All 8 contributions to the Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Act 2023

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Wed 24th May 2023
Thu 29th Jun 2023
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent

Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill

Second Reading
12:14
Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

You will know, perhaps more than many in this place, that I am a simple man, Mr Deputy Speaker. Prior to researching this Bill, I had not spent a great deal of time thinking about the criminal justice system or how it worked. I had laboured under the belief that if someone committed a crime, served their time and paid back their debt to society, they would be afforded every opportunity to succeed on their release from prison and make a fresh start. I was disappointed to find out that often that is not the case and many people released from prison, especially those released on Fridays, are almost set up to fail from the moment they set foot outside the prison estate. They face a race against time to access statutory and non-statutory services—to meet their probation officer; visit a pharmacy or a GP; sort out their accommodation—all on a Friday, with services closing early, and with some being a distance away or even impossible to reach by public transport. Many of them therefore end up homeless, with no hope of accessing services until Monday morning at the earliest. So they have nowhere to stay, they have little support and the world is on their shoulders. Is it any surprise that up to two thirds of people released without access to accommodation reoffend within a year.

That race against the clock is maddening. With a third of all releases taking place on a Friday, this is a numbers game, and the numbers are very high indeed: reoffending costs the taxpayer £18 billion a year; and 80% of crime is committed by reoffenders. If we support people as they come out of prison, we can play a key role in reducing the significant societal and individual costs of reoffending, leading to fewer victims of crime and fewer communities dealing with its impact. This Bill is an important step towards doing that. By making a simple change, by varying the date of release for vulnerable people by up to 48 hours, we can relieve that time pressure and give people the opportunity to make a fresh start. This small but significant change would build on existing Government funding and support for people coming out of prison, including the funding of temporary accommodation for prison leavers at risk of homelessness. We need to end the practice of Friday releases for the most vulnerable, so that they have the vital extra hours and days they need to get support in place before the weekend arrives. This move is supported by charities, the third sector, those working in prisons, the probation service and the Local Government Association, and by former offenders who have been through the system. If the House will indulge me, I will pepper this speech with examples from a few of them.

Last month, I was fortunate enough to visit Wormwood Scrubs in London, to see Governor Frost and her team. It was a fascinating and eye-opening visit, and I am grateful for the time she and her team, and the brilliant third sector organisations, such as StandOut, afforded to accommodate me and answer some of my banal questions. Entering a prison, certainly one such as Wormwood Scrubs, feels very final indeed. You walk through a set of remarkable Victorian buildings and the first thing you notice is how solid the place is. There are big, thick walls, and heavy, metal doors. Everything is contained and segregated by keys. Each door is opened ahead of you and closes behind you, with a click. Your choices are limited to the space you have access to. The outside world, even though you can see it above and through the windows, feels maddeningly far away. As Governor Frost explained to me, when you leave a prison like the Scrubs, setting foot outside the estate for the first time, you face the

“first independent choice you can make in a while.”

If someone is released on a Friday, they have precious little time to make those choices and if they choose poorly, they may well find themselves back in prison. Some would rather see their family than comply with appointments, for some their addiction takes priority and others simply do not have time to make their appointments, with no chance of getting from point A to point B in the remaining hours of the day. When someone resides in Wormwood Scrubs at His Majesty’s pleasure, is released at 3pm on Friday and then has to see their parole officer in Cambridge that same day, what chance do they realistically have of making that appointment before 5 pm?

I have spoken to prison leavers who were released from custody on a Friday. Some were lucky and managed to get support, but the majority were left facing severe issues with access to key resettlement services. Some ended up on the streets over the weekend while waiting for housing services to reopen on the Monday. Even worse, some people I have spoken to were greeted at the prison gates by the smiling face of their drug dealer. Criminal gangs know just how hard it can be for people to work through their release checklist, meet their parole officer, sort their housing, go to the pharmacy and so on, so they offer a handout—one that comes at a very steep cost. So the merry-go-round continues: the person is recalled to prison, and it all begins again.

I am on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is undertaking an inquiry into drugs. In Middlesbrough earlier this year, we spoke to addicts and people in recovery about their life stories. The same issue came up time and again. Their experience is addiction, prison, release, shoplifting and other petty crimes, and imprisonment again. At no point does the process help them, their family or those who work in criminal justice. Nor does it help society. In my constituency, I have spoken to Cumbria police and the amazing Well Communities and have seen these issues time and again.

The nature of unstable releases means further addiction and ripe pickings for drugs gangs involved in county lines —the exact opposite of the outcome from imprisonment and rehabilitation that we might hope for. The chair of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board, Councillor Caliskan, says:

“With staff limitations at the weekend across a range of services, delays in accessing accommodation and a lack of early intervention from support services, vulnerable prison-leavers are at considerable risk of reoffending. In bringing release dates forward, this will ensure prison-leavers have enough time to access the right help and support to prevent them heading back towards previous criminal activities.”

I could not agree more.

If we want safer streets, we have to start by making access easier to vital services that reduce offending. If people do not have the support structure, including housing and healthcare, that they need in place on release, we simply risk depositing vulnerable people back in the hands of those who encourage harm over good. When I visited Wormwood Scrubs, the governor and her amazing team made that point again and again.

If the House will indulge me, I will read the testimony of Stanley, which was supplied by the fantastic charity Nacro. These are Stanley’s words:

“The biggest problem is not having a roof over your head. So many people come straight out of prison with nowhere to live and go straight on the streets. They have nowhere to go, nothing to do and end up doing something stupid just to go back inside.

When you come out, there’s nothing. No phone, no money, no ID, and if you don’t have someone helping you—you’re alone.

Me—I’d lost weight in prison. My jeans don’t fit and I don’t have a belt. It was freezing and I had no jumper. Yet I couldn’t get my advance payment because I didn’t have any ID. They told me to come to the job centre to sort it out on the Monday, but what am I going to do over the weekend? And I’m supposed to start work on Monday, and that’s not a good look, making excuses on your first day. We’re being set up to fail. 99% will go back to prison because they have no choice.

I came out of prison homeless. They’ve known I’d be released homeless for months. Yet, released on a Friday, it’s getting late in the afternoon, and I still have nowhere to go. And the housing officer has now gone for the weekend. No wonder people reoffend.

I’ve got an appointment with substance misuse services, but they can’t see me until Monday. But I’m supposed to start my job on Monday. And I can’t get an advance payment for UC because I don’t have any ID. They told me to come and see them on Monday instead. So now I’m faced with the weekend, with just the discharge grant to my name. I need to buy myself some winter clothes—it’s freezing—and I need to eat.

I’ve got hospital appointments. I take 6 different types of pills. I’m starting a job on Monday and can’t go to the job centre on my first day of work. This is what people have to deal with all the time.”

This is a comment from the Nacro resettlement worker who met Stanley:

“The holding cell on a Friday is rammed as such a high proportion of people in prison are released in Friday. It’s made worse by those whose release dates were set for the weekend, and are being released on a Friday instead. The pressure on the prisons and resettlement services is incredible. Yet, so many are being released without any support. Nothing. They don’t know who their probation officer is. Where they need to go. What they need to do. And on a Friday, it’s a race against the clock before services close.

“Unfortunately, for those without housing, the only option on a Friday is emergency accommodation if that is available. And then that person will have to through the whole process again on the Monday, all the while trying to get to a whole range of other appointments. And UC throws up another obstacle. Anyone who has been in and out of prison and has claimed an advancement payment after a previous release, is no longer eligible for another advance payment. Released on a Friday with just the discharge grant, those impacted are faced with a long weekend with just £76 pounds to their name.”

For many offenders, the day of release from custody is a realisation of a long-awaited goal: a chance to turn their backs on crime for good. But the reality for those released on Friday can be fraught with practical challenges to surmount. Those who need access to multiple support services before they close for the day, including local authority housing and mental health services, can face a race against the clock. Many services close early and are then shut over the weekend. Approximately a third of all releases fall on a Friday, so those services are under considerable additional pressure.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent speech. In the light of all his research and discussions to prepare his private Member’s Bill, why does he think these principles have not been adhered to before? The points he is making are so clear and obvious, so why, given all the attendant problems that come from Friday releases, is there a particular emphasis on them?

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South for his comments—I did well there; I do not usually get the constituencies right. The honest answer is that I do not know. Certainly, in the data that was brought out during covid specifically, we saw the impact of that. StandOut and a number of other good charities have raised this issue since then, and Nacro—the charity that supplied some of the case studies I have been using—has done some really effective campaigning on it. Like many of the things we see in this place and in our daily jobs representing our constituents, we often need to make maddeningly small changes to systems all over the place to improve people’s lot. This is one of those changes, and for that reason, I hope we can get it through.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
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As a barrister myself, I am aware, as other Members may be, that a sentence is calculated in days from the date on which it is given. If the date of release happens to fall on a Saturday or Sunday, it is then brought back to the Friday, which explains why Friday has ended up being the most popular day in the week. Does my hon. Friend agree that he is seeking to correct an unintended consequence and right an obvious wrong?

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. This is a factor of people’s releases falling on weekends or bank holidays and compressing almost a third of releases to Fridays. That is a real problem, as I have outlined.

As I have said, the reoffending rate for adults released on a Friday is higher than for any other day of the week. Those without stable accommodation on release are almost two thirds more likely to reoffend. Let us take the example of Simon—I am not referring to myself here. Simon was released from a London prison in April 2021. He has had a history of poor mental health and alcohol dependency. Owing to his complex needs, he met the threshold for priority housing. On the Friday when he was released, he received a phone call at 3 pm saying that no accommodation could be provided, despite the fact that his resettlement worker repeatedly chased the local authority housing department. It was agreed that Simon would travel to stay with his brother in Ipswich, but he did not make the journey. Simon’s resettlement worker rang several times that Friday evening, and it sounded as if Simon was with people, drinking on the streets. The resettlement worker was later advised that Simon had been recalled to prison shortly afterwards.



Then there is the example of Patrick, who was released from a two-year sentence in prison. He had an ankle injury and was supplied with crutches upon his release, which limited his mobility and therefore his ability to navigate multiple appointments across the area he was in. Although he was able to access his temporary accommodation that day, he was unable to address his other support needs on the day of release, such as his substance misuse issue. As a result, he had to wait until the following Monday to access support, which put him at significant further risk of reoffending. Patrick did not engage with services the following week and was recalled to prison shortly afterwards for failing to attend probation appointments.

By removing these barriers that a Friday release can create, we can ensure that custody leavers have a better chance to access the support they need to reintegrate into the community, so that the victims and the public are protected. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) said, the law currently mandates that offenders due to be released on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday must be released on the preceding Friday, providing it is a working day. While that avoids releases on days when services are completely closed, the result is a bunching of releases on a Friday, with almost double the number on any other day of the week.

The Bill seeks to amend the law to provide the Secretary of State for Justice with a discretionary power to bring forward the release date of an offender by up to two eligible working days where that release date falls on a Friday or the day before a bank holiday. Such a power will promote law-abiding reintegration into society by ensuring that those leaving custody can access the support services they need upon release.

In practice, this power will be delegated to the prison governor or an equivalent official, with the provision targeted at those most at risk of reoffending. To be clear, we are not talking about dangerous or high-risk offenders, and there will be strict security screening of eligible prisoners. The Bill is aimed at helping vulnerable individuals with complex needs who may need additional support to help them make the transition back to life outside prison.

There is a fleeting window of opportunity for people on release from prison, and we simply must not allow those who are serious about making a positive and meaningful change in their lives to fall by the wayside. We should not be setting people up to fail. This is not about softening sentencing; it is about making sure that the right support is in place at the right time to prevent them from immediately falling through the cracks.

Evidence suggests that a Friday release day has a disproportionate impact on those with complex needs, those who have greater distances to travel upon release or those with substance or mental health needs, who face an increased risk of homelessness. Ministry of Justice research has shown that the release date can make a 5% difference in the likelihood of reoffending, with 35% of those freed on a Monday reconvicted within a year, compared with 40% on a Friday. Let us not forget that each of the individuals in that 5% represents a further unnecessary strain on the already stretched capacity of the prisons estate. More crime means more victims, and each of these instances of reoffending represents lost opportunities for reform after people have served their time and should be able to demonstrate their ability to rejoin and fully contribute to society.

Here is another example from Katie, a reducing reoffending officer from Nacro:

“In the past I have worked with many offenders who have been released on a Friday. Essex is a big area that includes 14 local authorities. HMP Chelmsford is a local Cat B resettlement prison, we have many prisoners that are in and out of custody on a regular basis.

Recently I worked with a man that has been in HMP Chelmsford approximately 7 times since I started the job in April 2019. This time he was released on a Friday. He has addiction issues and had been homeless for several years. Due to short prison sentences, we have been unable to do any meaningful work with him. My client had a probation appointment at 2pm in Colchester, a scripting appointment for his methadone at 3pm and a housing assessment that had to be completed over the phone at 2.30pm. At some point he also needed to make his Universal Credit claim, again over the phone due to Covid. He was released with his mobile phone that he had when he was brought into custody. No charge and no credit.

Luckily he made his probation appointment, which took over an hour as he had a new probation officer, that he had not met before. He missed both his scripting appointment and his housing assessment. Most probation officers are mindful of other appointments on day of release, and will offer some leeway if they are aware of conflicting appointments, but this involves our service users speaking out, and some aren’t too good at making their voices heard, especially when they are fearful of upsetting their probation officer and being recalled.

Friday releases often require our clients to prioritise their appointments and what is important to them. Unfortunately they don’t always prioritise the right thing. Some would rather see their family than comply with appointments, for some their addiction takes priority.”

For under-18s, a Friday release may mean a child going for two or even three days without meaningful contact with support services when they are at their most vulnerable. That is why the Bill applies to both adults and children sentenced to detention and will ensure the same provisions exist across the youth estate. This overdue change will bring consistency across the youth estate and, in respect of secure children’s homes, correct a long-standing omission. It is worth remembering that 15% of under-18s are imprisoned more than 100 miles from their homes, with 41% more than 50 miles away. It goes without saying that this poses an additional, significant challenge for some of the most at risk who leave detention.

