HC Deb 08 July 2002 vol 388 cc600-2
7. Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

If he will make a statement on his plans to ensure resettlement and rehabilitation opportunities for former prisoners. [64752]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Hilary Benn)

We are investing, on average, some —60 million a year in education and offending behaviour programmes in prisons. We are working closely with Jobcentre Plus on increasing the number of prisoners who find work or training on release. We are also piloting support for short-term prisoners and those who misuse drugs. Accredited programmes have been shown to reduce reoffending by between 5 and 15 per cent.

Mr. Clarke

Does my hon. Friend agree that as long ago as 1993 organisations such as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders became increasingly concerned about the dramatic increase in the number of women sent to prison? Although we know that the Government cannot intervene in the sentencing of individuals, will the Department continue to have an input into sentencing policy? Given that a fairly large number of young children are put in care because their mothers are sent to prison, does he accept that the problem calls for the utmost sensitivity, not ideological backlashes?

Hilary Benn

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend's point. One of the saddest features of the female prison population is that 37 per cent. of sentenced women prisoners have attempted suicide. Women prisoners have access to the full range of programmes available in prison and we are looking for ways to make those more appropriate to their particular needs.

My right hon. Friend rightly referred to the particular burden of caring responsibilities faced by women prisoners, and ideas such as intermittent custody, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked about in his speech earlier this year, would be particularly appropriate for them given what we know about the importance, both for the prisoners and for their families, of maintaining family links wherever possible.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire)

Will the Minister do all that he can to recognise and support the work of Christian groups such as the Kainos community, which operate in prison with the support of prison authorities to ensure that the spirit and character of prisoners is not neglected in their preparation for successful release?

Hilary Benn

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman's point. One really heartening development in the past few years has been in the links between the Prison Service and the voluntary sector, which works in many prisons providing a wide range of support. One of the pleasures that I had in this job recently was attending a conference organised by CLINKS at the Design Centre in Islington, where 500 people came together to talk about that work. They discussed how the Prison Service can learn from the contribution of the voluntary sector in maintaining precisely the qualities and sense of spirit that the hon. Gentleman talked about and also how the voluntary sector can learn from the Prison Service.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Are not existing rehabilitation programmes closed to many prisoners who are repeat offenders by virtue of the fact that they are usually in prison for a very short time? Another factor, particularly for women prisoners, is the fear that they may lose their home as well as their family. Does not the Home Office need to work closely with other Departments to ensure that such a situation does not arise?

Hilary Benn

My hon. Friend is entirely right. These are matters that the recent social exclusion unit report drew to our attention. We need to do more, particularly for prisoners serving short sentences. When I was at Winchester prison last week, I was very impressed by the team of three prison officers who are delivering the custody-to-work programme in that institution. They are enthusiastic and hard working, and they are making links with employers outside the prison because they recognise as much as anybody else does the importance for prisoners of finding employment opportunities once they leave their care.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

I am sure that the Minister will agree that no group requires resettlement and rehabilitation more than 18 to 20-year-olds, of whom some 72 per cent. commit further offences within two years of release. Does the Minister agree that structured programmes are needed and that they must be consistent? If early release is brought on by overcrowding rather than being planned and if we have "going straight" contracts that are not part of an integrated programme, we are going in the wrong direction because we are pushing young offenders back out into the community before they have been properly prepared for it.

I am happy to hear that the Minister likes Kainos. Why, then, are Kainos programmes being closed down?

Hilary Benn

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if we do not have integrated programmes for young offenders, we will not make the progress that is required. That is precisely the point that was made in the social exclusion unit's report. That is why the community sentences developed by the national probation service can include intensive supervision, offending behaviour programmes, drug treatment and testing orders, work in the community and the use of tagging. The availability of those instruments enables us to construct a sentence in the community that is effective in working with young people.

We need to learn from the lessons of the youth justice programme, which in its first year, as hon. Members will be aware, has led to a reduction in reoffending of 14.6 per cent., whereas the target was for a 5 per cent. reduction over the first four years. All hon. Members will take pleasure in the fact that, on those initial indications, the approaches seem to be working, and we need to develop them elsewhere in the offending and prisoner population.