Sentencing: First Offenders

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 27th June 2018.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what recent assessment he has made of the effect of short-term prison sentences on the long-term mental health of first-time offenders.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Public protection is our priority. Custody should be a last resort, to protect the public and to punish and rehabilitate offenders. Short-term sentences offer limited public protection, and can fail to offer time for meaningful rehabilitative activity.

There is persuasive evidence that short custodial sentences of less than 12 months are less effective in reducing reoffending than community penalties and we will be looking at what more we can do to emphasise that short custodial sentences should be viewed as a last resort. We want to ensure that the public and judiciary have confidence in non-custodial sentences - such as effective community orders - which directly tackle the causes of reoffending, including alcohol or drug abuse.

Providing the right interventions at the right time is vital to improving outcomes for people with mental health issues and there is ongoing work to divert offenders away from custody where appropriate. We continue to support NHS England’s roll out of Liaison and Diversion services, which are currently operating at over 80% of the country and full rollout is expected by 2020/21.

We are also working with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England to develop a Community Sentence Treatment Requirement (CSTR) Protocol. This aims to increase the use of community sentences with mental health, drug and alcohol treatment requirements as an alternative to custody.

For individuals who are sentenced to custody, it is crucial that we work to create healthy, supportive prison environments. We already know that prisoners are more likely to have poor physical and mental health than the general population and that being in prison can exacerbate these issues. That is why we have ensured that over 3,100 new staff are in post to enable us to implement the key worker role, allowing staff dedicated time to provide support to individual prisoners. We have also recently updated our suicide and self-harm prevention training and, since April 2017, it has reached over 15,500 new and existing staff. The ACCT process is also being revised to make the documents easier to use and to ensure the focus is on the support the prisoner needs. These initiatives and others mean that we will be able to better support individuals with mental health needs regardless of the length of their sentence.

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