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(a) The Secretary of State must publish an annual report on the provision of rehabilitative services for female offenders in the criminal justice system, and must lay this report before both Houses of Parliament.
(b) The report should include—
(i) an update on the provision of services for female offenders by all providers contracted to provide services under section 3(2) or 3(5) of the Offender Management Act 2007.
(ii) an update on the impact of post release supervision for female offenders who served sentences of less than 12 months in custody.’.
‘(c) summarise the information on the basis of which an assessment was made of the impact of the arrangements on female offenders and the reasons for the conclusions reached in consequence of that assessment.’.
Clause 11 was inserted by the Government after pressure in the House of Lords. It provides that the Secretary of State must comply with the public sector equality duty in making any arrangements for the supervision of offenders; and contracts for supervision must identify anything in the arrangement that is specifically intended to meet the particular needs of female offenders. This is rather a groundhog day amendment for colleagues who have served on justice Bill Committees in the last couple of years. This is the third time I have spoken to what is virtually the same amendment. We are asking for the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on the provision of rehabilitative services for female offenders in the criminal justice system, and that this should be laid before both Houses of Parliament.
I shall briefly explain why I think this is a sensible suggestion. The Minister will appreciate that, although providers will be expected to deliver appropriate services for female offenders, it is our experience—and I know that it will be the Minister’s experience too—that providers do not always complete their contracts to the standard that we would like. The aim of the amendment is to build in a mechanism for regular public scrutiny of how well the duties are delivered, specifically around the needs of female offenders.
The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that his Government have already shown awareness of the need for transparency and monitoring on this issue. His colleague in another place gave welcome assurance that contracts and service agreements will be published—which we are pleased about—to allow for scrutiny of what is proposed and what we can expect to be provided for female offenders. I do not intend to go into the speeches that I and colleagues on this Committee have given in the House about the specific needs of female offenders. We all agree that they are a small part of the offender population and have particular needs that need to be more carefully specified than might otherwise be the case.
The noble Lord also made a passing reference to the fact that the Government will report to Parliament on progress in dealing with women in the criminal justice system. That was very welcome, but is that still the Government’s intention and, if so, will he agree to the amendment and commit to putting this agreement to report on to a statutory footing?
We have a couple of specific concerns that I would like to seek assurance on. We are particularly concerned about the future of women’s community centres—centres for supporting women offenders in the community. They currently provide excellent one-stop shops and community alternatives to custody for women in the criminal justice system. Their continued funding is not guaranteed and some of the centres are in quite a precarious position, as I know the Minister will appreciate. Even with the duty to consider female offenders, we have concerns about how the centres will operate in a payment-by-results model when they deal, by their nature, with such small numbers of offenders. We do not want to see providers able to almost ignore the needs of female offenders because they can afford to under a PBR contract.
The Minister is also aware that the Justice Select Committee found that there has been a hiatus in progress on the Corston agenda, since the coalition Government came to office. I do not want to labour this point or have a lengthy debate but I have always assumed that there is almost a consensus across the House about the need for a holistic, local approach when it comes to dealing with female offending. The insertion of clause 11 demonstrates that agreement on the need for specialist interventions, which goes across both sides of the House. I know the Minister does not want to see progress slip backwards, but I am afraid that is the sense that we are getting. A lot of people who work in this area are also saying that.
Can the Minister assure the Committee that the impact of the transforming rehabilitation agenda on women’s centres will be monitored and that the recommendations of the Corston review, including the provision of holistic, local services will be taken into account by the MOJ when considering bids from potential providers? I am sure the Minister will be able to do that, but I want to mark his card, because this is something we are particularly concerned about and we do not want to see PBR undermining some of the excellent services that have developed in recent years. They are starting to become very effective and are growing in effectiveness. We would like to see that direction of progress continue.