I recognise that the Government are doing fantastic work to reduce reoffending and protect the public—work that will benefit all custody leavers. Several new roles, including housing specialists, prison employment leads, banking leads and neurodiversity support managers—that’s a mouthful—are being implemented, which will further benefit individuals to prepare for release by ensuring they have a roof over their head, meaningful employment or education in place and access to essentials such as a bank account or identification.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes
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Picking up on my hon. Friend’s point, I am pleased to hear that the Government have introduced a number of key measures to reduce reoffending. From his research, the conversations he has had and his position on the Home Affairs Committee, does he feel that the range of services on offer to people immediately after they come out of prison are in themselves correct and of a good standard? Is the issue we are debating today therefore the actual access to those services on a Friday, or is he concerned that more could be done to improve the services for those coming out of prison?

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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Once again, I thank my hon. Friend for a very thoughtful intervention. He tempts me to go far beyond the bounds of this Bill. My view is that there are multiple challenges here. Just as people are infinitely complex and different, the services that exist in local authorities and on the prison estate around the country vary significantly. They could all be resourced more and better. That is a challenge that, sadly, I cannot quite meet in this Bill, but it is one we need to address. The key point that has come through my research is access to accommodation. If we can stop people being street homeless on release, we can really make a positive impact on their lives. If someone has the basics in place when they need them, they are less likely to reoffend, which means fewer victims of crime and safer communities.

It is worth considering what the wider pressures are on the system on Fridays. While prisoners are being released, others are being prepared for court. Later in the day, higher numbers of people are released due to those court appearances. Already pressurised housing services, offender managers, GPs and pharmacies face a surge in the closing hours of the closing day of the week, but all of this is avoidable.

By supporting this Bill, the House has the opportunity to provide offenders with vital extra time to meet their probation or supervising officer and access healthcare and other services ahead of the weekend, helping to cut crime and, ultimately, making our streets safer. The Bill will help to safeguard the public by taking away a large part of the driver that leads to reoffending, driven by these cliff-edge releases. I sincerely hope the House will agree that by making the simple change proposed by the Bill—varying the date of release for vulnerable people by up to 48 hours—we can relieve that time pressure, take away that cliff edge and give people the best opportunity to make a fresh start.

I will draw to a close with a quote from my good friend John Bird, the founder of The Big Issue, who was kind enough earlier this year to take the time to come to Barrow and pay a visit to The Well Communities, which is a fantastic local charity that faces the sharp end of many of these issues. Lord Bird said:

“I know from when I was homeless the deep and interconnecting link between prison and the streets. We need to break that link to have any hope of stopping this endless cycle of releasing people homeless and seeing them go back into prison. Ending Friday releases, with the linked increased risk of homelessness, is one positive move towards that.”

I find that my life is always easier when I listen to John, so I suggest it is a worthwhile thing for other Members to do. It seems to me that if we are serious about justice, about helping people to rebuild stable and rewarding lives, about relieving prison capacity, about improving outcomes and about reducing reoffending, passing the Bill is an important step in the right direction.

12:40
Shaun Bailey Portrait Shaun Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell), who gave an absolutely fantastic justification for the Bill. He was so articulate and measured in the way he put forward his argument that it makes it nigh on impossible not to support the Bill, given his efforts. I pay tribute to him for his work in this area, and for his work on the Home Affairs Committee. I know he has been a doughty voice on this issue for a considerable amount of time, and today we have seen the culmination of a considerable amount of work by him.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness for bringing the Bill forward, and he really hit the nail on the head when he talked about what it is. It is a technical and quite minor change to the existing legislation, and it does not require significant spend from the Treasury. Having reviewed it, I do not think the Bill requires a money resolution at all, so it seems a very straightforward piece of legislation, but it will have a considerable impact, which, ultimately, is what this is about.

Although the Bill might be a somewhat technical change, as we say, to existing legislation, it will have an absolutely profound impact on the broader society, on our communities, on the people we are here to serve, and on those who perhaps want a second chance more than anything else. From that perspective, it makes absolute sense for the Bill to pass its Second Reading. As Members can probably tell from my comments, I will support the Bill wholeheartedly as it passes its stages in this place, but I will talk a bit more about its impacts.

I, too, met representatives of Nacro last year and had a really interesting discussion about the impact of Friday releases, particularly on youth offenders. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness touched on the issue in his comments, and I wish to bring it to the forefront of the debate. I cannot compute what that impact feels like for the 15% of incarcerated or imprisoned children who are held 100 miles away from where they live. More often than not, they find themselves in that situation because of other underlying factors in their life. They are often a young person with real vulnerabilities, who has effectively been left to society. Unfortunately, as a result, they have found themselves in horrendous situations that have ultimately led them to break the law and end up in custody. I cannot compute how much the longer-term impacts on a child are compounded by this situation. Some Members will have children of a similar age—I am not a parent, but imagine having a child who is 100 miles away from home, who has been through the system for two or three years, or even longer, on their own. Let us not brush this under the carpet: it is a tough environment for someone to come out of and effectively feel like they are on their own. More often than not, the young people who are going through the system—my hon. Friend touched on it, but I will tweak that a bit—are not being met at the gate by a familiar person with a loving smile ready to take them somewhere. They are on their own, or they are having to go back through the system.

That leads me to a broader question: what are we really trying to achieve in our criminal justice system? Within the confines of the Bill—I am not going to opine philosophically on that, Mr Deputy Speaker—one point springs to mind that could address what opponents of the Bill might say, although I cannot see that there would be many, if any, given how straightforward and practical it is. There is a balance between, on the one hand, the perception that that individual has served their time and, on the other hand, having a system that practically works.

Effectively, we are talking about tweaking things by a matter of days to ensure that we do not just throw someone out into the world without a support mechanism. If we truly want to see the readmission into society of people who know that they have broken the law but who have gone through our prison system as a result, served their punishment and done their time, and if we want them to become proactive members of society, surely we have to give them a chance on day one to start in the right way. That is common sense.

If they need access to a probation officer, that means making sure that they can access one. They might also need an advance payment so that they can get new clothes. My hon. Friend gave a vivid example that highlighted the problem of an individual whose clothes no longer fitted them when they came out, and it was cold and they needed to figure out where they were going to go and what they were going to do.

More often than not, when we are debating in the comfort of this Chamber, things can become quite abstract and we forget that we are talking about human beings and people’s lives. We have to remember that these people often want to reintegrate into society, but they need practical support to do that. Many of them are not asking for us to sort them out. They want to contribute, to go to work, to pay it back and to get on with their lives, but if we have a ridiculous situation where they are effectively thrown out on the street at 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon and told, “Right, get on with it,” how on earth can we realistically expect them to have a chance? What my hon. Friend is trying to achieve with his Bill, therefore, is at the core of what all hon. Members believe: let us at least give someone a decent chance to have a go and an opportunity to make a start. Again, that is common sense.

I will touch on the practicalities in prisons, particularly on a Friday. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), who practised as a distinguished barrister for many years, knows the intricate nature of the system full well, as will many other hon. Members. The administrative pressures in prisons on Fridays are acute. Often, there are people being prepared to go to court. If there are people who have hearings in front of judges, either the following week or sometimes over the weekend, they would be held there in preparation for those hearings.

On top of that, the situation is compounded by the pressure of significant numbers of people being processed for release on the same day. What we have effectively in that process, therefore, is almost like a pressure cooker. It builds up and up, and there is no way realistically to properly track how things are being monitored and managed. Staff have to effectively get people out because there needs to be turnover in the system. That is not to be seen as a criticism in any way, shape or form of the hard-working people in our prison system—they have to work with the systems and processes they have—but if we can alleviate the pressure on them with the small minor change that this legislation seeks to achieve, it makes perfect sense to do that. We know that, when people are under that amount of pressure, it is impossible to know exactly who is where, who is collecting who and how that impacts on so and so and to link with those agencies. The volume and pressure they are dealing with are so impacted and compounded, it is just not possible.

The other point I want to make on support relates to older offenders. When someone is coming out of prison after a significant amount of time, it is into unfamiliar surroundings and a system, a world and, in many respects, probably a society that have totally changed. That impacts not just on the practicalities of getting from A to B, but on them personally and their mental health. It might sound straightforward to say to someone who has perhaps come out of prison after 15 or 20 years, “Begone, get on the train to see your probation officer at 3 o’clock”, but it is not. That is particularly so when we add the fact that they are being released on a Friday, when these support services are not there, so any hope that this person may be able to get some degree of support is reduced—not eliminated, but reduced—and that again adds to the pressures.

From the perspective of ensuring reintegration, which is the overarching angle of the point I am trying to make, it is so important that we enable people to at least have a chance to access our support services and meet their own obligations, too, particularly the need to meet a probation officer or support officer, or any other condition attached to their release. If there are conditions attached to release, by releasing individuals on a Friday, we are not even giving them a chance to meet those conditions in the first place. From that perspective, the idea of fair play—as in, this person has done their part, so the state needs to do its part, too—is just not there in the current system, and that is another thing that the Bill seeks to address.

The other key perspective from an administrative point of view is how this power is delegated. In the legislation, that power would sit with the Secretary of State and would then flow through. Practically, it is likely that governors of prisons and directors of private prisons would be the ones exercising the power on a day-to-day basis, and that is absolutely right, because within the broader prison system and organisation, it is exactly those people who know the prisons. It comes back to my earlier point, which is that we are dealing ultimately with human beings. It is vital, therefore, that we leverage the existing relationships that prisons have with their prisoners, utilising the knowledge and skills of those who know them best to ensure that we can tailor release dates that work for them, clearly in line with the sentences handed down.

Having the practical function of this power executed and managed by prison governors, with the prison staff underneath them feeding into that process, is absolutely right. It will enable us to ensure that the process is dealt with through the people with the best knowledge to manage it and ensure that individuals are identified in the right way. From that perspective of the Bill, it is absolutely right that we handle this in that way.

Of course, the overarching theme of my contribution is about giving people a fair go once they have left prison, and to me that is the core of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness touched on substance misuse as a real driver of reoffending and made the vivid point about people often being met at the prison gate, not by someone they know or a family member, but by their drug dealer.

The broader point about linking with support services—Nacro does an amazing job there, and I really commend its work—is a vital thread of this legislation. By enabling discretion on the timings of release, it allows us not only to mitigate exactly what my hon. Friend talked about, but to stand up the services to tackle the problem of substance abuse. I know from my own experience in my communities in West Bromwich West that that has been a real driver of crime and offending rates, particularly short-term offending, which is acutely impacted, in the research I have seen, by the issues the Bill seeks to tackle.

The Bill will enable us to ensure that, from a pragmatic point of view, we are eliminating—or at least making our best efforts to eliminate—the scenario of someone being met by their drug dealer at the gate, by enabling the discretion for their release to be timed in the right way. It at least gives that person a chance. It may sound as though I have portrayed a land of milk and honey here, so let me be clear: this legislation would not eliminate reoffending completely. There is always a degree of personal responsibility. It will also not entirely eliminate Friday release, because there may be good reasons why a prison governor allows it, or a sentence expires on that day and it works out in practical terms.

To be abundantly clear, I am aware that a technical change will not suddenly solve all the problems of reoffending, but to me, this is a vital but understated part of the broader machinery for dealing with them. I have just said it will not eliminate reoffending; there is a degree of personal responsibility and broader societal issues, which are outside the scope of the Bill, but which we must continue to work on. However, at least this Bill is an opportunity to give people a fair go and eliminate a technical construction that has exacerbated those issues.

To sum up, I think this Bill is pragmatic in what it seeks to do. It seeks to address an issue that may be understated, but none the less has an acute impact on prisoners affected by Friday releases. It enables people to access vital services, to start the road to reintegration and to get the support they need—or at least it provides the opportunity for that, and that is so important.

As I said, the Bill will not solve the broader issues with reoffending rates, but it is a part of that patchwork that we need to keep developing. It is part of the broader conversation we need to have. It is absolutely right that the mechanics of the Bill allow its application to be pragmatic, which I very much support. The people who know prisoners best are those who work with them during their time in prison.

At the heart of the Bill is giving a fair chance to people who want to turn their life around, which is something we can all wholeheartedly get behind.

13:00
Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood (Dewsbury) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) on his articulate speech. He did not use notes, which I will try to replicate.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on introducing the Bill. Before I came here on the train, I looked at the Bills on the Order Paper, and it occurred to me that this Bill might seem simple, but who knew that releasing prisoners on a Friday has the unintended consequence—my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) mentioned unintended consequences—of a greater chance of reoffending? That surprised me.

I fully support the Bill, and I hope the Government do, too. The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West resonated with me on a personal level. I am not an offender, but I grew up in quite a deprived area of Batley and Dewsbury. I had a friend from an early age who, as a late teenager, committed quite a serious crime that, unfortunately, led to his imprisonment. We went our separate ways. He spent quite a number of years in prison. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West spoke about giving people a second chance, and prison gave this friend a second chance. He turned his life around, but it astonishes me that, had he been released on a Friday, it might not have happened. That is an important point about this Bill.

This friend is now a member of the same gym as me, The Muscle Pit in Dewsbury—“Muscle Pit” is obviously a contradiction in terms as far as I am concerned. My hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) and for West Bromwich West are both gym members.

Ultimately, we need to give offenders every chance we can. It is a problem if releasing them on a certain day of the week does not help. That problem has been well addressed today, for which I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness.

There are statistics on reoffending, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West alluded to the fact that not everyone will stop reoffending if we release them on a Monday instead of a Friday, but we should do everything we can to help the statistics. There are resources available to support people released from prison in reducing their risk of reoffending.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has been working with Switchback, an award-winning resettlement charity in London, and it has highlighted the Ministry of Justice data showing that more than 50,000 people are released from prison each year, and of those 40% are reconvicted. That is 20,000 people, which is far too many. Just one in 10 gains work, which is 5,000. What happens to the other 25,000? Reoffending costs society and the taxpayer an estimated £18 billion a year. Switchback found that, in London, two in three were released homeless. One in four had no ID, bank account or phone, so they were out of the system.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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Is my hon. Friend aware that, in supporting the Bill, Lord Bird has commented that the link between prison and homelessness is critical and that the Bill is a step towards breaking that link?

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood
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I was not aware of those specific comments, but obviously we do not want people sleeping on the streets or rough sleeping. I pay tribute to Kirklees Council and its rough sleeping team. If the Bill alleviated the problem, that would be a benefit, so it should be brought forward. I thank my hon. Friend for that.

Nacro, which has campaigned on this matter since 2018, has also called for an end to Friday releases. It suggests that more than a third of prison leavers are released on a Friday, which piles pressure on to offender managers, responsible officers, local housing authorities, accommodation providers, Jobcentre Plus officers and other community services. I suggest that the impact is wider than just the public sector and those offering such services.

