HL Deb 10 April 2003 vol 647 cc50-2WA
Lord Acton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether any changes will be made to the home detention curfew scheme. [HL2539]

Lord Filkin

Hilary Benn announced today a change to the home detention curfew (HDC) scheme that will provide earlier resettlement opportunities for lower risk offenders and help to deal with the pressures on the prison population.

A draft order has been tabled under Section 34A(6) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (as amended) to change the requisite period that a prisoner must spend in custody before becoming eligible for HDC. This will mean that the maximum period a prisoner may spend on HDC will rise from the present three months to four-and-a-half months, according to sentence length. Since all prisoners must spend at least 25 per cent of their sentence in custody, this will mean no change in the maximum curfew length for prisoners serving between three months and under 12 months. Prisoners serving 18 months and over will be eligible for the maximum four-and-a-half month curfew period. Prisoners serving four years or more are not eligible for HDC. The order will come into force on 14 July 2003.

Eligible prisoners who are assessed as suitable for HDC, and who have not already been released by the time the order comes into force, will be released in phases between 14 July and the end of August if their new HDC eligibility dates fall prior to 1 September 2003.

It is extremely important to maintain public confidence in the HDC Scheme. So, at the same time as increasing the maximum curfew period, we will set a presumption that prisoners convicted of certain serious offences will not be suitable for release unless exceptional circumstances exist. Offences involving the death of the victim, attempted murder or threats to kill, serious offences involving the possession of firearms or offensive weapons, child cruelty and all racially aggravated offences will be subject to this presumption. This will also apply to prisoners convicted of any sexual offence who are not already statutorily barred from HDC.

As at present, governors will release prisoners on HDC only if they pass a risk assessment and following a satisfactory home circumstances report. Public safety is of paramount importance and offenders will be released on HDC only where it is safe to do so.

Under the HDC scheme prisoners serve the remainder of their custody period at home under electronic curfew, usually from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The scheme provides prisoners with a smoother and more effective re-integration into the community, enabling prisoners to be released from prison early while remaining subject to significant restrictions on their liberty.

At any one time this measure will increase the number of prisoners serving the latter part of their sentence on an electronic tag by up to 1,000 prisoners. No further changes to the scheme are planned but, as always, the scheme will be kept under close review.