Justice Questions

10th July 2018

David Gauke answers questions to the Ministry of Justice.


Offenders’ Access to Education and Employment

1. What steps the Government is taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. [906347]

3. What steps the Government is taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. [906349]

10. What steps the Government is taking to improve offenders’ access to education and employment. [906356]

Reoffending costs society around £15 billion a year. We must support people’s rehabilitation through education and employment opportunities, both when serving their sentence and after. We launched the education and employment strategy in May, and our reforms will empower governors to commission bespoke, innovative education provision that meets the needs of their prisoners and links to employment opportunities on release. Our reforms will also engage and persuade employers to take on ex-prisoners via the New Futures Network. We have consulted governors and employers on proposals to increase the use of release on temporary licence to enhance employment opportunities.

May I press the Secretary of State on the release on temporary licence scheme? What are the measures of success? How useful has it been in getting prisoners out of prison and into full-time employment on an ongoing basis?

It is useful, but I want us to do more of it. The education and employment strategy seeks to expand the use of workplace release on temporary licence— ROTL—to get prisoners who have earned it and who have been properly risk assessed out of their cells and into real workplaces. That will enable prisoners to build trust and prove themselves with an employer. If people do ROTL, they are more likely to be employed, and if they are employed, they are less likely to reoffend.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Of the 4,221 prisoners who reoffended in Northern Ireland, over two fifths, 43.6%, reoffended within the first three months. Will the Minister outline whether any initiatives are specifically aimed at providing guidance in those all-important first three months?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Whether through the probation service, through charities or in prisons, we need to ensure that offenders get support when they are released. A lot of that work can be done within prison, which is why the education and employment strategy is so important. We want people to be geared up to go into employment when they are released, because if they are employed, they are less likely to offend.

I warmly welcome attempts to improve the employability of those in custody, but that will work only if the training relates to jobs that individuals want and for which there is a need in society. What steps are being taken to ensure that the resources are properly targeted at what will work best?

My hon. Friend is right. Returning again to the education and employment strategy, our emphasis is on ensuring that training is focused on what will help people into work, and we are giving governors greater control and discretion to ensure that they are well placed to do that.

23. Female offenders often have complex needs and getting the right support in place can be vital in helping them to turn their lives around, so why have members of the Government’s advisory board said that recent announcements from the Secretary of State represent a missed opportunity and are simply not sufficient to achieve his ambitions?[906370]

The female offender strategy, which I outlined a couple of weeks ago, has by and large had a positive response, and our focus on residential centres has been warmly welcomed. Of course, there are those who are calling for us to go further, and we will continue to listen and engage, but the direction in which we are going has widespread support and fully recognises the hon. Lady’s important point that we need to address complex needs.

Data has highlighted that two thirds of young offenders have speech, language and communication problems. Does my right hon. Gentleman agree that, with joint working across the Department for Education, the Department of Health and Social Care and the justice system to bring forward programmes that will tackle the issue from birth, such as parental training, more health visitors and better advice, we could actually prevent many young people from ever getting into the criminal justice system?

My hon. Friend raises several important points, and I will try to address one or two of them. On the need for us to work across Government, many issues are not just for the Ministry of Justice, but for the likes of the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education. It is also the case that we want to work upstream, because if we can address the complex problems that exist, we can stop people committing crimes in the first place.

Effective employment via the Through the Gate programme depends on effective community rehabilitation companies, which the Select Committee on Justice recently described as “wholly inadequate.” What plans does the Secretary of State have to fix community rehabilitation companies in Through the Gate?

The right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the Through the Gate service needs to improve, and we are engaging with CRCs on that issue. We recognise it does not meet the standards we require, and it is important that we engage. We have been clear with the CRCs that they need to improve their performance, and we are in commercial negotiation with providers to secure the quality of services, including Through the Gate services, that we need.



Offenders: Help to Find Employment

6. What steps his Department is taking to help offenders find employment upon leaving prison. [906352]

The education and employment strategy will set each prisoner on a path to employment from the outset. Through work, people can turn their backs on crime. Good behaviour and hard work will be rewarded with opportunity. Since the strategy’s publication, more than 30 new organisations have registered an interest in working with offenders. Nine Government Departments are signed up to the Going Forward into Employment pilot to hire ex-offenders in the civil service, and the first cohort of offenders is already in post.

I thank my right hon. Friend’s Department for the interest it has already shown in a project to enable serving prisoners to undertake the theoretical exams required for a career in the haulage industry, which is currently very short of workers. As a result of the meetings I have had with the Department, a pilot project is taking place in south Wales. I thank Ministers for that and ask that they continue to show interest in the project.

I thank my hon. Friend for his point. It is an example of where I hope that my Department and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service can work with employers to ensure that we help get more people into work, which is good for the individual offenders, good for the employers and society benefits as a whole because it contributes to reducing reoffending.

The Justice Secretary will know that there is no women’s prison in Wales and I am not advocating that there should be one. However, that will mean that there are considerable issues of geography for some women who do commit offences, so can he set out how he is able to support women who do offend, who live in Wales and who wish to relocate there in order to find employment in communities that they know and in which they have often grown up?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I point him in the direction of the female offender strategy, which we published a couple of weeks ago. One point that we argue in that is that, in many cases, custodial sentences are not the right approach, particularly for female offenders who, disproportionately, are sentenced to short sentences that disrupt their lives and do little to help them rehabilitate. If we can do more about helping in the community and, for example, making use of residential centres, we can help ensure that more female offenders get into work.