I would like to name-check a number of charities that also want to help offenders. The Blast Foundation equips offenders, ex-offenders and their families to prepare for reintegration into lawful society through mentoring and training. Choices is a counselling service for those facing unplanned pregnancy and child separation. Moving on from what was said by my hon. Friend, HTB shelter and night shelters provide a safe place for rough sleepers in London. Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing mental health problems. One in Four supports people who have experienced child sexual abuse and trauma, and Prison Fellowship works through its volunteer members to support prisoners in a number of ways. Prisoners and offenders need access to those services as they come back into society. If they cannot have that on a weekend, of course they are more likely to be stood at the prison gates and tempted by the drug dealers and people who want them not to rehabilitate themselves—obviously, from a financial point of view, that would not help them.

A final organisation that I have much admiration for when it comes to prisoners and rehabilitation is Timpson, which does dry cleaning. It does my dry cleaning, although my suit probably needs to go back there next week—you will be pleased to know that I will bring in another suit next week, Mr Deputy Speaker. Timpson does great work with offenders—it has been known to meet offenders at the gates. It may not do that on a Friday—obviously it works on a six-days-a-week basis—but it is there to help stop reoffending.

Shaun Bailey Portrait Shaun Bailey
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My hon. Friend is making a characteristically articulate speech, so I want to say well done for that; it is fantastic. He has mentioned a number of charities and third-party organisations. Does he agree that one of the good things about the Bill and the practical use of its discretion is that, as I touched on in my contribution, it enables a bit of forward planning? If we could enable further engagement with those organisations, we could plan a proper release strategy for prisoners, to at least try to mitigate some of exactly what he is articulating.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood
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Absolutely. These organisations are fully prepared to help people to reintegrate into society. Finally on Timpson, I have talked to people who work in its high street shops, and they do great work in this area. The only thing that they do not train offenders in is key cutting—for obvious reasons.

We have mentioned that Fridays are busy days in prison, which often results in delayed release. There is a higher volume of prison leavers, and those going to court are prioritised over those due for release, leading to later releases. There is less time to contact support services, as has been mentioned. That can lead to homelessness, which has a special impact on women and young people. Women are held, on average, 63 miles from home, but many are held 100 miles away or more. Eleven per cent. of children in custody are held over 100 miles from home, and 35% are held more than 50 miles away.

Services in the community may offer reduced services on Fridays, and reduced or no services over the weekend. That means that the window for prison leavers to obtain support from those services is incredibly limited on a Friday. Delays can mean that those people cannot access the support they need. That obviously leads to an increased risk of reoffending and sets them up to fail. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West alluded to, everyone should be given a second chance. We do not want people to fail and go back into the prison system. The high number of releases on Fridays puts unnecessary pressure on services, especially on bank holidays, which we have not mentioned. If someone has a Friday release and the Monday—or, on certain special occasions, Tuesday—is a bank holiday, the prisoner is left to their own devices and at risk. That needs to be taken into account in this Bill.

In conclusion, we need to support the Bill to help those who genuinely want to re-engage with society, to enable them to access the support available and to reduce the risk of reoffending due to lack of support and, therefore, reduce pressures on criminal justice services, so that they can adequately support more people. Finally, I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness on presenting this Bill. He has my full support.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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The shadow Minister has indicated that she would like to speak next, and I am more than happy to comply with her wishes.

13:12
Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on introducing this important Bill. I thank Nacro for its campaigning work on this issue and the vital support it provides to prison leavers. As the hon. Member outlined, the Bill will allow the earlier release, by up to two days, of people in prison with high resettlement needs who are due to be released from prison on a Friday or the day before a bank holiday.

It will be no surprise to the Government that Labour supports the Bill wholeheartedly, not least because we tried to legislate for this last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 that would have provided this much-needed flexibility for Friday releases, but the Government at the time refused to support it. I am glad that they have now seen sense and recognise the value in Labour’s proposals—because let’s us face it, these proposals are common sense.

As the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness explained, prisoners released on a Friday face an almost impossible race against the clock to get all the support that they need in place before the weekend. In many cases, they are simply unable to access the same support as those released earlier in the week, because many crucial resettlement agencies run a reduced service on Fridays and no service over the weekend.

That means that prison leavers might end up sleeping rough or in unsuitable housing. They may be left for the weekend, unable to access important medication and health support, such as in the case of M, who was released on Friday before a bank holiday weekend after serving a year in custody. He had an addiction to heroin but, when released, was not given the prescription charts from the prison that were needed to determine the dose of methadone he needed. He was also not given a bridging prescription. As it was late afternoon on Friday, the GP from the substance misuse service had left, and M and his resettlement broker were unable to get his medication. He was vulnerable and entitled to priority housing, but the local authority did not deem him to be in priority need because it was a Friday afternoon. He did not have time to gather the further evidence that was needed to prove what he had said before the weekend. He spent the weekend sleeping in a known drug house and ended up using heroin. As part of his licensed conditions, he was required to give a blood sample and, lo and behold, he tested positive for drug use. Had he been released earlier in the week, he would have accessed the housing and medical support that he needed to help in his resettlement.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) has noted previously in Committee, Members of this House will be especially familiar with this matter. I am sure that many of us have experienced the same difficulties in getting the necessary support for our constituents in need last thing on a Friday, just as agencies and services are closing for the weekend. Indeed, very recently, I went with a constituent in housing need to my local town hall just to ensure that they were given the services that they needed. From my earlier life as a criminal practitioner who both prosecuted and defended, I can tell Members of the cases that were heard on a Saturday in the emergency court of people who had been released from prison and were back in court again because they had nowhere else to go. It was better to commit a minor offence, be arrested and be kept in a prison cell where they at least had a warm bed and three square meals. That was a better option for them.

We know that around 400 people continue to be released from prison, every month, directly into homelessness. Only 30% of people receiving treatment services while in prison are successfully transferred to the community on release. I hope that the changes proposed in the Bill will contribute to improving those worrying numbers. There is a window of opportunity for people when they are released from prison. That is when they are keen to move on and rebuild their lives outside prison. We should be seizing that opportunity by making the transition as easy as possible to give them the best chance of success and thus decrease the likelihood of their reoffending as much as possible.

The Government conceded in the summer that, under the current system, Friday releases can end up with ex-offenders spending their first days on the streets with little in the way of support, increasing the likelihood that they will commit further crimes, and they committed to legislate when time allows. However, under this Government, reoffending rates have remained stubbornly high, and the refusal to legislate for this change until now, and doing so through a private Member’s Bill, is evidence of how far this has fallen down the priority list of the Ministry of Justice.

The chaos and ministerial musical chairs that has been going on across Government over the past number of years has meant that, in the intervening months, thousands more prisoners have been released on Fridays and have been set up to fail. We are glad that the changes are coming and are pleased to support them, but it is a shame that the Government took so long to listen and to act.

On a final note, the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), who replied to the previous debate, made what I would call a really gratuitous political statement about how few Labour Members were present for today’s debates. The reason for that is that we agreed with the first Bill debated today and we agree with this Bill. The reason why there are so many Members on the Conservative Benches is that they are trying to talk out the last Bill that will be reached today. I do not think that Members should be making those comments.

Shaun Bailey Portrait Shaun Bailey
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I agree with some of what the hon. Lady has said. However, on the point about participation, I get what she is saying, but, surely, if Labour Members were so enthusiastic, they would be here in the Chamber. The hon. Lady is here because she clearly supports the Bill. Where are her colleagues?

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi
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My colleagues have no objections to these Bills. The reason that Government Members are taking so long on this issue is that they are trying to talk out the last Bill listed for today.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi
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That is it. I will take no further interventions.

Shaun Bailey Portrait Shaun Bailey
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I take real exception to what the hon. Lady is saying. I have seen at first hand the impact of this in my own community, and I have spoken to a number of charities. [Interruption.] Let me take the heat out of this. This is a common-sense Bill. We all agree on that. We have all seen the impact of this. Regardless of the back and forth—although, Mr Deputy Speaker, my contribution was not included—let us just agree that it is a great Bill; it makes sense, so let us just get on and support it. It is as simple as that. Does she not agree with that?

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi
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I agree. Indeed, I started off by saying that we support the Bill. Not only do we support it today, but we have been supporting it since last year, when we tabled an amendment on this.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Has the shadow Minister completed her speech?

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi
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indicated assent.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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In which case, I call Mr Baynes.

13:20
Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It gives me great pleasure to speak on Second Reading in support of the important Bill brought to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell). In making my remarks, I am very mindful of the fact that HMP Berwyn is in the next-door constituency to mine, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton). As the neighbouring MP, who also represents half of Wrexham County Borough Council, let me say that HMP Berwyn is of great significance and importance to my constituents as well, not least those who work in the prison. Last year, I had the honour of going round the prison with some fellow MPs from north Wales and I saw the excellent way it is run. It was established relatively recently, so some far-reaching and innovative ideas have been able to be implemented on how we lead prisoners back into a rehabilitated life after leaving prison, which is of course at the core of why we are debating this issue today.

I would also like to make the point to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, that Conservative Members take this issue seriously, as we did the previous private Member’s Bill. This is an opportunity for Back Benchers, as opposed to Front Benchers such as her, to express our concerns and those of our constituents. I am sure that she would support our having a vibrant democratic approach to the life of this Parliament and this Chamber.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has articulated so well, Friday releases come with a range of complications for those who have completed their custodial sentences. When somebody leaves prison, they should ideally have the following things in place: somewhere to live, a point he made particularly eloquently; financial support; access to the basic essentials; access to healthcare and mental health or substance misuse services; and support and someone to turn to. In an ideal world, all those services should be in place. If they are in place or largely in place, the risk of reoffending will be substantially reduced. As has been discussed in this debate, about one in three offenders currently leaves prison on a Friday. Releasing prisoners on a Friday, as is common, reduces a released offender’s access to all those basic principles I have outlined, with those things often delayed until Monday of the following week. Significantly, adult offenders without stable accommodation on release from prison are almost 50% more likely to reoffend and it is clear that access to accommodation is important. Probably, as my hon Friend said, it is of paramount importance in helping offenders to access both employment and training opportunities, which may support their rehabilitation.

Friday releases demonstrably threaten the likelihood of an offender’s release to stable accommodation and a smooth transition back into society. Currently, section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 provides that detained offenders who would otherwise be released on weekends, bank holidays or public holidays are to be released on the preceding day—a Friday or the day before a bank holiday or public holiday. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) discovered from her career as a criminal barrister, there are, to an extent, unintended consequences involved in this. Offenders would have only the rest of the day to access services and arrange accommodation, given that the providers of services and accommodation would probably be closed on non-working days. They would have to wait until the next working day, which might be in several days’ time, especially in the event of a public holiday.

Fridays are often busy days in prisons. On Fridays, as on other days, prison staff need to prepare outgoing prisoners for court in the morning, and also need to process the larger numbers of people being released. Owing to performance indicators, prisons will prioritise those being prepared for court over those who are due for release, which can mean that people who are released later in the day have limited time to present themselves to service providers before the weekend. Those being released may also have to travel significant distances to reach the areas in which they are being resettled, arriving late in the day, which makes it less likely that they will secure all the support that they need. That point, too, has already been made eloquently by other Members. It is particularly relevant to women and young people, owing to the configuration of the prison estate and the possible distance from their home area.

Gaining access to timely support on release can therefore be particularly challenging on a Friday, because of the number of different services—both wider Government and third sector services—that will need to be accessed, because of the limited time available before services close for the weekend, and because of the additional pressure on support services caused by an increased number of releases. Approximately a third of releases fall on a Friday, almost double the number on any other day of the week, and failure to access vital support on a Friday, or the day preceding a public holiday, can increase the risk of reoffending.

Adult offenders released on a Friday from sentences of less than 12 months are known to have had a reoffending rate within two weeks of release of 14.8%, slightly higher than the average reoffending rate—13.2%—of those released on other days of the week. As was mentioned earlier, challenges are more apparent among older offenders, those released from establishments located far from their home address, and those with substance misuse or mental health needs, who face an increased risk of homelessness.

The data clearly shows that releasing prisoners on a Friday creates insecurity for them. That may be due to an inability to access accommodation, or they may have just a few hours in which to arrange a bed for the night, register with a GP and sign up for job support to keep them on the straight and narrow before services shut down for the weekend. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) spoke eloquently about the rehabilitation of offenders, which lies at the heart of our justice system, at the heart of our debate and at the heart of the Bill. We support that strongly, and this is one practical way in which we can help the process.

The Bill will give the Secretary of State a discretionary power to bring forward the release date of an offender by up to two eligible working days, when that release date falls on a Friday. In practice, that power will be delegated to the governor, the director or appropriate officials in youth establishments—those who know the prisoners we are talking about—and guidance on eligibility criteria to target those most in need will be set out in a policy framework. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) rightly said, that is a sensible and pragmatic way of approaching things.

As was mentioned by, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, Lord Bird, founder of The Big Issue, has come out strongly in favour of the Bill. My hon. Friend quoted his words, so I will not quote them in full now, but I will repeat the last sentence of my hon. Friend’s quotation:

“Ending Friday releases, with the linked increased risk of homelessness, is one positive move towards that.”

The Bill has my full support. It provides for changes which—as will be clear in the data that my hon. Friends and I have discussed—reduce reoffending and offer those on release more stable prospects as they reintegrate into public life.

13:29
Tom Randall Portrait Tom Randall (Gedling) (Con)
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I also rise to speak in support of the Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on bringing it forward and on his quietly passionate and very persuasive speech outlining the reasons for it.

Any of us who read The Spectator—and given the Members who are in the Chamber today, I think everyone here is probably an avid Spectator reader—will know Rory Sutherland’s “Wiki Man” column. As an advertising man, he writes a fortnightly column explaining how small changes in design or behaviour can have far-reaching implications, and this Bill is a very good example of that.

As my hon. Friend explained, the current legislation, which is from the 1960s, says that one will be released from prison on a Friday if the release date is at the weekend or on a bank holiday. I should say at the outset that I believe in prison. I believe that people who commit serious offences and also some minor offences should go to prison. I also hold the view, which I think is still fashionable, that more people should be in prison for longer.

