construction and I met a young man in his 30s who talked about his experience. He used the words that my noble friend Lord Thomas used. He said “Lord McNally, you can’t imagine the shock when the prison doors shut behind you and you’re leaving prison. You don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know how you’re gonna make a living and you’ve got 40-odd quid in your pocket. It’s a very lonely place”. I think that that, sadly, is still going on.
The second thing is something else that has come through this debate, which is that there is another way. I was chair of the Youth Justice Board for three years and we see in the record of the Youth Justice Board, which is now coming up to its 25th anniversary, the attention of cross-disciplinary expertise in both diversion and resettlement which does bring results. We see in the report of Professor Rosie Meek of Royal Holloway College, University of London, the impact of sport on rehabilitation. I have some personal knowledge, because she is local, of a young lady called Jules Rowan, who gained qualifications in prison and then used them outside to help others meet the challenges of release. She now works with a fellow ex-inmate, Zak Addae-Kodua, on a programme of advice on national prison radio.
So, what I am basically saying is that there are other ways for society to go. Release on any day of the week should be part of a resettlement plan that offers the best hope of success. The mantra repeated to me time and again when I was at the MoJ was that, on release, prisoners need a place to live, a job and, if possible, a meaningful relationship, and if you could get those three things, you had the best ingredients for a successful non-offending future.
We are fortunate today that we have speakers on the Opposition and Government Front Benches with first-hand experience of where our prison system works and where it fails. In the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, we have someone with vast experience of the system from his long service has a magistrate. In the Minister, we have someone who has served in the criminal justice system at the highest levels of the judiciary and the Bar. So I pass this Bill, with confidence, into their hands. I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in his calls for a cross-party initiative to cut crime by having in place—both before and after release—breaks in the circle of offending that costs so much in human, social and financial terms. I support this Bill.
My Lords, we on this side of the House support this Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on piloting it through this House. Noble Lords will be aware that the proposal to avoid Friday releases has been around for a number of years, and a number of political parties and advocacy groups have tried to introduce it in previous criminal justice Bills. However, for various reasons, it was resisted by the Government. Nevertheless, I welcome the Government’s support for this Bill.
The rehabilitation of offenders starts within prisons with better conditions, better education and training, support for mental health, help to repair broken family relationships and more drug treatment programmes. If the Government are serious about cutting reoffending, they could look at reducing the use of shorter sentences for non-violent offences. One answer to that lies in effective community sentencing for those who commit non-violent offences. That would help ease overcrowding and allow prisons to get their education programmes back up and running.
My hope is that this Bill will have a positive effect on reoffending rates, along with reducing the number of recently released prisoners who become homeless. Only 45% of people released from prison in 2021-22 had settled accommodation on their release. That means over half were released from prison with nowhere to go and had to use their first hours of freedom searching for a safe and suitable place to sleep. Sadly, 11% of those people ended up homeless or sleeping rough.
Studies have shown that safe and secure housing is key to stopping the cycle of reoffending. His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation found that
“the proportion of service users recalled or resentenced to custody within 12 months of release was almost double for those without settled accommodation”.
I have always found it ironic—but understandable—that when sex offenders are released from custody, they have a guaranteed address because the police need to know what that address is, whereas other prisoners do not get that guarantee.
To state the obvious, when a prisoner leaves custody there is a huge contrast in their life—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about his interaction with the prison leaver in Birmingham. Until their day of release, prisoners have all their housing, meals and medication needs under one roof. Then, on a Friday, they are out—maybe with only the number of a probation officer in their pocket, a little bit of money and the address of a pharmacist. It is then a race against time to find a roof over their head, to apply for benefits, to buy food and to visit their GP or pharmacist if they are part of a drug treatment programme. If all these elements are not in place, there is a much higher chance of relapse and reoffending and a return to custody. When a prisoner is released, it should be seen as a new start, where opportunities are presented and support is readily available—but all too often the opposite is true. We hope this Bill can go some way to rectifying that, but we are realistic in understanding that it is only part of the picture.
I took the trouble to revisit the arguments used by the Government against this proposal in the PCSC Bill. First, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, spoke of the Scottish experience, where there has been direct early release for some time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to. At that time, only 20 prisoners had been released under this scheme, so the argument was that there was insufficient data to draw any conclusions from the Scottish experience. Is the Minister able to update us on the Scottish experience of early release?