Eighteen months ago, a constituent of mine who had left prison just before Christmas and been through perfunctory training and employment introductions found himself out of prison and living on the street within 36 hours. Before the new year came round, he had committed another offence and been given another 12 months in prison. Will the Secretary of State commit to making sure that packages that are aimed at getting prisoners into work after prison actually work and are not perfunctory and that, from the day a person enters the criminal justice system, they are trained to live a fruitful life once they leave it?

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman’s point. He highlights an example—a sad example, but not, I accept, the only one—where people, too quickly, go out of prison and commit a crime and are then set in a cycle of offending and reoffending. The system is not working for them or for society. The purpose of the education and employment strategy, which is implicit in his question, is an important point, and we must ensure that we implement it successfully. The purpose of that is to address this very issue.

Some of the people who are disproportionately represented inside the prison system are ex-servicemen. What plans does the Secretary of State have to bring charities such as Care after Combat into the prisons to help to ensure that reoffending does not take place and that these people who are heroes one day are not villains the next?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. It is important for all offenders that we address this issue, but there is a particular point about ex-service people. He is right to highlight the very strong charitable sector in this area. I am determined to ensure that we continue to engage with those charities to provide people with the support they need, making sure in particular, in the context of his question, that those who have served this country are not disadvantaged.

Reducing reoffending rates is crucial. What information are the Minister and the Government providing in wider society to point out the benefits of a reduction in reoffending rates not just for prisoners, but for the wider society?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I have just delivered a speech making that very point, so I am doing my little bit that way. That is a message that we need to be getting across. How do we reduce reoffending? We must rehabilitate and we must help people into employment.


Probation Services

17. Whether he has plans to change the contracts of private sector probation companies; and if he will make a statement. [906363]

21. Whether he plans to review the future provision of probation services; and if he will make a statement. [906367]

22. Whether he plans to review the future provision of probation services; and if he will make a statement. [906369]

We are currently in commercial negotiations with community rehabilitation companies, with the aim of amending contracts and improving operational performance. Once we have concluded those negotiations, we will be in a position to provide further detail about the changes that we intend to make.

Last year, the Ministry of Justice bailed out privatised probation companies to the tune of £342 million, leaving the public to foot the bill for their inadequate work, which the chief inspector of probation found to make a negligible difference. Will the Minister commit today that there will be no more bail-outs for those privatised probation companies?

We should be clear about what happened. Last year, we amended contracts to ensure that payments made to community rehabilitation companies were more in line with the costs that they incur to deliver core services. We are paying CRCs less than we originally intended when the contracts were let: they are receiving less than their costs, a consequence of over-optimistic bidding on their part. When we talk about bail-outs, we should be clear that those companies are receiving income that is less than it costs them to provide the services.

Why will the Secretary of State not accept the conclusion of the Conservative-led Justice Committee that this is, in its words, “a mess” and may never work? Why does he not stop throwing good money after bad, cut his losses, blame his predecessor and be applauded for bringing this vital service back in-house?

As I said in my earlier answer, we are engaging with the CRCs, which do need to improve their service. The model that we have has opened up the delivery of probation services to a range of new providers. It has extended support and supervision to an additional 40,000 offenders leaving prison. First-generation contracts can be difficult to get right—I acknowledge that—but we are taking all necessary steps to get the performance that we require.

Given the constant underperformance, high cost and deeply abject failure of private probation companies, is it not time to re-establish a professional, coherent and comprehensively public probation service?

I am not sure that the complaint about high cost holds together: the services are being delivered for less than we had expected, although we acknowledge that there are problems. The one thing we hear from the Opposition about justice is that the private sector should be kept out at all costs. I do not think that ideological approach is sensible. It is important that there should be a mixed market.

Last year, as we have heard, the privatised probation services got a £342 million bail-out despite underperforming. There are press rumours that the contract will be changed again. Will the Minister give a commitment today that the privatised probation services will not get a penny more until the Government have held a review into the botched privatisation of probation services?

I come back to my previous points. The CRCs have been receiving less income than it costs them to deliver the services. Because of the reforms undertaken a few years ago, 40,000 offenders get support who would have got nothing previously. The contracts can be challenging; it is right that we look at that and deliver good value for money for the taxpayer and good-quality services. That is what we are determined to deliver.

Topical Questions

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [906372]

Today, I have announced an additional £30 million investment in our prison estate, including £16 million to improve facilities at 11 of our most pressed prisons. Some £6 million will enhance security and tackle those co-ordinating drug dealing from inside through scanners, better searching and phone-blocking technology. Since February, 12 such serious criminals have been targeted for disruption, with nine already having been transferred to other parts of the estate, including more secure prisons.

The Government are conducting a review of the impact of the swingeing cuts to legal aid since 2012, but they have so far refused to say whether more funding will be made available for legal aid. Will the Secretary of State confirm that additional funding will be made available if it is found to be required, or is the review simply an exercise in moving legal aid funding from one cause to another?

The purpose of the review is to assess what we need to do. That is the correct way to go about it. Obviously, we will need to engage with the Treasury in terms of future spending reviews, but we have a serious piece of work, with very substantial engagement with stakeholders, on which to make an assessment of how the legal aid system is working.




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