Aside from a small group of people, everyone who is in prison will be released at some point, so the question arises: how should we bring them back into society? How should we begin to rehabilitate them? We have heard from the speeches today that Fridays in prison are pretty much like those in any workplace—there is a rush to complete things before the weekend, when things effectively shut down for two days, and tasks need to be finished.

A third of releases are on a Friday, which is double the number on any other day. One might be released from prison a very long way from home, with a little bit of money in one’s pocket, as support services are winding down or closed. In that context, it is no surprise that offenders who have been released might end up in the pub or worse, rather than accessing the services they need. As we have heard today, adult offenders released on a Friday from sentences of less than 12 months have a slightly higher reoffending rate within two weeks of release than those released on other days. My hon. Friend clearly illustrated the issues, or more particularly, Stanley, who he referred to in his speech, articulated the problems that can be encountered.

This Bill will go a long way, particularly when seen in the context of other measures. For example, I welcome the recent introduction by the Government of employment advisory boards, which will bring together local charities, local authorities and others to help ready ex-prisoners for the workplace. My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) and I are sitting in on the meetings of the board that exists in Nottingham. I have my first meeting next week, and I look forward to using those meetings to get feedback from those on the ground about how decisions being made in this place are actually working, and if they are not working, why and what can be done to improve them. He has been mentioned already, but I congratulate James Timpson, chief executive of the Timpson group, whose brainchild the employment advisory boards are, and I look forward to seeing those developed.

This is a measured Bill. The personal circumstances of the offender will be taken into account, to ensure that public protection is maintained. By bringing the release date forward by one or two days, the sentence is not shortened by any meaningful amount; it is only a matter of days. Those who support prison and believe in prison can support this measure as a way of ending the prison process, as the prison population is rehabilitated and returned into general society. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness on bringing forward the Bill, and I look forward to supporting it and seeing it come on to the statute book.

13:34
Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)
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Campaigners have said in support of the Bill that a move to end Friday prison releases would help to stop freed inmates walking straight back into the arms of criminal gangs. I welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on introducing it.

As many Members have said, former prisoners who are let out of prison on a Friday face a race against the clock to access housing, benefits, healthcare and other services before the weekend, which leaves some of them temporarily homeless and increases the risk of reoffending. The Bill would give prison governors discretion to release those most at risk up to 48 hours earlier to ensure that they can receive assistance. The changes are expected to result in significantly fewer crimes each year, meaning fewer victims, less crime and safer streets.

Currently, about one in three prisoners leaves prison on a Friday. That gives them very little time before everything shuts for the weekend to find a bed for the night if they are unable to go back to their home, to register with a GP or to sign up for job support to keep them on the straight and narrow. When people come out of prison, they need secure housing first and foremost, as well as employment. Currently, section 23(3) of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 provides that detained offenders who would otherwise be released on weekends or public or bank holidays are to be released on the preceding day. That gives offenders only the rest of their day of release to access services and accommodation.

Failure to access vital support on a Friday, or the day preceding a public or bank holiday, can raise the risk of reoffending. From July 2016 to September 2020, adult offenders released on a Friday from sentences of less than 12 months had a slightly higher reoffending rate within two weeks of release—14.8% compared with the 13.2% average reoffending rate of those released on other days of the week.

Challenges are more apparent for older offenders, those released from establishments located far from their home address, or those with substance misuse or mental health needs, who face an increased risk of homelessness. I welcome the news that, after careful consideration, the Ministry of Justice is supportive of the Bill, following the announcement in June that it was seriously considering introducing changes to curb Friday releases. As we are all arguing, legislation is urgently needed.

When prisoners are released, they face a challenging environment that can actively deter them from becoming productive members of society. With alarming prevalence, many former prisoners are re-arrested within a short time of release. Reoffending harms the families of inmates and society in general. Taxpayers continue to support a broken system that sets up ex-offenders to fail once they are released. Former prisoners need housing and work, but it is more difficult for them to find rewarding employment—or any at all, in fact—when compared with the general population. It is also difficult for them to find safe and secure accommodation and to function in society generally. Significantly, adult offenders without stable accommodation on release from prison are almost 50% more likely to reoffend. Access to accommodation is important in helping offenders to access employment and training opportunities that may support their rehabilitation.

Ex-offenders seem to be punished for their crimes beyond the term of imprisonment—that is wrong. Whatever we wish to call it—punishment, rehabilitation redemption, forgiveness or salvation—when a person has served their punishment, he or she deserves a second chance, and everyone needs to move on. Former prisoners face challenges at every level when they come out of prison, from finding a job to finding that their family relationships have changed. Sometimes, even their own expectations are challenging for them to deal with, too.

Family relationships are vital. If ex-offenders can return home, they are dependent on family members and must often overcome years of limited contact, potential resentment and a change in the household dynamic. Many ex-offenders think that they can slip back in and things will be how they were, but that is not always the case, and many former inmates find it more difficult than they expected. It is not always easy for family members either: they, too, need to readjust and often have to carry the financial burden of a dependent adult.

Studies have shown that prisoners who maintain consistent contact and connection with their family during their sentence have a lower risk of reoffending. Far too many men, and unfortunately some women, miss out on their children’s formative and critical years. In prison, unfortunately, there are inevitable obstacles to maintaining consistent contact with family. That creates challenges post prison.

To make it easier for former prisoners to get back into the swing of life, we need to consider the best time for ex-offenders to be released from prison. That is not on a Friday or before public holidays, when it can be virtually impossible to access services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) says, the Bill

“just gives people that breathing room and ability to plan, ability to access statutory services, and should also limit the ability for organised criminal gangs and others to basically pick up people who have nowhere else to turn at that time.”

Government figures show that one in three offenders leave prison on a Friday. According to campaigners, 35% of those who are freed on a Monday are reconvicted within a year, compared with 40% of those who are freed on a Friday, so it is vital that Friday releases be looked at again. The Government have acknowledged that Friday releases

“can end up with ex-offenders spending their first days on the streets with little in the way of support—increasing the likelihood they will commit further crimes”,

and have committed to legislation.

I agree with Jo Rogers, former senior manager at Brighton Housing Trust, a housing association and homeless charity that does fantastic work in beautiful Hastings and Rye. She said:

“An important aim of the Fulfilling Lives South East project was to challenge and change systems, and we are delighted that the government has announced this change to Friday prison releases. It is the result of a lot of hard work by ourselves and others in highlighting this issue as an additional barrier for people trying to access support after being released from prison…This policy change will make a real difference to vulnerable ex-offenders for whom the first few days out of prison are crucial in accessing valuable community support to avoid getting trapped in a cycle of repeat offending.”

Fulfilling Lives South East was a project based across Brighton and Hove, Hastings and Eastbourne that aimed to improve the systems that support people with multiple and complex needs. It was led by BHT Sussex and its work from 2014 to 2022 was funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. Its work is not over; there is still much more to do. I expect that the Government’s Changing Futures programmes is picking that up: Sussex was one of 15 areas chosen for that Government initiative, after a joint bid across East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton and Hove.

The Bill, which would apply to England and Wales only, would give the Secretary of State a discretionary power to bring forward the release date of an offender by up to two eligible working days where that release date falls on a Friday. That is really important. The Bill would also help to promote positive reintegration into society by ensuring that those who leave custody access the support services that they need on release. The Bill has much merit, and it has my support.

13:44
Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship for the second time today, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on his Bill; he spoke with great compassion, wisdom, experience and authority. It would be remiss of me not to mention the incredible work of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) to bring the Bill into the good position that it is in today.

An awful lot has already been said about the Bill. It is fundamentally about correcting an unintended consequence of the Criminal Justice Act 1961, whereby it was laid down that, when a sentence is passed, the release date is the date where it falls unless that is the weekend, in which case the date would be brought back to the Friday. That is why more than a third of release dates end up being on a Friday. As has already been explained, if we continue the practice of releasing prisoners on a Friday, we are often condemning them to go back into exactly the same situation that they had been in and that resulted in them offending and going into prison in the first place.

The Bill goes to the heart of what it means to be a compassionate Conservative. Those of us who had the delight of studying law at any time in our academic education know that there are four aspects to sentencing. Only one of those is about rehabilitation, but in many ways, that is the most transformative and that is the one that we have been talking about. It is a shame that, despite much being said by Opposition Members about Government Members not being compassionate, the Opposition Benches are not full of people supporting this compassionate measure. I recommend it wholly and it has my full support.

13:46
Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
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I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am also a borough councillor, as I was in 2010 and 2011 when I chaired a series of panels on reducing reoffending. We identified, with the help of the police and others, that leaving prison on a Friday is an absolutely terrible idea, and hopefully we will be able to deal with that today. I am thrilled to speak to the Bill, which I thoroughly support, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) for bringing it forward.

I absolutely believe that criminals should serve their sentence and be seen to serve their sentence, but they must also be given every opportunity to make a change once they are released from prison, and the Bill is a good way to do that. The cost of reoffending is £18.1 billion, so if it makes the slightest change to that, it would be great news. It would be even better news, however, for those who no longer reoffended.

I particularly thank HMP Leicester, which I visited and observed a few months ago. Given the work that staff do to try to make sure that people do not reoffend, it must be disheartening to see people leave on a Friday knowing that it creates a problem and that they are likely to come back. I also thank Leicestershire police, who are superb, and a number of charities in my area that support ex-offenders in particular.

13:48
Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) and to speak on this hugely important legislation. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on bringing the Bill forward. There is so much in there, particularly with regard to its impact on reducing reoffending, but I will talk specifically about the impact on reducing homelessness, which is close to my heart.

Leaving prison is a hugely significant transition for offenders. Once they are out, it takes them a long time to adapt, so starting on the right foot is important. It is therefore vital to get people into stable accommodation. In 2022, two in three of those released from prison were released homeless. Those who are released and are immediately homeless are more likely to reoffend, so that cycle continues.

I welcome the Government’s new accommodation service, which is being rolled out across England and Wales and will support thousands of prison leavers at that crucial time of their life and give them the foundation to work on to rebuild themselves. It is critical that we end the cycle of leaving prison and becoming homeless. On that note, I support the Bill.

13:49
James Grundy Portrait James Grundy (Leigh) (Con)
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I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) for bringing forward this tremendously important legislation. Speaking as someone who has served for 13 years as a member of my local authority, I understand exactly the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt). It can be incredibly difficult to access services on a Friday in a timely manner. Even when someone can access them, it can be extremely difficult to get a resolution when raising complex issues, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt). I understand that some will want to get to their feet on other matters, so, with that, I will bring my comments to a close. I absolutely commend the excellent work my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has been doing on this matter.

13:50
Damian Hinds Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Damian Hinds)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on bringing forward this important Bill. It is a simple change, but the measure he has brought before the House today will, through its passage through this place, be a landmark reform. He spoke powerfully and made a very effective case by talking of real people and their case studies. He has been so effective that I have scored through large parts of my speech, in which I intended to illustrate a number of those points, so I thank him doubly. I also acknowledge and thank our hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) for the role that he has played in bringing the Bill to this place.

The Bill will ensure that those most at risk of reoffending will no longer need to be released on a Friday, or the day before a bank holiday. It will do so by providing the Secretary of State for Justice—in practice, the governor or director of a prison, or the appropriate equivalent officer in a youth establishment—with a discretionary power to bring forward the release date by up to two eligible working days. That will mean that certain offenders will no longer face the race against the clock that my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness so evocatively set out to find accommodation and access to medication and financial support before those services close for the weekend. That, of course, can be particularly problematic for those with multiple complex needs, such as drug dependency and mental health issues. He described it as a fleeting window of opportunity. I think that sets out the issue very well.

By removing the barriers that a Friday release can create, we can maintain public protection by ensuring custody leavers have a better chance to access the support they need to reintegrate and turn their backs on a life of crime. Ultimately, it will result in fewer victims and less crime. The Bill applies to both adults and children sentenced to detention. Despite the various safeguards and legal duties that exist for children leaving custody, it is still the case that being released on a Friday would mean going at least two days without meaningful contact with a supervising officer when they are at their most vulnerable.

I want to respond to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). It might come as a surprise to many to discover that Members, certainly those on the Government Benches, are only supposed to turn up in Parliament if they disagree with something, but she asked me to clarify the statistics on reoffending and I am pleased to be able to do so. This Government have made tangible progress in tackling the still huge £18 billion annual cost of reoffending and protecting the public. Data show that, over the past 10 years, the overall proven reoffending rate has decreased from 30.9% in 2009-10 to 25.6% in 2019-20. Of course, that is still too high and we must drive it down further by tackling the drivers of reoffending, strengthening the supervision and monitoring of offenders in the community and protecting the public from becoming victims.

The Government are, of course, investing substantial sums in doing so. It begins with helping prisoners to get off drugs, supporting them to maintain or rebuild family ties and providing quality education and training to get them job-ready for release. We know that getting prison leavers into jobs can reduce the chance of reoffending very significantly, with those who get jobs within a year of being released up to nine percentage points less likely to reoffend. This means that individuals can not only support themselves and their families, but start to repay society by contributing to our economy, which is another important reason to support my hon. Friend’s Bill. We want ex-offenders to get into the rhythm of job search straightaway, which will be much easier if prison leavers do not have to cram all their appointments, including their first visit to Jobcentre Plus, into a Friday afternoon.

I am pleased to say that the proportion of prison leavers employed six months after release has seen a marked positive trend over the last year. With the number of vacancies that we have in the country now—around 1.25 million—an increase in prison leavers getting jobs is also good news for our economy as a whole, but there is more to be done, including through the New Futures Network, the Prison Service’s network of employment brokers that works with 400 organisations to get prison leavers into work. I commend all the employers and companies engaged in that programme.

I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) that he and our hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) will be attending the employment advisory board in Nottingham. Of course, all of us as MPs can play an important role in creating and promoting some of the links with business which are so important for our whole community.

We are recruiting new banking and identity administrators to ensure that when prisoners leave custody they have a bank account and ID, so that they are ready to work. The work on those administrative requirements will be complemented by the Bill to smooth out somewhat the leaving pattern of prisoners engaged in those administrative activities.

We are also making significant investments in improving prison leavers’ access to accommodation. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness used the word “paramount” in referring to accommodation; it was also referred to effectively by our hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) and for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt). A settled place to live is key to reducing reoffending, and probation practitioners are much better able to robustly supervise an offender if they know where they are living. That is one of the reasons why last July we launched the transitional accommodation service in five probation regions, providing up to 12 weeks’ accommodation on release, with support to move on to settled accommodation.

