Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:10 pm on 21 April 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:10, 21 April 2023

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.