Finally, the amendment makes specific mention of the need to monitor the impact of post-release supervision of female offenders. We know that the supervision model will significantly affect female offenders as well as prolific male offenders. In 2012, more than half of the women in prison were serving sentences of less than 12 months. We know that short spells in custody can have additional difficulties for women and their rehabilitation, particularly thinking about caring responsibilities and the family life of those raising small children. A system which will increase the number of breaches and recalls to custody for this group needs to be very carefully considered.
Members of the Committee may be aware that the Secretary of State has recently been written to by the Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who was responding to concerns that the Government have not published an equality impact assessment for this Bill. Can the Minister update the Committee on whether the Secretary of State has replied to these concerns?
I want to speak briefly to amendment 58 and say that I agree entirely with the case that the hon. Member for Darlington has put before the Committee today. The Minister will know that the Justice Committee is very concerned about the issue of women in prison, and the need for a separate and distinct set of policies to deal with this problem. This has already been touched upon by the hon. Lady. Short-term prison sentences for women very often create huge problems for family units, with many issues including children being taken into care, loss of employment and loss of housing. To put it bluntly, there are far too many women in prison who should not actually be there, because their imprisonment is not based on any protection of the public nor indeed of themselves. The consequences of putting a woman in prison are far more serious, by and large, than of putting a man in prison. That is the point I would like to make in fully supporting amendment 58.
I will now speak briefly to my amendment 63, which again supplements what was said by the hon. Lady. This amendment would help to ensure that the likely consequences for women of the proposals are given due regard, as required under the public sector equality duty. It would also require the Government to provide further details, which would form the basis of an assessment of the impact of the arrangements providing for the supervision or rehabilitation of offenders, particularly female offenders, and the reasons for the conclusions reached in consequence of that assessment.
The Minister knows that after the election a head of steam built up in support of looking at a distinct set of policies and approach for women offenders. We are all aware of the excellent work of Baroness Corston and her report, but the last several matters within that report are yet to be brought in. Women’s centres are a tangential matter but one of extreme moment, and they may be undermined by cuts in the immediate future. As the hon. Lady said, clause 11 requires the Secretary of State to ensure that contracts or other arrangements providing for the supervision or rehabilitation of offenders must:
“(a) state that the Secretary of State has, in making the arrangements, complied with the duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 (public sector equality duty) as it relates to female offenders, and
(b) identify anything in the arrangements that is intended to meet the particular needs of female offenders”.
Clause 11 was tabled as a result of a Government amendment introduced in the House of Lords with the support of Lord Woolf, the chair of the Prison Reform Trust, and others. Despite the welcome commitment in the Bill to comply with the equality duty in relation to female offenders, the Government have confirmed that they will not publish an equality impact assessment of the Bill. They have not yet provided any gender disaggregated analysis in their impact assessment of the Bill.
When the Joint Committee on Human Rights considered the Bill’s impact on protected groups, it criticised the provision of information by the Government. According to the Committee, information has been piecemeal and lacking in detail, and was produced only in response to parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill and the transforming rehabilitation reforms. This does not provide much reassurance that the Government properly complied with their equality duty in the formulation of the policy.
Mark Hammond, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, to express his concern regarding the compliance of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill with the public sector equality duty, and to offer assistance to the Ministry of Justice in responding to the concerns expressed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. In that letter he highlights that under the public sector equality duty,
“there is an obligation on Government to clearly show:
how it has considered, and are considering, the likely impact of the proposals on equality; where it has identified potential areas of adverse impact; and what remedial action it is proposing”.
The commitment in the Bill to comply with the equality duty when determining provision for female offenders is very important, given the lack of attention paid to women in the transforming rehabilitation proposals. The Chair of the Select Committee on Justice, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), said on introducing the Committee’s report on women offenders:
“The Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have clearly been designed with male offenders in mind. This is unfortunately symptomatic of an approach within the Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service that tends to deal with women offenders as an afterthought”.
Unless we are very careful women offenders will be disproportionately affected by the proposals, as they are more likely to be low-risk and to serve very short sentences for comparatively minor offences. In 2012, those entering prison to serve sentences of 12 months or less accounted for 71% of all women entering prison under an immediate custodial sentence, whereas the proportion for men was 57%. More than 4,500 women entered prison to serve sentences of six months or less. More than half of them—2,458—were given sentences of three months or less; more than one in 10 were sentenced to four weeks or less, leading to all the problems I have mentioned; and 22 women received sentences of 10 days or less.