To support prison leavers with substance misuse and health needs, we are recruiting 50 health and justice partnership co-ordinators across England and Wales. The co-ordinators will liaise between prisons, probation, local authorities and health partners, improving links between services and supporting continuity of care for prison leavers with health and substance misuse needs.

I turn briefly to some of the other contributions to what has been a high-quality debate, with colleagues drawing on their personal experiences and constituency experiences, including the brilliant work by voluntary and third-sector organisations in our constituencies in support of this important Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) spoke effectively about the impact of distance—whatever else you may have to do, first, you have to get there. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) spoke about the challenges facing children, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) spoke about women. Of course, they are absolutely right. There has been great success in reducing the number of women in custody and, even more so, children in custody, but there are relatively few places around the country, which means that the average distances for those people, who may have particular vulnerabilities, is even greater. That makes the Bill all the more important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury summed up the issue, and what we are all here for, well: we need to give people all the chance we can. If what is getting in the way boils down to a day of the week, it really ought to be relatively straightforward to address. Of course, it will not address everything, but it is an important enabler.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) talked about the fact that this is about correcting unintended consequences, and our hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) encapsulated the situation well by saying that people must do their punishment, but then we must try to give them the maximum chance. She also made an important point when she talked about the effect on staff of knowing that somebody released on a certain day of the week would perhaps have a lesser chance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South accurately enumerated all the different things that need to be in place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (James Grundy) reminded us that it is not just a question of turning up and doing something straightforward, because in some cases the issues for individuals will be particularly complex. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West spoke about how for many prisoners, even those who have not been in prison that long, the world may have changed, thinking about technology and so on. Closer to home, my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye spoke about how people’s family circumstances and the home itself may have changed.

The measures I have outlined, and many more that there is not time to cover, should help to improve resettlement opportunities for all offenders and reduce reoffending. However, they cannot fully address all the practical challenges, especially for those released on a Friday. Through this Bill, we have an opportunity to provide such offenders with the best possible chance of living law-abiding, productive lives in the community and hence an opportunity to cut crime, making our streets safer and protecting constituents.

In closing, I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness for bringing this Bill before the House, and to everyone who has made this such a rich and productive debate. I confirm with pleasure that the Government will be supporting the Bill, and I look forward to seeing its passage through this House.

14:00
Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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With the leave of the House, I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this debate and supported the passage of this Bill. In particular, I recognise the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey), who spoke with righteous fury about youth offenders and the many injustices they face in the system. His passion is well felt. My hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood), for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) and for Southend West (Anna Firth) spoke about the power of a criminal justice system that works to turn people’s lives around. That is absolutely the objective we should be aiming for. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury for the evocative term “Muscle Pit”, which is unfortunately stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) on the Opposition Front Bench spoke gracefully about why these measures matter, and I thank her and her party for their support. My hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), for Leigh (James Grundy) and for Gedling (Tom Randall) showed compassion and fairness in what they said; their contributions in this place are always marked by those qualities. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) could, I am sure, have spoken for much longer on this subject. Her passion is heartfelt and her experience is long, and what she brings to this area makes her a credit to the House.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt)—there he is, right behind me—spoke with passion about tackling homelessness. He is absolutely right, and I hope these measures will go some way to achieving those ends. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his kind and thoughtful words at the Dispatch Box, and thank him and his team at the Ministry of Justice for their graciousness in affording me time to learn about the subject, to kick around ideas with them and to talk about the issues that the Bill seeks to tackle. Their passion to improve the system is heartfelt and real, and it burns very bright indeed.

I owe a debt of thanks to the hon. Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), who passed this Bill on to me. Truly, he is the Pete Best to my Ringo, but I am incredibly grateful to him. The Bill will make a real difference, and I am grateful to everyone who has contributed and spoken on it, and for the support from both sides of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Congratulations, Mr Fell, on your achievement.

Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill

Committee stage
Wednesday 8th February 2023

(1 year ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Act 2023 Read Hansard Text
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Martin Vickers
† Bacon, Gareth (Orpington) (Con)
† Baillie, Siobhan (Stroud) (Con)
† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)
Butler, Rob (Aylesbury) (Con)
† Eastwood, Mark (Dewsbury) (Con)
Farron, Tim (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
Grundy, James (Leigh) (Con)
† Hart, Sally-Ann (Hastings and Rye) (Con)
† Hinds, Damian (Minister of State, Ministry of Justice)
Hodge, Dame Margaret (Barking) (Lab)
† Hunt, Jane (Loughborough) (Con)
† Jenkinson, Mark (Workington) (Con)
Johnson, Dame Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
McDonald, Stuart C. (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
Smith, Cat (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
Spellar, John (Warley) (Lab)
Timms, Sir Stephen (East Ham) (Lab)
Anne-Marie Griffiths, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Wednesday 8 February 2023
[Martin Vickers in the Chair]
Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill
09:25
None Portrait The Chair
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Before we begin, may I remind Members to switch off all electronic devices and that no food and drink is permitted during proceedings? No amendments have been tabled. We will have a single debate on all the clauses in the Bill.

Clause 1

Days on which offenders may be released from detention

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
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With this it will be convenient to consider clauses 2 and 3 stand part.

Mark Jenkinson Portrait Mark Jenkinson (Workington) (Con)
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I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Vickers— I apologise if I lose my voice part way through the sitting—and to commend this Bill to the Committee for scrutiny on behalf of my Conservative colleague and fellow Cumbrian MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell), whose private Member’s Bill it is. Unfortunately, he is unable to be here because this sitting clashes with a Select Committee visit, which I am sure is not as exciting. I am honoured to step into the breach, although I know my hon. Friend is looking forward to picking up the reins for Third Reading on his return.

This is a particular pleasure because I introduced the Bill to the House after being drawn in the ballot, before entrusting it to the safe hands of my hon. Friend when I entered Government for a short period, so I have some knowledge of this excellent piece of legislation and understand just how important it is to cut reoffending rates and to protect the wider public.

For many offenders, accessing timely support on release can be particularly challenging on a Friday. The Bill will provide a chance for these individuals to turn their backs on crime for good by removing the practical challenges that would otherwise be presented by a weekend release. Those who need to access support services such as local authority housing and mental health services before they close for the day can face a race against the clock. By removing such barriers, we can ensure that prison leavers have a better chance to access the support they need to reintegrate into the community, so that victims and the public are better protected in the long term.

Clause 1 forms the main part of the Bill. It ensures that offenders no longer need to be released on a Friday or the day before a bank holiday. It effectively provides the Secretary of State for Justice with a discretionary power to bring forward their release date by up to two eligible working days. This means that offenders can be released earlier in the week, making it easier for them to find accommodation or access medication and support before services close for the weekend.

Clause 2 stops clause 1 applying to offenders who are currently held in the UK and have been convicted of war crimes or similar by the International Criminal Court. It is a necessary part of the Bill. The UK has a treaty obligation to enforce the full duration of International Criminal Court sentences and not to modify them, and the clause will ensure that we continue to do that. Changing the sentences of those offenders would place the UK in breach of a treaty obligation.

Clause 3 simply confirms the Bill’s short title, makes provision for the Bill to come into force by regulations and provides that clause 1 will extend to England and Wales only, as offender management is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Clauses 2 and 3 do extend to Northern Ireland, due to clause 2 making an amendment to the International Criminal Court Act 2001.

The Bill is a proportionate response to the issues caused for offenders by Friday releases under current policy and will help Government efforts to cut crime. By removing the barriers that a Friday release can create, public protection can be maintained by ensuring that custody leavers have a better chance to access the support they need to adjust to life outside prison. This will ultimately result in fewer victims and less crime.

The Bill applies to adults and children sentenced to detention and will ensure that the provisions relating to Friday, bank holiday and weekend releases apply in respect of all youth settings, including the recently created secure 16-to-19 academies. That is only right. Despite the various safeguards and legal duties that exist for children leaving custody, being released on a Friday still means that a child goes for at least two days with no meaningful contact with their supervising officer, when in some cases they are at their most vulnerable. In practical terms, it will be for a prison governor, director or appropriate equivalent official in a youth establishment to apply the power to bring forward an individual’s release date, supported by policy guidance.

I thank Governor Sean Ormerod, and the team at His Majesty’s Prison Holme House, who spent so much time with me showing me the good work that they do in the field of offender rehabilitation. They gave me the benefit of their experience when the Bill was in its infancy.

Around one in three offenders leaves jail on a Friday—a symptom of already bringing forward weekend releases—and they often struggle to sort out accommodation, register with a GP and sign up for job support in such a narrow timeframe. In the first 24 hours after release, a prisoner is expected to meet the probation officer, submit a claim for universal credit and, if homeless, contact their local housing authority to sort out emergency accommodation. Trying to get that done late in the afternoon on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend is challenging, to say the least. It also creates an entirely avoidable bottleneck, heaping pressure on offender managers, housing services and the full range of local services.

Fridays are busy days for prisons, as staff are needed to prepare prisoners for court. At the same time, a higher number of people are released later in the day. That leaves a very narrow timeframe for offenders to present to services before the weekend. The issues are compounded by the fact that some of the most important housing-resettlement agencies run reduced services on Fridays, close early and run few or even no services over the weekend.

This is not just about the welfare of offenders: there are clear issues for prison staff, local service provision and the safety of the wider community. Adult offenders without stable accommodation are almost 50% more likely to reoffend when released. It should go without saying that having a place to stay is important in helping offenders to access employment and training opportunities that may support their rehabilitation. About 80% of crimes committed by reoffenders and repeat offenders cost taxpayers £18 billion a year.

We must ensure that criminals get robust sentences, and the victims of crime rightly demand that justice is served, but research shows that the release date can make a difference of up to 5% in the likelihood in reoffending: 35% of those freed on a Monday reconvict within a year, compared with 40% of those released on a Friday. More crime means more victims. Many of those instances of reoffending represent lost opportunities to reform criminals with the capacity to change.

The Bill is designed to take into account the offender’s personal circumstances and ensure that public protection is maintained at all times. We are not talking about dangerous or high-risk offenders, and there will be strict security screening of eligible prisoners; rather, it is aimed at helping vulnerable individuals with complex needs who may need a bit of extra help to make a full return to their communities.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness on bringing this Bill to the House. A few years ago, Lord Farmer and Dr Samantha Callan did some work on strengthening family ties that showed that when prisoners maintain their relationship with their families, there is a significant reduction in reoffending. This Bill is one of those things about which we say, “Of course, this should happen.” There should be an organised release from prison so that offenders are not thrown into a weekend with no support. If they come out mid-week and their first organised, precious, important contact with their family goes well, that can assist in reducing reoffending. That is why this Bill, which is a completely common-sense change, is important not just for the prisoner but for their wider family and society.

Mark Jenkinson Portrait Mark Jenkinson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for her support. She makes a really important point about the strength of families and the support that prisoners need to make a full and meaningful return to family and community life, which would reduce the risk of reoffending.

Offenders leaving prison need access to a broad range of resettlement services, in addition to mandatory probation appointments. Because they cannot submit claims for benefits while serving a custodial sentence, they have no choice but to do so on their release. Not having ID or a bank account can lead to additional appointments, creating yet further delay. If efforts to rehabilitate prisoners are to have any chance of success, we should be removing obstacles, not setting people up to fail. It is in everybody’s interest to give offenders the support they need to contribute positively to our communities; they must not find themselves straight back behind bars following a cliff edge release.

Offenders released on a Friday are aware that any issues are unlikely to be addressed. Anecdotally, I know of examples of offenders breaking into abandoned buildings upon finding the council offices closed and the housing officers gone for the day, or no spaces at the night shelter. Without making excuses for such behaviour, it is not difficult to see how an individual facing the prospect of sleeping rough might be tempted to reoffend, if only to secure a roof over their head.

Adult offenders released on a Friday from sentences of less than 12 months have a slightly higher rate of reoffending within two weeks of release—14.8%—than those released on other days of the week, whose average reoffending rate is just over 13%, but issues also exist for younger people, with 15% of those detained being held more than 100 miles from their home, and 41% more than 50 miles away. Inevitably, that is hugely detrimental to vulnerable offenders with complex needs who require greater support.

The Bill will ensure that the same release provisions relate to public holiday and weekend releases in respect of secure children’s homes and the recently created secure academies, just as for young offender institutions and secure training centres. I commend the Bill to the Committee for further scrutiny.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to speak in favour of the Bill. I might go over some of the points that have been made, but I will make others as well. The estimated economic and social cost to this country of reoffending is £18.1 billion a year. Research has found that those who have chaotic experiences in the community before or after custody, such as insecure accommodation, employment needs or substance misuse, are more likely to reoffend. In 2018-19, approximately 40% of adult prisoners were released to unsettled accommodation, rough sleeping or homelessness, or their accommodation status was unknown on the first night of release. Around 42% of prisoners have either an alcohol or drugs need, or both.

The prison strategy White Paper set out a number of ways to improve the situation, including education services, dealing with dependency on drugs and help to get people into work following release, all of which are excellent ideas. They all cost money, though, and that money could be wasted with an ex-offender leaving prison on a Friday with a few pounds in their pocket and potentially nowhere to go, with no agencies open to offer support over the weekend.

As a councillor with Charnwood Borough Council— I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests because I still am a councillor— I was lucky enough to chair a series of panels on reducing reoffending, and I met not only ex-offenders, police and housing support officers, but local charities that work to support ex-offenders, which Loughborough simply could not do without. Charities such as Exaireo, the Carpenter’s Arms, the Bridge and Futures Unlocked all offer outstanding service to ex-offenders and others from across the country to help them to turn their lives around. I have seen the work of those charities; it is exemplary. I continue to support them in all they do.

As part of one panel’s work, we took evidence and made a series of recommendations. There are six pages of recommendations, but I will refer only to one, which states:

“The Panel makes representations to the local MPs, in respect of the day of the week prisoners are released from prison and highlight the issues surrounding Friday release.”

This is the reason for that recommendation:

“Support for offenders is not readily available on a Friday or over the weekend. Therefore a release earlier in the week provides officers with greater opportunities to divert offenders away from previous habits and ‘friends’ towards services to provide support in respect of housing, benefits and health related issues.”

That work was done in 2011, so it has taken us some time, but I believe we are making good progress today.