Secondly, in a separate debate, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson—the then Minister—argued against the proposal and said that it was deficient in three ways. His first point was that efforts to avoid Friday bunching should be focused on where the chances of rehabilitation of the offender were greatest. The second was that a five-day release period was too long. I understand that in this Bill it is two days; nevertheless, the point is made. His third point was about the impact on short custodial sentences if there was a two-day early release. How has the Minister’s department’s system evolved from these previous oppositions to the Bill? Of course, I welcome it, but I would be interested to hear the department’s thinking.
Turning to some of the speeches we have heard this afternoon, first, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, got back from his cruise relatively unscathed—I say “relatively”, given that he is coughing right at this moment. I also thought that the examples he gave of Berwyn prison were very good ones, and they should inspire other prisons to work in a similar way. Of course, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about the importance of alternatives to prison.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for talking about particular cases. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about young prisoners, many of whom have been in care. It must be said that many young prisoners have committed much more serious offences than their adult counterparts—nevertheless, there is an extremely high reoffending rate for young prisoners. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds made a good point when talking about the particular problems of women when they leave prison, not least because they are far further away from their home—or very likely to be—because of the nature of the prison estate.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, who has a lot of experience in this area, as the House will be aware, spoke about the key ingredients for release. Of course, they are the same key ingredients: accommodation, stable relationships and something to do with your time—namely, education, a job or something like that. That is a truism in trying to promote rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. I support the Bill, because I think it goes one step along the road to achieving that. However, there is a lot more to do to try to rectify the current situation.
My Lords, first, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for a characteristically compelling and very moving speech on this issue. I also thank him for the work he is doing—in particular, in encouraging his contacts in Brixton to work with prisoners to obtain jobs on their release, particularly from Brixton prison. This is a very positive development, and it has been a great pleasure to work with him on this issue. I am grateful for the very broad support the Bill has received, both in the other place and in this House, and to all those who have worked on it, particularly Simon Fell MP. I am also grateful for the input of Nacro and other interested parties. It is a great pleasure, for once, to be able to say that we are all more or less on the same page, working in the same direction.
As far as the Government are concerned, the direction of travel is indeed towards rejuvenation, to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and rehabilitation generally. I was particularly pleased about and grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for recounting the positive developments at Berwyn prison in particular, which seems to be setting a good example of the work that can be done and what can be achieved with targeted resettlement and rehabilitation efforts, particularly concentrating on employment—local possibilities with local employers—and accommodation and related matters. I take the opportunity to say that that was very much driven by my right honourable friend the late Secretary of State for Justice, who resigned today but who has very much led the direction of travel for rehabilitation and resettlement of prisoners.
The importance of the Bill is shown by the widespread and consistent support it has received. It is a simple measure, as has been said, but it is likely to have a strong and positive impact on the rehabilitation of offenders leaving custody and it is clear that it commands widespread public support. I am sure that it will particularly help the repeat offenders referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, and I hope that it will reduce that “very lonely place” to which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, rightly referred. It will be particularly important, as has been mentioned, for youth offenders, who were underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. Because we now have relatively fewer youth offenders in custody, youth offending establishments can be quite far away from home, so youth offenders who are released face enormous difficulties if they do not have a support system. This will enable much better support for that particular category of prisoners, including those who have been in the recently created secure 16 to 19 year-old schools, and will mean that they will experience no delay in contacting their youth justice worker and can be properly protected. I compliment and thank the Youth Justice Board for all its work in this general area.
I fully accept the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that there is a great deal more to be done, but I venture to suggest that we are beginning to make progress in these areas with the various initiatives that have rightly been mentioned. In that connection, the noble Lord asked what has changed since the Government’s previous position. As I understand it, there was a consultation on the Prisons Strategy White Paper which produced a lot of responses. It enabled further discussion to be had, particularly with policy officials, prison staff and third parties in the community as to how we should manage all this. The Secretary of State will now delegate the decision to prison governors and the equivalent but will give some guidance as to how it is going to work, so that you give priority to certain people and make sure that, as it were, it is staged down through Wednesday and Thursday as well as Friday. There will still be some residual prisoners who are released on Friday; there is no particular reason why those who have homes to go to, such as the white collar offender, should have particular priority, but that enables you to give priority to the people who need it most.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked why we need an Act of Parliament. We need one because—I think I am right about this; I will write to the noble Lord if I am wrong—if Parliament says you should serve a sentence of so much, you have to serve that sentence. Only Parliament can authorise people to be released just short—in this case, a couple of days short—of serving that sentence. Although it is only a couple of days, one needs legislative authority to do it. I think that is the answer, but I will check in case I have it wrong.