The Government estimate that extending statutory supervision to short-sentence prisoners is likely to result in up to 13,000 people being recalled to custody for breach of licence conditions. That has been said before. Unless monitoring and supervision arrangements accommodate women’s specific needs and circumstances there is a strong likelihood that more women will be recalled to custody for breach; that is already a significant driver of women’s imprisonment.
More than half of all women in prison report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child, compared with a quarter of men, and the majority of women in prison have the primary responsibility for dependent children. Because women will comprise a very small proportion of all offenders subject to the new statutory supervision requirement, there is a risk that their needs will be overlooked or marginalised in the contracting process. The contracting out of the probation service threatens to undo the progress in the development and funding of women-specific services that has been made in recent years.
Specialist service providers working with women offenders are likely to be disproportionately disadvantaged under the new payment-by-results commissioning.
The right hon. Gentleman and I work together on the Select Committee on Justice. He will remember the good and proven work that we saw on a visit to Adelaide house in Edge lane in Liverpool earlier in the year, so I hear what he is saying; but he will understand that the CRC covering that part of Liverpool is more than welcome to involve the services provided at Adelaide house, especially as they have been shown to be effective. It would be in the interest of the CRC to do that. Does he accept that point?
I do, and the hon. Gentleman, my Select Committee colleague, knows that we were impressed by what we saw at Adelaide house. That unit is a beacon of hope and good practice, and if its work could be emulated in other parts of England and Wales we would be moving forward. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I agree with him. We must ensure that centres such as Adelaide house are given as much as possible in the way of assistance and resources, so that they can carry on their excellent work.
I was talking about the fact that there will be disadvantage under the new payment-by-results commissioning. That is because the small number of women offenders means it is difficult to produce statistically significant evidence in support of gender-specific interventions when making the case for their services to first-tier contract holders. As the Justice Committee report—the hon. Gentleman and I were among those who deliberated on it—says:
“Funding arrangements for provision for women appear to be being shoehorned into the payment by results programme, resulting in the likelihood of a loss of funding.”
That would be extremely detrimental. I know that the Minister will consider that point and respond to it in due course.
The organisations to which I have referred are likely to become tier 3 providers, sub-contracted or grant funded by tier 1 providers. It is unclear how those arrangements will work, or whether those small organisations will be able to sustain themselves under the funding arrangements.
It is also unclear whether organisations that work with women offenders will be able to work with vulnerable women as well, and help to prevent them from entering the criminal justice system in the first place. The report by the National Audit Office for the Justice Committee highlighted the impact on women’s centres of the continuing uncertainty over their funding, to which the hon. Member for Darlington referred earlier. That report also emphasised that measuring reductions in reoffending fails to recognise distance travelled by individuals and wider benefits to society, such as the improved health of the users of women’s services.
I have no doubt that hon. Members will want to clarify what weighting will be given in the contracting process to the provision of women-specific services and whether bidders will be fully scrutinised for their offer to women offenders. I would welcome clarification of the contractual safeguards which will be put in place to protect against perverse incentives. The recent HMI report on HMP Holloway noted that 44 agencies provided services to HMP Holloway resettlement unit. Under the new arrangements, unless a provider is in the contract supply chain they may not be authorised to deliver services to offenders. I am sure that hon. Members will want to ensure that women’s community organisations that are not in the contract supply chain will be able to provide resettlement and through-the-gate services to women in prison.
Centrally allocated funding for women’s centres is due to run out in March 2014, but contracts with first-tier providers operating in the 21 contract package areas may not be finalised until autumn 2014. In the other place, the noble Lord McNally gave a commitment during a debate on 25 March 2013 to report back to Parliament in March 2014 on progress towards improved provision for women offenders. Given the significance of the impending changes to community supervision to the delivery of its strategic objectives for female offenders, I, along with others on the Committee, would like a Government commitment to report annually on the sustainability of women’s community services in the new commissioning environment. There is a very strong case for exempting women from the proposals altogether and instead developing specific arrangements for women designed to reduce offending.