While I have the Minister’s ear, I will briefly mention another recommendation we made. Offenders who live in social accommodation can lose their accommodation after 13 weeks and two days. The relevant council or arm’s length organisation can empty the property of all the contents, including important documents that might be used to gain employment after leaving prison, such as birth certificates, passports and driving licences, all of which cost money and time to replace. Perhaps the next Bill we should see before us is one that asks councils to preserve such documents so that a person leaving prison can take up employment at the first opportunity.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Workington, who introduced the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, who has taken up the challenge. With one small Bill, they are going to make a big difference to people’s lives, and I thank them for doing so.

Damian Hinds Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Damian Hinds)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a real pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Vickers, and to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Workington and for Barrow and Furness. It has been a remarkable Cumbrian double act and partnership to bring the Bill to Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington spoke passionately and comprehensively about the content of the Bill and its effect.

The Bill is a simple measure, but a highly leveraged one that will have far-reaching and positive consequences. It will give custody leavers a better chance to access the services and support that they need to reintegrate into the community and turn their backs on a life of crime. Ultimately, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington said, that is a matter of public safety and fewer people becoming victims.

As the Committee has heard, the Bill will ensure that those with resettlement needs will no longer need to be released on a Friday or the day before a bank holiday. The Secretary of State will be provided with a discretionary power to bring forward a release date by up to two eligible working days. As my hon. Friend said, currently offenders leaving on a Friday have only a short period—sometimes a very short period after travel—to access services before they close for the weekend. That can put them at risk of not being able to gain access to essential support such as accommodation, medication and financial support until Monday, or even longer if there is a bank holiday, and that brings obvious risks. It is a real challenge for people with complex needs and those with long distances to travel. The Bill will help to bring an end to that. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud made the point about family ties—we know how important they are—and being able to make stable reconnections on release.

The Government are committed to the rehabilitation of offenders. The Bill forms part of a much wider strategy to improve the services offered to offenders before they leave prison and on release. I am pleased and proud to set out the tangible progress that has already been made in tackling the huge cost of reoffending, which my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough mentioned. The latest published data show that in the decade from 2009-10 to 2019-20, overall proven reoffending has decreased. It is still too high, but it has decreased from 30.9% to 25.6%, and of course we want to continue to drive that rate down.

We are investing in prison leavers’ access to accommodation and in building stronger links with employers through dedicated prison employment leads and prison employment advisory boards, at which local business leaders can interface with their local prison. Members of Parliament also have an important role to play in bringing business and future employers together with future employment opportunities. We are also offering more chances to work while in prison—it is important to have that rhythm, routine and experience of ongoing work.

We are delivering a prisoner education service to raise the skills of offenders, including by focusing on poor literacy, numeracy and the vocational skills that employers look for and that are in demand today. We are increasing access to drugs rehabilitation through the recruitment of health and justice partnership co-ordinators to better link up services for offenders. That programme of work should improve resettlement opportunities for all offenders.

The Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington has introduced will help to address the practical challenges that hold offenders back from taking full advantage of the services on offer. It is part of our drive to give offenders the best possible chance of living law-abiding and productive lives in the community. As the Committee has heard, the Bill also applies to children sentenced to detention and will operate across all youth settings, including the recently created secure 16-to-19 academies.

I thank all Committee members—including my hon. Friends the Members for Orpington, for Clwyd South, for Dewsbury and for Hastings and Rye—for their diligent examination of the Bill. On the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough made about documentation, I reassure her that work on identity documents and the things people need to have in place for employment is a focus for us in the Department. The particular suggestion she made was very interesting and, if she is amenable, I would be keen to hear further from her on that.

Finally, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Workington and for Barrow and Furness for bringing forward the Bill. I am pleased to confirm that the Government back it.

09:45
Mark Jenkinson Portrait Mark Jenkinson
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I rise to thank, on my own behalf and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, everybody who has contributed, and particularly the Minister, his private office and my hon. Friends who are present. We heard some great contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, with her great insight from the work that she has done, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, who set out the important work that others have done on the importance of family ties. I also thank His Majesty’s loyal Opposition and others for their support in not actively objecting to the Bill.

I put on the record my thanks to the Committee staff, probation staff and representatives of Nacro, who have engaged extensively with me, my office and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, as well as to staff from His Majesty’s Prison Service for their support, engagement and advice throughout.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

09:46
Committee rose.

Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill

Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
Third Reading
12:48
Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Welcome to your place, Mr Deputy Speaker. At the outset I want to thank all those who have contributed to the debates and in Committee. I can report that we have received broad support from colleagues across the House, from those on the Government Benches, from the SNP and the Liberal Democrats—although that is not apparent right now—and from our colleagues on the Opposition Benches. I hope that approach will continue throughout the debate today and, if we are successful, that it does so when the Bill goes to the Lords.

Being released from prison on a Friday presents a unique challenge for offenders who want to change their lives and turn their back on crime. Friday releases can be fraught with practical challenges that derail that goal. This Bill seeks to change that. Approximately a third of all releases currently fall on a Friday and, like on any other weekday, many of those released will need to access essential support services such as local authority housing, substance misuse support or even mental health services. However, on a Friday there is a unique race against the clock to get to these services before they close for the day. Many of them close early on a Friday and are shut for the weekend. Many people are released not that close to home, so they have to navigate their way to the services within a very narrow window of opportunity, with one eye on the clock, knowing that the cliff edge of the weekend is present. That is a daunting challenge.

If the House will indulge me, I will give an example of why this matters. David Dunn is the director of a charity called Release Mates, which is a group of prison leavers in long-term recovery from addiction who recognise the need for support for men and women in the immediate hours following their release from custody. David wrote to me:

“Release Mates is waiting at the prison gate for a prison leaver, ensuring they have food and clothes, taking them for a breakfast, accompanying them to the mandatory day of release probation appointment, then to the job centre to ensure he/she has funds to survive. Often, we then accompany the prison leaver to their local police station where they are required to report as part of a court order, and wherever possible we try to link prison leavers in with drug and alcohol services and/or mental health support. Our work with female prisoners…is often more complex as we are sometimes required to attend children’s services appointments on the day of release.

Our experience is that the job we do with prison leavers is significantly more difficult on a Friday. We are often required to find emergency accommodation for prison leavers, which on other days of the week is difficult but on Fridays is almost impossible. The weekend closure of drug and alcohol services regularly sees addicted prison leavers on opiate substitute medication without a prescription after a Friday release, inevitably leading to a relapse to Class A drugs. Without wishing to be critical of the probation service, they can offer very little help after noon on a Friday. Sometimes we are simply unable to complete all the appointments which a prison leaver is required to attend in one day. If that day is a Friday, a vulnerable person is often left to fend for themselves for 3 days before receiving help. I do not like to think of the chances a prison leaver being released on a Friday has without the kind of support which we offer.”

It is David’s final point that the Bill seeks to answer. Failure to access vital support can increase an offender’s likelihood of reoffending. We know that the reoffending rate for adults released on a Friday is higher than for any other day of the week, and that those without stable accommodation on release are almost 50% more likely to reoffend.

By removing the barriers that a Friday release can bring, we can ensure that prison leavers have a better chance to access the support they need to reintegrate into the community so that victims and the public are protected. The law currently mandates that offenders due to be released on a Saturday or a Sunday, or on a bank or public holiday, must be released on the preceding day, provided it is a working day. Although this avoids releases on days when services are completely closed, the result is a bunching of releases on Fridays, with almost double the number of any other day of the week.

This Bill will amend the law to provide the Secretary of State for Justice with a discretionary power to bring forward an offender’s release date by up to two eligible working days where their release falls on a Friday, or to the day before a public or bank holiday. In practical terms, the power will be given to a prison governor, director or appropriate equivalent official in the youth establishment to apply the policy to bring forward an individual’s release date.

Evidence suggests that a Friday release has a disproport-ionate impact on those with complex needs, those who may have greater distances to travel once they are released and those with substance misuse or mental health needs. Such a power will promote a law-abiding reintegration into society by ensuring that those leaving custody can access the support services they need on release.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, and I entirely agree with him on the necessity of this Bill. Seeing the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), in his place reminds me of many moons ago, when I chaired the crime and disorder reduction partnership in Hammersmith and Fulham where, on a weekly basis, we saw the problem of prisoners released from all over the country, but particularly from Wormwood Scrubs, not being able to access housing and finding themselves in a very difficult place.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on introducing the Bill. Does he agree that housing is key to ensuring that those leaving prison are able to go straight back into a good pattern, as opposed to potentially falling back into whichever crime got them into prison in the first place?

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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My hon. Friend is right: accommodation is key. I know from speaking to my right hon. Friend the Minister that it is part of the puzzle that the Ministry of Justice is trying to bear down on. Ending Friday releases for vulnerable people is part of the challenge that we face, but stable accommodation, with the ability to gain access to bank accounts and mobile phones in order to register for services such as universal credit, is essential to helping people as they are released.

Like adults, children are more likely to be released on a Friday than on any other day. In addition to their inherent vulnerability as children, under-18s leaving custody have multiple and often complex needs, and a Friday release may mean going for two or even three days without meaningful contact with support services when they are at their most vulnerable. That is why the Bill applies to both adults and children sentenced to detention, and ensures that the same provisions exist across the youth estate.

Evidence shows that those who have the basics that they need on resettlement are far less likely to reoffend. The House has an opportunity to give offenders vital extra time in which to meet their probation officer or youth justice worker and gain access to support services such as healthcare ahead of the weekend, will which help to cut crime and ultimately make our streets safer. The fact is that many people released from prison, especially on Fridays, are almost set up to fail from the moment they step off the prison estate. If we support people as they come out of prison, we can play a key role in reducing the significant societal and individual costs of reoffending, leading to fewer victims of crime and fewer communities dealing with its impact.

The Bill is an important step towards doing that, and I sincerely hope the House will agree that by making the simple change that it proposes—varying the date of release for vulnerable people by up to 48 hours—we can relieve the time pressure, take away the cliff edge, and give people the best opportunity to make a fresh start. If we are serious about justice, if we are serious about helping people to rebuild stable and rewarding lives, and if we are interested in relieving prison capacity to improve outcomes and in reducing reoffending, passing the Bill is an important step in the right direction.

Sometimes it seems as if we in this place speak a different language from the one spoken in the world outside—a language that seems very different to the people we represent—but the Bill has reminded me that that is not the case. After Second Reading, my office in Barrow received a phone call from a serving prisoner, Gary, who had watched the proceedings on parliamentlive.tv. He had done better than many of the staff in my office! He is due for release on a Friday in August preceding a bank holiday weekend. Understandably, he is concerned about exactly the issue that the Bill seeks to address: being stranded without support or the ability to help himself for three days. It is no exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of Garys out there, all with the same concern, all wanting a fair chance to stand on their own two feet and to start a new life on release. I hope that by passing the Bill we will give them that chance: it is the very least that we can do.

I also hope that I have addressed, as fully as possible, the aims of the Bill and the positive impact that it will have, and I am proud to present it to the House for its Third Reading. In many respects it offers just a small change, but it is a change that will have a great and lasting impact for many people on leaving custody. I firmly believe that this is the right thing for us to do, and I hope that the House will join me in supporting it.

12:58
Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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I support the Bill wholeheartedly. I congratulate both my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) on introducing it before he entered the Government, and my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on guiding it through the legislative process so thoroughly and well.

As many Members will know, I have a strong and passionate interest in reducing the number of victims of crime by improving the rehabilitation of offenders, having been a non-executive director of HM Prison and Probation Service and, for a very short time, the Minister responsible for prisons and probation. I was released very early; I am not sure that it was for entirely good behaviour. [Laughter.] I am very pleased that my successor has embraced the Bill and is doing such a fantastic job across the whole portfolio.

Prisons play an important part in the process of rehabilitation, with a wide range of classes, training courses and programmes that are designed to help people acquire the skills and habits they need to live a life free of crime once they are released. I praise the fantastic work that is done by teachers, tutors and coaches in our prisons. The job is not easy, but it can be extremely rewarding, and I am pleased that the Government are investing much more in prison education services and recruiting more staff to these vital positions.

However good the rehabilitation efforts are when somebody is in custody, one of the riskiest moments for reoffending is immediately after a prisoner is released. The order and structure of the prison environment suddenly disappear, and instead there is the potential for anxiety, confusion and temptation. This is the time when it is essential to get support in place to ensure that there is somewhere to live, something constructive to do and someone to go to for help and advice. What matters most when someone is released from jail is for them to be able to go immediately to a probation office, to sign up with a doctor, to go to their new accommodation and perhaps to visit the jobcentre. Those immediate first positive steps can make all the difference between going straight and going swiftly back behind bars.

Unfortunately, those crucial and relatively simple steps are impossible when someone is released on a Friday afternoon, has to travel for several hours to get home and then finds that all the services they need have closed for the weekend. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness said, the impact can be particularly severe for women, because they are frequently imprisoned even further from home than men are. It is a race against time that is rarely won by the person who has been newly freed from prison.

With a third of all releases taking place on a Friday, a significant number of people are at risk. This matters, because 80% of crime is committed by reoffenders, and reoffending overall costs the taxpayer £18 billion a year. If we in this place truly want to support people as they come out of prison and reduce that cost, we can play a role in doing so today by making the simple change of ending Friday releases, which will relieve the time pressure to access services, helping to ensure that newly released prisoners can have a fresh start.

While I accept that this is not a magic bullet to end reoffending, it will go some way to reduce the burden on the taxpayer, and it boils down to a simple administrative change, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness outlined admirably. The move is supported by charities, the voluntary sector, those working within the prison system, the probation service and ex-offenders themselves.

I draw particular attention to the work done by the charity Nacro, which has long campaigned for this change. Its 2021 report entitled “Friday Prison Releases: Collective Voices” says that

“Friday prison releases are needlessly setting people up to fail”.

It is hard to disagree. The report quotes a prison leaver as saying:

“I had to sleep at a fishing pit until the Monday because that was the next day the person [at the council] was back in her seat at work.”

There are other quotes in Nacro’s report that are worth highlighting, including from a prison:

“We have lots of issues with Friday releases, which are particularly problematic for people with substance misuse support needs”;

from the police:

“The police often have to pick up the pieces where people fall through the gaps, and this happens more often when people are released from prison on a Friday”;

from a council accommodation officer:

“People who leave prison on a Friday do not get the early intervention… which is unfair and is more likely to lead to further offending”;

and from the charity itself:

“I would say that most people who are released from prison on a Friday and need to report to the council for housing end up being homeless as they didn’t have the time”.