I hope I have covered the various points that were made. This is perhaps not the occasion to discuss sentencing policy. I entirely accept the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that these matters, including whether we should use prison in a slightly different way and whether we should avoid shorter sentences, need to be reviewed continually. These are important issues but I venture to suggest that they are not for today.
I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for his contribution, in particular in relation to the female estate. I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester is particularly concerned about that. As has been pointed out, we have the same problem with the female estate because it has relatively few offenders so there are not that many female establishments, meaning that offenders are often far from home; they can also be very vulnerable when they are released. This problem needs particular planning; I hope this Bill will give us an opportunity to ameliorate it.
Following what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, was kind enough to tell us, I can say that the Government have taken significant steps in improving prison leavers’ accommodation; in building stronger links with employers through dedicated prison employment leads, so that there are now people in the prisons who are responsible for finding employment and prison employment advisory boards through which, as the noble Lord illustrated, local business leaders can come into local prisons; in offering more work within prison; in delivering and improving a prisoner education service; in increasing access to drugs rehabilitation; and in other actions.
The reoffending rate is slowly coming down, from 31% in 2009-10 to 25.6% in 2019-20, and the Government are further investing in driving it down. These are important interventions. The Bill will be an important support for all the things that are going on and will ensure that the offenders most in need of help will be given a full opportunity to access support before a service is in effect closed for the weekend. We will develop policy guidelines to help heads of establishment or the appropriate officials in youth establishments to target exactly the offenders most in need and support them to make decisions that allow offenders who need it time to resettle and reintegrate into their community.
This is a simple and proportionate Bill. I think I have covered most of the points that were raised. I can only reiterate my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and everyone who has helped to support the Bill. I commend it to the House.
I thank noble Lords for that wonderful discussion, which added to things to underline the importance of this issue. I am glad that we broadened the argument out. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked why we have not done it before. It is a wonderful thing to be reminded of that. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that you need a job, somewhere to go, a relationship and a place to live and that, if those things are not there, woe betide you when you enter the real world that lives out there.
When I left my custodial sentences behind me, the most interesting thing was the fear. I did not quite know what I was doing, even though I had a family and friends. It was a sense of loss of order and structure. We should never forget that a lot of people who commit crime come from shambolic backgrounds, with enormous stress and emotional and psychological damage. I was a very damaged boy. When you go into a custodial sentence, there are many minuses—you lose your freedom and your decision-making—but sometimes there is the building of comradeship. If you have good screws—sorry, prison officers—who are interested in what you are doing, you almost have a replacement for your family.
I am all for restorative justice. I would have put that farmer on a little boat and made him do it 24 hours a day. It is great to talk about restorative things, but you are dealing with damaged children, and they are our damaged children; 90% of them will be the inheritors of poverty, not people who come from the top drawer. Occasionally you would meet an old Etonian when you were banged up, but it was largely “sex and drugs and rock & roll” that got them there, and we were all very jealous of them. Let us make the prisons work by a process of triangulation. There is the justice system, the education system and the health system. They should all be brought together to make the most of that experience for those troubled children. When a man points a knife at you or throws a brick at you, it is not because he was born with a knife or a brick in his hand. It is because of what has happened to him because of the adult world that we live in. One of the greatest things we can do is to say, “Okay, your life has been bad, but let’s try to make changes”.
When I was in the custodial system as a boy and a young man, quite a lot of people there were looking out for us. They were not great psychologists, but they were looking out for us. I would like to see ordinary people encouraged to come into the custodial system to help and support. I would like to see not just psychiatrists but nurses and teachers in there. I would like to see the people saying, “You are special enough to be locked up, but you are also special enough to assist, so that when you leave, you are special enough to rejoin the rest of the world”.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.