I finish by quoting briefly from one of the main conclusions of the sixth report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Bill. I am sure that the Minister is aware of it, but it should be placed on record. It states:
“The provision of information by the Government in relation to its consideration of the Bill's impact on protected groups has been piecemeal, lacking in detail, and has been produced only in response to parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill and the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. This does not provide much reassurance that the Government has properly complied with its equality duty in the formulation of the policy. We acknowledge that there is no legal obligation on the Justice Secretary to publish an Equality Impact Assessment. Like the Government, we are interested in effective assessment of compliance with the duty rather than a formalistic box-ticking exercise. However, in formulating the Transforming Rehabilitation strategy and the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, the Government has a duty to assess the potential impact of the reforms on protected groups of people. We are concerned about the lack of evidence provided by the Government so far to support its assertion that the proposals have been considered fully in line with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, and we call on the Department to publish the information which demonstrates this without delay. We would particularly like to see the Government's analysis of the Bill's potential impact on women offenders, young offenders and BME offenders”.
I am sure that I have said enough for the Minister to have some food for thought and no doubt to respond thoroughly and thoughtfully, as he usually does.
I am not sure that I can live up to the introduction, but I will do my best. I shall deal with amendments 58 and 63. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Darlington and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd that the needs of women offenders are important and distinct, and that it is important that we recognise that in what we do. We certainly try to do so.
Amendment 58 would sit alongside the duty in clause 11 of the Bill requiring the Secretary of State to ensure that arrangements for probation provision identify anything in the arrangements that is intended to meet the particular needs of female offenders. The Committee will recall that clause 11 was added to the Bill in the other place as a Government amendment, with support from all parties and Cross Benchers. I accept that it is important that we are transparent about the services being delivered to female offenders and the impact of the supervision that they receive. I hope that I can reassure the Committee that the Government are already committed to providing such information to Parliament and the public.
Let me start with information about the provision of services. Clause 11 will require the Secretary of State to ensure that “arrangements” with providers of rehabilitative services
“identify anything…that is intended to meet the particular needs of female offenders.”
In practice, “arrangements” will mean either contracts for community rehabilitation companies or service level agreements for the national probation service, and I am happy to put it on the record that those contracts and service level agreements will be placed in the public domain. That means that the Government will be transparent about what they will require providers of probation services to deliver for women. If providers are not delivering those requirements, they will of course be subject to contractual remedies to rectify that. Data that we will require to be provided on the effectiveness of those services will be published in the autumn of 2016.
Regarding the impact of post-release supervision on female offenders released from short sentences, the Secretary of State is already required under section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to publish information to support justice agencies in avoiding discriminating against anyone on the grounds of race, sex or any other improper ground. The Government publish statistics every quarter, breaking down reoffending rates by sentence type and length and by gender. We also publish annually data on court order and licence completions and resettlement outcomes in terms of accommodation and employment, again split by gender. That information is supplemented by two Ministry of Justice reports that look specifically at gender issues. Statistics on women in the criminal justice system bring together a wide range of information on how women are represented in the criminal justice system, including the sentences given to female offenders and the reoffending rates for each.
The national offender management service’s offender equalities annual report contains information on order and licence completions and on resettlement outcomes for offenders with different protected characteristics. That will, in future, show outcomes for different CRCs and for the NPS.
The Minister is right that the aggregated data are available. What we are asking for, however, is something more of a narrative. Given that the information is fairly easily to hand, we do not think that we are asking a huge amount of his officials to put them together in a form that is easily accessible and can be more easily scrutinised by colleagues in Parliament.