Nacro’s chief executive has said that ending Friday releases

“will give people the best chance at a second chance”.

I completely agree.

At a time of challenging public finances, this is a policy that will cost the taxpayer virtually nothing—perhaps just a bit of administration to update working practices and procedures. I am delighted that the Minister has confirmed on multiple occasions that the Government support this important Bill. I congratulate everybody who has been involved in getting it to this stage, including the officials from the Ministry of Justice, some of whom I recognise well, and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness.

13:04
Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
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Today is an excellent day for this Chamber and the House of Commons, because we have some fantastic Bills coming through, and none more so than this one. I am delighted to speak in favour of the Bill.

The estimated economic and social cost of reoffending to this country is £18.1 billion a year. Researchers found that those who have chaotic experiences in the community before or after custody, such as insecure accommodation, employment needs or substance misuse, are more likely to reoffend. In 2018-19, approximately 40% of adult prisoners were released to unsettled accommodation, rough sleeping or homelessness, or their accommodation status was unknown on the first night of release. Around 42% of prisoners have either an alcohol or a drugs need, or both. The prisons strategy White Paper has set out a number of ways to improve the situation, including education services, dealing with dependency on drugs and help to get people into work following release, all of which are excellent ideas. They all cost money, though, and that money could be wasted if an ex-offender is leaving prison on a Friday with a few pounds in their pocket and potentially nowhere to go, with no agencies open to offer support over the weekend.

As a councillor on Charnwood Borough Council— I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, because I am still a councillor—I was lucky enough to chair a series of panels on reducing reoffending. I met not only ex-offenders, police and housing support officers, but local charities that work to support ex-offenders, which Loughborough simply could not do without. Charities such as Exaireo, Carpenters Arms, The Bridge and Futures Unlocked all offer outstanding service to ex-offenders and others from across the country, helping them to turn their life around. I have seen the work of those charities, which is exemplary, and I continue to support them in all they do.

As part of the panel’s work, we took evidence and made a series of recommendations. There are six pages of recommendations; I promise not to refer to all six pages right now, but I will refer to one, which states that

“the Panel makes representations to the local MPs, in respect of the day of the week prisoners are released from prison and highlighting the issues surrounding Friday release”.

The reason for that recommendation was that,

“Support for offenders was not readily available on a Friday or over the weekend. Therefore, a release earlier in the week provides officers with greater opportunities to divert offenders away from previous habits and friends towards services to provide support in respect of housing, benefits and health related issues.”

That work was done in 2011, so it has taken us some time, but I believe we are achieving such a great goal today.

If Members will indulge me for a moment, the BBC has today published an article on its website by Helen Catt, entitled “My Friday prison release led to a disastrous mistake”. I will read a passage, if I may:

“Prisoners vulnerable to addiction, mental health issues or homelessness will no longer be released on Fridays under new plans to cut reoffending. One prisoner who breached parole after being released on a Friday says he felt let down by the system. He told the BBC his story and what it says about prisoners at risk of lapsing back into a life of crime.

‘By the time I got to the housing department, it was a Friday afternoon and there was no-one there to see me. I knew the offices wouldn’t be open again until the Monday. I was quite fearful of where I was going to stay that night—I didn’t want to stay on the streets.’

Marc Conway was 17 years old when he was released, on a Friday, after three months in HMP Feltham young offenders’ institution in London. Without anywhere to go, he made what he describes as a ‘disastrous mistake’ and stayed with a ‘known associate’. In doing so, he broke his licence conditions and was recalled to prison to serve out the remaining three months of his sentence. ‘I felt like I had let people down, first and foremost, that I’d been recalled back to prison so soon,’ he said. ‘I was angry, I was resentful of the system. I felt the system had let me down again and I dread to think what I would have done that night if I didn’t have somewhere to stay.’

Marc has served a number of sentences for a range of serious offences, last leaving prison four-and-a-half years ago.”

However, in 2019 he was one of the people who pinned down the convicted terrorist on London bridge, after that person had fatally stabbed two people. That is a person we want in society; that is a person I believe we should help. Hopefully, by not releasing people on a Friday, we will be able to assist them much earlier on in the process after their initial crime, rather than having them spending four and half years in prison, as Mark did.

In conclusion, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), who originally introduced the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell), who has taken up the challenge. With one small Bill, they are going to make a huge difference to people’s lives. I thank them for doing so.

13:10
James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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I join in congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) and for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), and all those involved in bringing forward this important piece of legislation. I look forward to it completing its passage today.

I am pleased to support the Bill, and the Government’s work in tackling reoffending rates, which have decreased over the last decade. The kernel of the Bill is to avoid the release of an offender on a Friday or the day preceding a bank holiday, by bringing their release date forward by one or two working days. Currently, the Criminal Justice Act 1961 provides that offenders who would otherwise be released on weekends, bank holidays or public holidays, are to be released the preceding day. That is meant to ensure that offenders can access services and accommodation on their day of release. As we have heard with stark examples, in reality, getting that timely support on a Friday is simply not practical due to early closing hours and the number of prisoners who are released.

The status quo is clearly self-defeating, as failure to access services can increase the risk of reoffending, which is something that we all want to reduce. We have heard about the importance of access to accommodation, which, in turn, is vital in helping people to access employment and training to support their rehabilitation. I am pleased that the Bill delivers on a key Government commitment in the prisons White Paper from 2021. The White Paper also set out how the Government want to rehabilitate criminals and reduce offending through work and training.

In particular, I support the partnerships that the Government are requiring prisons to have with businesses, to help train people and offer jobs on release. Prisons in the east of England have partnered with well-known businesses, such as Lotus and Bernard Matthews, as well as the manufacturing and construction sectors, to do precisely that. We know how important that is; offenders who get a job after coming out of prison are less likely to reoffend, but only 17% manage to get a job within a year of release. We need to put a lot more effort into increasing that number. I also welcome the Government’s progress on subsistence payments. In 2021, following a 26-year freeze, the Government increased the amount that is given to people on release for immediate essentials; that was increased in line with inflation last year, although it is still only £82.39.

We should recognise that the Bill involves people being released earlier than they would otherwise from their prison sentences. Our constituents are rightly concerned to see people serve the sentence they have been given, which is why I was pleased to support Government legislation to ensure that people serving the longest for the most serious offences serve more of their sentence. Clearly, on balance, there is a clear benefit to our constituents in releasing people a day or two earlier, although we need to have robust policy guidance and eligibility criteria to ensure public protection. I warmly welcome the Bill and look forward to it completing its passage.

13:13
Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) for bringing the Bill to the House. As far as I am concerned, people who end up in prison have gone through our process, they have been rightly convicted of offences, and they will serve their time. It is vital we give them the opportunity to rebuild their lives when they have served their sentence and come out.

When I brought forward the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, one of the areas I insisted on was ensuring that ex-offenders leaving prison were encouraged to rebuild their lives, that prison governors had a statutory duty to ensure they did so, and that they were referred to local housing authorities to be offered suitable accommodation. It is fair to say that I have harassed a number of Ministry of Justice Ministers over the past six years to ensure that prison governors carry out their statutory duties, so it is a great shame that is not happening as it should.

As has been said, one in three prisoners are released on a Friday at present. Housing authorities close their doors at 5 o’clock and unless the ex-offender is there in time, they are likely to have a choice of either sleeping rough or, worse still, returning to the area in which their crimes were originally committed and then mixing and mingling with the same people who got them into trouble in the first place. They are often left with £50 in their pocket and told, “Go away and don’t reoffend.” That is unacceptable today, particularly for people who have committed to rebuilding their lives and end up literally on the streets.

The support services people need are not there. I declare my interest as the co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness. We have a clear indication and evidence from local authorities that there is no support over the weekends for prison leavers to obtain accommodation. They approach the housing authority and find it closed or unable to provide accommodation on an emergency basis, so that leaves them on the streets or with the alternative I have mentioned.

As has been said, other services are needed. GPs, jobcentres and advice centres all close at the end of Friday and do not open again until Monday. That leaves people in a desperate position that they should not have to face. They have frequently lost contact with their friends and family because of the fact they have been in imprisoned, and they literally have nowhere to go over the weekend. For many, the stability of prison, despite the conditions, and a roof and food is potentially better than being on the streets, because then they face a choice. Do they spend their money on a hotel room? Do they reoffend? What do they do? That is the key challenge. We have to prevent people from getting to that unacceptable position.

Given the weather, people will be being released today in freezing conditions and then facing that desperate choice. They have no stable living place to end up in, so the temptation to return to a life of crime is always there, and they may have people who will support them to return to that life of crime, rather than supporting them to rebuild their lives. It is clearly not in the interests of anyone that people are placed in that position.

This is a very simple Bill, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness for bringing it forward. We should be releasing prisoners during the week, allowing them to access services and to rebuild their lives. We do not want to see people returning to prison. We do not want people to reoffend; we want them to be good citizens. If we do send them back to prison, we should remember that it costs, on average, £43,000 to host a prisoner each year. In the public purse’s interests, this Bill is a sensible move.

In conclusion, I strongly support the Bill. It can lead to fewer crimes, fewer reoffending individuals and safer streets for us all, and that has to be in the interests of every single one of our constituents. What opposition could there be to such a Bill? It is good news, of course, that the Bill is welcomed on all sides. Finally, I would just say that prison governors and the people in the prison support service need to be thinking about how we support people to rebuild their lives, and to plan for it as they are coming up to their release dates, rather than it coming up as a sudden rush with people literally being put on the streets and told, “Go away and don’t reoffend.” That cannot be acceptable in today’s society. The Bill has to be in the interests of us all, and I commend it to the House.

13:19
Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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I am aware through my office that I have gone viral on Twitter for the fact that, unfortunately, we have criminals who blight the great constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. I referred to the scumbags who fly-tip, the scrotes who deal drugs and the savages who create their antisocial behaviour. I am not apologetic for calling out this wrong behaviour and for launching a safer streets petition for Tunstall, Cobridge and Smallthorne to get additional CCTV, new alley gates and better street lighting to help make our streets safer.

Despite some of the glares that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) has been giving me throughout this debate to ensure that I stay on message, and the pressure that I can feel from my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell), I am proud to stand up and say that I am in full support of the Bill in front of us today, because, despite my rough exterior at times, I am a pragmatist at heart. Ultimately, the overriding evidence is clear that something is not working and that that is undermining the very thing that we want to achieve, which is reducing reoffending, helping people to restart their lives and bringing crime down in our local communities. The Bill is a very simple, very basic mechanism that provides some help with that process. I would find it bizarre if anybody had any opposition to the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), who initiated the Bill, is certainly no wet; in fact he is very dry. Even though his neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness, is a little damp, he is obviously very sound on these issues, so it is absolutely correct that we stand up and support him.

It seems very wrong to me that someone is not able to access any support services within a matter of hours of leaving prison, which could be hundreds of miles away from where they call home and from their support network of family and friends, who are good and trusted people who could guide them on the right path. It is completely abhorrent that someone should be left in such a vulnerable state. We are talking about people who will be suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. Their crime will have fed into those habits. Ultimately, these are people who need the right support and guidance, which links in with the fantastic legislation introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) that supports some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It is right, as he said earlier, that prison governors should use the discretion that they will be given to plan someone’s release, to plan support and to engage with the Probation Service much earlier in order to ensure that the said individual will be able to leave for a caring and nurturing environment.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury said, if we can achieve even a small reduction in reoffending, it will mean a lot less crime on our streets and a lot less police time being wasted on, in some cases, small and minor crimes. The police have major matters to deal with, such as those involving county lines gangs—those at the top end who are making the real money—and grooming gangs, who are difficult to catch, requiring hundreds of police to work thousands of hours to find out who is operating in our areas. There is also organised criminal activity such as theft and burglaries, white collar crime and online scams. All those things take an awful lot of police expertise and it is absolutely right, therefore, that we try to find a way to help people who have come out of prison. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness said earlier, it is perfectly reasonable, and common sense at its best, to release someone a day or two earlier than scheduled—we are not talking about weeks or months—so that we avoid the things that we have been talking about. I would like to believe, Mr Deputy Speaker, that common sense always prevails in this place, although my mother says that I lack that at the best of times.

Overall, this is a strong piece of legislation. I am glad that it has cross-party support. I hope that it will go through speedily and unamended in the other place: the quicker that we can get this on the statute books, the quicker that we can act.

I thought that the article that my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) read out was incredibly powerful. I am not known for openly praising the BBC, but, still, let me give credit where credit is due. That story was of a 17-year-old boy—he is a boy at 17 years old—who was clearly vulnerable, who clearly felt alone, and who had no support network. He had fallen in with the nearest person he could find, but, sadly, that person was someone who should have been avoided. Therefore, through no fault of his own, that young man ended up back in prison for three months.

Let us not forget that it costs an awful lot of taxpayers’ money to look after an individual sitting in a prison cell day in, day out, when they could be out contributing to society and getting the education they deserve or a job with a salary that pays back into the system, giving them the self-confidence, self-worth and self-belief that they can go on to achieve many great things. It is frightfully important for us to remember that. The article made it plain and clear that this is a good Bill. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness and I wish him all success in getting it passed.

00:08
Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on getting the Bill this far.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) expressed Labour’s support for the Bill. That support remains. In fact, the Opposition support it so much that we tried to bring the legislation in first with an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. Given the cross-party support and the common-sense thinking behind the legislation, it was a surprise that the Government did not support Labour’s amendment on that occasion, and nor have they sought to bring forward similar legislation themselves. However, it seems—[Interruption.] The Minister chunters from a sedentary position. It seems that they are now on board, so we can all be grateful for that.

As I said, we think this is a sensible Bill, one that we hope will have a positive effect on reoffending rates, along with reducing the numbers of recently released prisoners who become homeless. Only 45% of people released from prison in 2021-22 had settled accommodation on their release. That means over half were released from prison with nowhere to go and had to use their first hours of freedom desperately searching for a safe and suitable place to sleep. Sadly, 11% of those people ended up homeless or sleeping rough. Studies have shown that safe and secure housing is key to stopping the cycle of reoffending. His Majesty’s inspectorate of probation found that

“the proportion of service users recalled or resentenced to custody within 12 months of release was almost double for those without settled accommodation.”

