Justice Questions

5th June 2018

Secretary of State David Gauke answers questions from MPs.

Offenders: Housing and Benefits

3. What steps his Department is taking to help offenders access (a) housing and (b) benefits on release from prison. [905579]

A home provides a released offender with a stable platform and increases their chances of finding a job, accessing health services and tuning their lives around. The Government aim to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027. As part of this commitment, my Department will work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to pilot initiatives, helping those with a history of offending to access and sustain suitable accommodation. We are also working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to explore ways of enhancing the current benefit claim system.

I thank the Minister for his response, but I recently supported a constituent who, after six months in prison, had successfully kicked his drugs habit. After being released from prison with no housing or benefits in place, he had to rely on former associates for support. He has now returned to drugs and his chaotic lifestyle—the one he wanted to escape. Does the Minister believe that lack of supervision and support for offenders leaving prison is likely to increase or decrease reoffending?

We must work across government to ensure that those circumstances do not happen. It is right that we engage with local authorities, the MHCLG and the DWP to ensure that the support is there, and we also need to make sure that the probation service is working as it should to provide support for those offenders.

Some local authorities claim that prisoners sent away from their home area have no local connection when they need to find housing. Will the Secretary of State have a word with the Secretary of State for Communities to make sure there is no discrimination among local authorities against ex-offenders; they just need to be treated fairly, the same as everyone else?

My hon. Friend makes a good point and we discuss this issue with the MHCLG. We are also working with the Local Government Association in advance of its October commencement of the duty to refer under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to improve partnership working between prisons, probation providers and local authorities.

Release from prison is particularly difficult for women, and I have raised this issue with the Prisons Minister, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), in Westminster Hall. Will the Secretary of State set out what he will do to support women up for release, not just in respect of when they are released from prison but also in keeping the family link, which is extremely important?

That is an important point, and we will publish our women offenders strategy in the near future. We must address reoffending by ensuring that when people are released they are settled in the community as successfully as possible.

Prisoners who build their own houses and then rent them at an affordable rent are much less likely to reoffend. Will the Secretary of State meet me and members of the Right to Build Task Force to discuss how this excellent initiative can be spread more widely?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on managing to raise the issue of right to build in as many forums as possible, and I would be delighted to meet him to discuss the opportunities here.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the number of ex-offenders ending up homeless has increased significantly in recent years, and will he accept that his Department’s policy objectives for reducing reoffending and helping rehabilitation will go nowhere unless this issue is tackled?

I accept that if we want to reduce reoffending and to rehabilitate, we have to ensure that we address the issue of housing. I absolutely accept that, which is why I am determined to work with local authorities and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to address it.


Offenders: Education and Employment

11. What assessment he has made of the role of employment and education in reducing rates of reoffending. [905588]

21. What steps the Government are taking to improve access for offenders to education and employment. [905600]

22. What assessment he has made of the role of employment and education in reducing rates of reoffending. [905601]

On 24 May, we launched the education and employment strategy to create a system in which each prisoner is set on a path to employment from the outset. This is vital because reoffending costs society around £15 billion each year. Effective rehabilitation needs prisoners to be willing to commit to change, take advice, learn new skills and take opportunities to work, and if they participate in learning and get a job, they are less likely to reoffend.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, and for his earlier mention of my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and the duty to ensure that ex-offenders get a decent house when they leave prison, which comes in in October. More widely, will he review education training and reward ex-offenders for participating in such programmes so that they do not reoffend when they leave prison?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on the Homelessness Reduction Act, which was a significant achievement. In respect of making sure that the incentives in the system are right, my hon. Friend absolutely hits the nail on the head. I am determined to ensure that we have the right incentives in the system to reward good behaviour and to bring down reoffending.

Milton Keynes College is a leading provider of offender-learning programmes. I have discussed the New Futures Network with college staff, and while they welcome the Government’s new strategy, they and I would be grateful for further details of how employers will be incentivised, and perhaps even mandated, to employ a certain percentage of ex-offenders.