I understand the hon. Lady’s point, and I will look again if the information is not clear. However, as I have set out, that information is set out every year. It will be clear, when comparisons are to be made—between CRC areas in particular—on what is being done where. As I also said, that is supplemented by the requirements we will set out in contract, which clause 11 foreshadows. With all that, I hope it is clear that the Government are already committed to the spirit of the hon. Lady’s amendment, and I hope she will be happy to withdraw it.
Amendment 63, tabled by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, would add to clause 11 a duty on the Secretary of State to provide a summary of the impact of any arrangements made for the supervision and rehabilitation of female offenders. It would also require the Secretary of State to demonstrate how that assessment was made.
The amendment would not do quite what the right hon. Gentleman may have intended. I suspect that his intention is to require a report or statement on the potential or actual impact of contractual provision on female offenders. Technically, however, the amendment would require arrangements for probation services made by the Secretary of State—in practice, contracts or service level agreements—to state the likely equality impact of the requirements. As I am sure he will appreciate, contracts are probably not the right place to make available such detailed statistical information.
However, I hope that I will be able to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the data that this or any Government would use to assess the potential impact of the probation services on female offenders are already published in the documents I have just mentioned—specifically, the characteristics of women serving for particular offences as opposed to men, such as the offences they committed and their previous convictions; the length and requirements of sentences given to women as opposed to men; and crucially, their reoffending rates for different types and lengths of sentences compared with those for men. That is exactly the sort of information that the Secretary of State will have to take into account in meeting his duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.
I would also point to the existing statutory duty on the Secretary of State under the Equality Act’s specific duties regulations of 2011. That requires him to publish information to demonstrate his compliance with the duty imposed by section 149, which has exactly the same effect as the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment. Given the existing statutory duties on the Secretary of State and the reassurances I have given about the mechanism that will be in place in future to demonstrate the effectiveness of services provided for female offenders, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
I was asked specific questions, particularly by the hon. Member for Darlington, about women’s community centres. I understand the reason for the hon. Lady’s concern. We, too, want to ensure that there is a degree of clarity for women’s community services. We have said that continued funding will be expected from CRCs, at the very least up until March 2015, which is the transitional period for these arrangements.
After that, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester is the right one. If these services are effective—and both Members who have spoken are right to say that there are good examples of effective services—there is no reason to believe that CRCs will not wish to continue to invest in them.
The concern that I and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd have is that, because the number of female offenders is small, it is feasible that a CRC could deliver to a PBR contract and not be penalised, even though it may fail to deliver good quality services to its female cohort. We are very concerned that that should not be allowed to happen. We would like assurances that that will be specifically detailed in the contract.
Yes, I can give the hon. Lady that assurance. Of course, that is the genesis of clause 11. We expect all those bidding for the contracts to demonstrate how they will address the particular needs of female offenders, and we expect that those arrangements will be reflected, where it is sensible to do so, in the contract. They will therefore follow contractual penalties if those arrangements are not subsequently made.
When we visited various women’s centres, including Adelaide house, one grave concern expressed to us was that in the transitional period some of these centres could fall off the log. Then they would have to be reinvented, if possible, come the invention of CRCs. I put on record our thanks and welcome that the Government did respond with that transitional funding; otherwise, they might have had to reinvent the wheel.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is not a situation that we would wish to see.
I will pick up on the last specific point that the hon. Member for Darlington raised about the letter from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The letter arrived at the end of last week so, as she might expect, it has not yet been responded to. However—this also goes to the point that the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd made—we have, as they would expect, done some analysis of the equalities impact of what we are proposing. I circulated a document to members of the Committee and I hope they have seen it. It has also gone to the Joint Committee in response to the letter it sent to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will respond to the letter in due course.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said. It was pretty much what I had anticipated, because that is what we get told every time we table this amendment. Each time we go through this matter, I become more convinced that it is an important provision to ask for, and it is not that onerous a task to require of officials. I am quite happy to sit for a couple of days trawling through MOJ datasets on a website; I think that probably goes with my job, but I do not see why colleagues should have to do the same in order to glean the information we need to make a judgment on whether services for female offenders are improving or declining in quality. Therefore, I would like to press the amendment to a vote.