Our approach is to encourage employers to take on ex-offenders. Some employers do marvellous work and not only make a real contribution to society, but find that they get very good employees. There are also employers who, frankly, are not engaging at all. There has been a change in public mood on this issue and we want to encourage much more engagement. We all have a role to play.

Digital and technology skills are now vital in every workplace. They help those released from prison to secure better jobs, thereby reducing reoffending. What support is my right hon. Friend’s Department giving for such important skills training?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Information and communications technology forms part of the prison common core curriculum. It will be increasingly important, which is why it is right that we provide training in digital and technology skills. It is worth pointing out that from April 2019, governors will be given increased flexibility to commission the right education mix for their prisons. We expect that digital and technology will feature highly in governors’ plans.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Domestic violence offenders are particularly prone to repeat offending, so what commitment will the Secretary of State give to ensuring that the mandatory provision of domestic violence perpetrator programmes is made available to domestic violence offenders in all prisons through the domestic abuse Bill?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. She is absolutely right about the repeat-offending nature of domestic abuse. She will be aware of the Government’s consultation on domestic abuse, which concluded at the end of last month. We are looking at ways in which we can bring down reoffending, and getting the right courses and training in prisons, including on domestic abuse, is very important.

Education is particularly important in trying to ensure that offenders not only do not reoffend, but get employment post-custody. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that governors in all prisons right across the regime are aware that prisoners’ educational attainment is paramount if they are to find employment once they leave prison?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. On the prisons for which we are responsible, I have set out the education and employment strategy, and the focus is on ensuring that governors have greater control over how they provide education within their prisons. His point about the link between education and employment is absolutely right. Of course, employment is linked very strongly to reoffending rates.

May I urge the Secretary of State to look at the correlation and causation between traumatic brain injury and reoffending? The most recent survey that has been done in the prison in Leeds showed that nearly 50% of prisoners had a traumatic brain injury, and that 30% of them had more than five. Does it not make sense to screen every single prisoner when they arrive in prison and ensure that they have rehabilitation for their brain injury?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, because there is evidence showing links between brain injuries and offending. If I may, I will take away his suggestion about testing across the board to see whether that is the right use of resources—that is something that we would have to look at—but he makes an important point about understanding the link between brain injuries and offending.

When there are employers who wish not only to help people when they come out of prison but to train them while they are in prison, will my right hon. Friend ensure that no prison puts barriers in place because of risk assessments so that we ensure that they can actually help prisoners?

We do want to encourage employers to get into prisons to work with prisoners before they are released. It is important that there is not a huge cliff edge from being in prison to then being released. We need to look at the best ways in which we can do that.

We welcome the Government’s emphasis on education and employment skills, as they are the best route out of poverty and the cycle of reoffending, but when the Secretary of State made the announcement, he forgot that he had scrapped the National Careers Service in prisons, and presented an employment strategy that omitted to mention the provision of employment and careers advice. Why was that absent from the strategy?

I welcome the Opposition’s support for our focus on education and employment, but may I say to the House that Dame Sally Coates noted in her 2016 review of prison education that the National Careers Service was delivering a service in an increasingly crowded environment, with multiple employment advice and support services operating in custody and through the gate? That was why the decision was made to reform this area. It is right that we do so, but I am determined to ensure that we provide the right support to prisoners so that they can get a job when they are released.


Prisons: Rehabilitation Technology

12. What progress has been made on introducing technology to assist with rehabilitation in prisons. [905589]

As a pilot, we have introduced basic computers and telephones into prison cells in HMPs Berwyn and Wayland so that prisoners can manage some of their day-to-day tasks such as ordering meals, making healthcare appointments and booking social visits. This technology also gives prisoners access to learning opportunities and basic educational content, and enables them to telephone their families in a private environment. Prisoners are not given access to the internet.

Can the Minister reassure me that digital technology in prisons will allow prisoners to access only educational opportunities, rather than the sometimes murky wider digital world?

I can provide my hon. Friend with that assurance. The digital technology currently available in prisons provides strictly controlled access to learning and training facilities. It is also used to provide opportunities for prisoners to access services within the prison environment to enable them to manage their time and activities while inside. There is no access to the internet, and strict security control prohibits access to the wider digital world.



Topical Questions

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [905602]

Since the last Justice questions, my Department has published an education and employment strategy for adult prisoners. My vision is that when an offender enters prison they should immediately be put on the path to employment on release. To deliver this, we are giving governors powers to tailor education provision to employers’ requirements. We are launching the New Futures Network to broker partnerships with employers, and we are consulting on measures to get more prisoners into workplaces on day release during their sentences. Success will mean more prisoners leaving custody ready for work and more employers ready to hire them.

Releasing prisoners immediately before the weekend, when housing offices, benefits offices and other sources of advice are closed, leaves vulnerable individuals without support and more likely to reoffend. Will the Justice Secretary take immediate steps to address this ridiculous practice?

I thank the hon. Lady, because I hear exactly the point that she is making. I have asked my Department for the evidence on this issue. If the evidence does point towards worse levels of reoffending and real difficulties for offenders if they are released on a Friday, we will look at that.


T5. I will repeat the same question as last time, on the grounds that unless one makes oneself a complete bore, nobody listens. What progress has the Secretary of State made on replacing short sentences with alternatives? Short sentences in prison rarely achieve anything, due to a lack of training and rehabilitation. [905606]

My hon. Friend may have noticed that I made some remarks recently that were very sympathetic to that point of view. He has been effective before becoming a bore; I congratulate him on that. Reoffending rates for those given a short sentence are higher than for those given a non-custodial sentence, which is why we are delivering alternatives.


T7. Does the Minister agree that greater use of release on temporary licence for work placements can play a significant role in helping inmates to transition back into society and, crucially, reduce reoffending rates? [905608]

I very much agree. Indeed, that is a point we make strongly in our education and employment strategy. Release on temporary licence can help get people into work when they leave prison. If they are in work, they are less likely to reoffend, and that can bring down crime.


T9. What assessment have the Secretary of State and the Home Secretary made of the adequacy of the new process for EU citizens who are residents in the UK to apply for settled status? [905610]

That is a matter for the Home Office, but I am assured that the Home Office believes that the system can deliver what we need for the country.


Futures Unlocked is a Warwickshire charity with a community café called Moriarty’s in Rugby, providing work experience and job opportunities for those who have just completed a prison term. Does the Minister agree that locally managed schemes such as that are valuable in reducing reoffending rates?

Very much so, and I want to pay tribute to the employers, businesses and charities that do so much in this space. I am pleased that there is a consensus in the House that we need to focus on rehabilitation and reoffending, and one of the best ways of doing that is focusing on employment.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the single departmental plan means that greater priority will be given to developing robust non-custodial sentences to divert those whom it is not necessary to send to prison in the first place?



While we regularly praise the likes of Greggs, Timpson and Halfords for the great work they do in employing ex-offenders, do Ministers agree that the time has now come no longer to allow employers that have made a blanket refusal to employ any ex-offenders to carry on such an approach in secret?

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. As I have said before, I think there has been a shift in public mood, and employers should explain themselves if they take such an approach, which I do not think is good for them or for society.


The EU prisoner transfer directive was meant to enable us to transfer thousands of EU prisoners in UK prisons to a prison in their own country. How many EU prisoners have we actually transferred?

If memory serves, it is something like 41,000 over the past 10 years, but I will write to my hon. Friend to confirm the numbers.


Will the Secretary of State also look at the issue of acquired brain injury in the youth justice system? One of the most interesting pieces of work being done at the moment shows that we can divert some of the most difficult, troubled children if we bring together psychologists, psychiatrists and prison and probation officers—all the different teams—to transform individual lives.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, which we will look at very closely. I take this opportunity to say, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), that 41,000 foreign national offenders have indeed been deported since 2010.




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