It is a stark contrast that a person who, until their day of release, had their housing, meals and medicine provided under one roof, is then left on a Friday afternoon with only the number of a probation officer and the address of a pharmacist. Many recently released prisoners then have a race against time to find a roof over their head, to apply for benefits to pay for food, housing and other necessities, and to visit their GP or pharmacist if they are part of a drug treatment programme. If a prisoner has willingly and successfully engaged in a drug treatment programme, then not ensuring enough time to get to a pharmacist upon release is tantamount to derailing that treatment programme.

When a prisoner is released it should be seen as a new start, where opportunities are presented and support is readily available, but all too often the opposite is true. We hope the Bill can go some way to rectifying that, but it is only a part of the picture. The rehabilitation of offenders starts within prisons, with better conditions, better education and training, support for mental health, help to repair broken family relationships, and more drug treatment programmes. If the Government are really serious about cutting reoffending, they could look at reducing the use of shorter sentences for non-violent offences. Research tells us that short sentences do not work, with 63% of those who serve a sentence of 12 months or less going on to reoffend within a year. One answer to that lies in effective community sentencing for those who commit non-violent offences. That would help to ease overcrowding and allow prisons to get their education programmes back up and running.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I feel I am digressing on to wider issues. Let me conclude by saying that the Opposition support the Bill. We think it is the right and sensible thing to do. We just add that it would be a missed opportunity for it to be thought the only thing that needs to be done to help cut reoffending.

13:29
Damian Hinds Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Damian Hinds)
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I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) for his excellent work bringing this important Bill to the House and navigating it through to this stage. It is a great credit to him that there is such support for this legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) has played an important role in this Bill to date. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), for North West Norfolk (James Wild), for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), who spoke passionately about their local communities and the great work carried out by the voluntary and charitable sector, and with particular insight as local representatives. I also thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), who speaks for the Opposition, for the manner and content of his remarks in welcoming the Bill. It is a good and positive thing when we have legislation coming forward with wide support from different parties in the House and different perspectives and traditions to do something sensible in the interests of our society.

As the House has heard, the Bill ensures that offenders who have resettlement needs will no longer need to be released on a Friday or the day before a bank or public holiday. It will do that by enabling a release date to be brought forward by up to two eligible working days, so these offenders will be released earlier in the week. In practice, this means that offenders with resettlement needs will no longer face that race against the clock, which my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness set out, to find accommodation, access medication and access finance support all before services close for the weekend. As he outlined, that is particularly challenging for people with more complex needs, of whom there are many, such as drug dependency or mental health illness, and, crucially, for those with a long distance to travel before they can access those services. The Bill will achieve that by tackling the practical challenges that Friday releases can create. It will address the issues that can lead to an increased risk of reoffending by ensuring that custody leavers have a better chance to access the support they need to reintegrate into the community and to turn their back on a life of crime.

As my hon. Friend said, the Bill also applies to children sentenced to detention. It will ensure that the release provisions relating to Friday, bank and public holiday, and weekend releases exist in respect of all youth settings, including the recently created secure 16 to 19 school. Despite the various safeguards and legal duties that exist for children leaving custody, being released on a Friday still means that a child would go for at least two days with no meaningful contact with their youth justice worker exactly when they are at their most vulnerable.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that the impact on young people and children is accentuated by the tremendous success there has been in reducing the number of children in custody from around 3,000 in 2007 to around 400 today? That means there are fewer secure settings for children, so they are frequently further from home and it takes them much longer on the day they are released to get to where they need to be.

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
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My hon. Friend is spot on and speaks from great personal experience and expertise. It is true that far fewer children are being locked up than in 2010. We know that being incarcerated at a young age means people risk becoming more criminal and it exposes them to a whole range of different risks. Of course, sometimes that is exactly what we have to do—we must be able to imprison people where necessary—but where it is possible to avoid it, that is often better for the individual and for wider society. An effect of that, and this exists for women prisoners as well, is that a person is much more likely to be far away from home. Because there are fewer of these institutions, they are more spread out, so access to services, which my hon. Friend identifies is an issue, can be particularly acute for younger people.

In practice, it will be for heads of establishments to apply the power in bringing forward an offender’s release data. Aided by policy guidance, they can allow an offender additional time to resettle where it will support their reintegration into the community and reduce their risk of reoffending. As the House will be aware, the Government have made significant progress in tackling the £18 billion annual cost of reoffending and protecting the public.

Data show that the overall proven reoffending rate for adults decreased from 30.9% in 2009-10 to 25.6% in 2019-20, which is truly significant. The rate is still too high, however, and we have to do all we can to bring it down further. We are investing substantial sums to achieve that, including in prison leavers’ access to accommodation, about which several hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken; and in building stronger links with employers through dedicated prison employment leads and prison employment advisory boards where business leaders can interface with their local prisons.

We have also seen encouraging improvements in employment rates for prisoners on release, which is an area where hon. Members can play an important role through their discussions with local employers by putting them in touch with this opportunity. We are also investing in offering more prisoners the chance to work while inside prison; developing the prison education service to raise the skills of offenders, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury also spoke; and increasing access to drugs rehabilitation through the recruitment of health and justice partnership co-ordinators to better link up services for offenders inside and beyond the prison perimeter. The hon. Member for Hammersmith was exactly right to identify that we need to think of it as a holistic process that starts inside and continues outside; it must be as linked up as possible.

We are also making large investments into youth justice to tackle offending by children. As my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough said, there is a lot that the Government and the Prison Service can do, but charities and voluntary organisations, including the four that she mentioned in her constituency, are an absolutely irreplaceable and fundamental part of that fabric.

Those interventions should improve resettlement opportunities for all offenders and help to reduce reoffending, but they cannot fully address all the practicalities that are presented by being released on a Friday. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East vividly illustrated that journey to the House. This common-sense Bill will help to achieve that. I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness for bringing this important Bill before the House and I confirm again, with great pleasure, that the Government support it. I wish it all the best in its progress through the other place.

13:37
Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
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With the leave of the House, I am incredibly grateful to friends—hon. Members on both sides of the House—for their support and valued contributions on the issue. Many have contributed on Second Reading, in Committee and on Third Reading, so I thank them all for the insight and passion that they brought to the debates. As constituency MPs, we all know people who have been affected by the issue, as has come out time and again.

I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), who passed responsibility for the Bill to me on his elevation to the Whips Office. He also kindly led the Committee stage ably and with real insight. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) has been a supporter of the cause in and out of office and I am grateful for his presence today—his passion for the subject is clear.

My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) is similarly passionate and experienced on the issue. In fact, she may be the only MP—this may be a parliamentary first—to have lobbied to be on a Bill Committee. I am incredibly grateful for that. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) made a thoughtful speech about the importance of giving people on release access to employment. His point was well made and, I hope, well heard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) spoke powerfully about the challenges offenders face on release and the injustice of people being given the opportunity to stand on their own two feet again but not being able to take that opportunity because structural barriers are in their way. I think one of the reasons my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), who I look down on from here, is so dry is the amount of hot air that emanates from him. [Laughter.] However, he made some serious points about why the Bill will make a difference on reoffending, which is what we all want.

Turning to those on the Opposition Benches, I greatly appreciate the thoughtful and contributory approach of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and hope that when the Bill reaches the Lords it will be considered in a similar way. I should also thank the Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), who has been incredibly supportive through this process. His presence at the Dispatch Box is a real comfort. I know he is passionate not just about this part of dealing with the challenges faced by those being released, but about trying to get to the bottom of and improving the wider structural issues which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East mentioned. I also thank his incredible team at the Ministry—not least Robyn, who has been a huge support to me and my hon. Friend the Member for Workington—and the Clerks in the Public Bill Office, whose guidance has been a great help.

I also thank my constituents who have spoken to me about this issue, as well as charities—not least Sam Julius and the team at Nacro who have campaigned so much on this issue—chaplains, faith groups, and third sector organisations including Switchback, the Community Chaplain Association, Release Mates and the Well Communities in Barrow, all of which have supplied case studies, and, more importantly, work day in, day out with offenders to get them on their feet following release against incredibly difficult odds. I hope the passing of this Bill will make those odds just a little bit better.

Finally, I thank my good friend Lord Bird, who has agreed to shepherd this Bill through the other place if—or when—it passes here today. He is the founder of The Big Issue and a passionate supporter and campaigner for social justice, and he knows more than most why this issue matters. The Bill is in good hands.

This small Bill will, I hope, make a very big difference. I thank Members from across the House for their support.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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May I say that it is a particular privilege for me to be in the Chair to hear the Third Reading passed as a young Simon Fell was formerly a researcher of mine.

Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill

1st reading
Monday 6th March 2023

(12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Act 2023 Read Hansard Text
First Reading
15:21
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill

Second Reading
11:53
Moved by
Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great honour and pleasure for me to move that the Bill be read a second time. It is also quite moving because, when we deal with prisons, custodial sentences and wrongdoers, we often have an enormous divide, but what is so great about the Bill is that it has the blessing of the department, the Government and most of us—it unites us all. It is a very simple Bill. Simon Fell, whom I know and have worked with, is a very committed Conservative MP up in Barrow-in-Furness. He has done the heavy lifting on the Bill, backed up by Nacro, which I praise: it has been banging away for decades and, if we have been able to treat offenders better, that is often to do with Nacro’s work. I would love to say that.

The Bill is very simple; there is no complexity to it. Let us allow our governors to release people on a day that is not the worst day of the week: Friday—or Saturday or Sunday. One-third of people are currently released on that day, and it is possible that over 50% of them need to find some form of support—to go to the citizens advice bureau, to the local council, to the social security office or to look for accommodation—because a very large number of people still leave the custodial system with nowhere to go. What happens if someone has nowhere to go? From personal experience, I know that when you have nowhere to go and are homeless, you tend to get into trouble.

First, you arrest someone for a crime and then you take them before a court and spend a shedload of public money. If they are found guilty, they are put away for a period of time, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds on occasions, if it is a longer sentence. You spend all this and then what do you do? You spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar. You let them out on a Friday and, as they have no family relationships and nowhere to go, they are lined up to fall down.

The Bill is really interesting to me. The greatest thing is that I say to myself, “If we can work cross-party and cross-Chamber, if we can bring in organisations such as Nacro to give us all the background we need, and if we can get committed MPs to lead this fight, why can’t we do this for so many other things?” Is it not wonderful that we can do so for this small thing, which involves an enormous amount of intelligence? If you have been away for two years and then end up with nowhere to go and no one to guide, lead and help you, as I say, you have a real problem. You might as well have thrown those two years, 18 months or three years away, and thrown away our tax money and opportunity to turn a ne’er-do-well—a naughty boy—into someone other than a naughty boy. Is it not extraordinary that we spend so much on keeping people in prison but do not help them very well with their exit?

I am pleased that there are some very good signs of the recovery of rehabilitation—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and I discussed this. I know this because I have been working with a group of businesspeople in Brixton who go into the prison before the person leaves and try to recruit them for a job. I have recommended this company to a business which is deadly short of office workers and so on in Brixton and elsewhere in south London. Why do we not look at the pool of people leaving our prisons, who are leaving without a stain on their reputation because they co-operated in their own rejuvenation? These are the most wonderful things we can do, so I am really glad to bless this Bill. I am hopeful that we do not look at this as a one-off; I hope that it will lead to a renaissance. I will not ask noble Lords to vote for a renaissance in our relationship to justice, but would it not be wonderful if we could invest in those wonderful things—rejuvenation and helping people out of the sticky stuff?

After the most important part of my life inside, I left on a Saturday—at another time, I left on a Tuesday. What was so wonderful about leaving that custodial sentence was that I had somewhere to go: I had family, friends and a social background, and I even had the offer of a job. All those things made me; I am here because some cleverness was practised on me when I was inside in those good old days when life seemed a lot simpler and the size of the prison population was a third of what it is now. The magic of that thinking—of people, communities and the Church coming together—was absolutely marvellous. I am the product of some very clever thinking.

If we want to make this change, first let us sort out this Bill and then look again at why we waste so much money. We spend £3 billion a year on keeping people banged up. The police bill is enormous; I think it is up to £17 billion. If we were to spend more—I would say that we vote for another £1 billion; it is not a lot—then we would not have to spend it later on police cars, courts or supporting children whose family members have ended up in prison.

I will not go on any longer, because we are running out of time, but I thank noble Lords very much for the opportunity to speak on this very simple, clever, thoughtful, grown-up and real Bill. I beg to move.

12:02
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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Your Lordships will soon gather from my croaky voice that I returned from a northerly cruise on Wednesday with something of a cold. It was 10 days without responsibility. No money was used on board; at mealtimes, all I had to do was sway my way into the restaurant, and the food was there ready cooked. There was no lock on my cabin door—but, with the North Sea all around me, I was going nowhere. I could circulate on the top deck for as long as I liked; a lot of exercise went on there, but, fortunately, it was not compulsory.

Arriving back in Dover on Wednesday was a bit of a shock. I had to check my wallet to see if I had any money. I had to get myself to Dover railway station, pay for a ticket and find a platform and a train. I had to make decisions, get used to traffic again and rush to reach your Lordships’ House in time for a committee. I was away only 10 days. The problems for a prisoner being released after a lengthy period in prison are very serious. The shock of being propelled through the prison door into the community—into a world of decision-making—must be profound. I strongly support the Bill as a very sensible means of reducing that impact, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and Mr Simon Fell on bringing it forward.

The Bill gives us the opportunity to talk about the critical step of release. I have spoken about Berwyn prison near my home in Wrexham many times in this House in very negative terms—its shortages of staff, the level of violence and the all-pervasive problem of drugs—but it is largely successful on the issue of release. The unannounced report of the prison inspectorate last year found that an average of 140 prisoners were released each month and that work to support resettlement was good. A workshop area—a resettlement hub—had been set up in a large open space with separate interview booths, bringing together all resettlement staff. The inspectors found that this was an excellent initiative,

“the best of its kind that we have seen recently”.

It was yielding promising early outcomes for prisoners nearing release, including job offers and improved outcomes for accommodation on release. In the hub, there are a range of resettlement services: a job centre, work coaches and housing support. Prisoners are supported in obtaining ID and in opening bank accounts. Job fairs are a regular feature, attended by local employers. The number of prisoners who gain employment on release has risen from 6% to 20%, and employers including Greene King, the Murphy construction group and Iceland are involved. An employment adviser helps connect prisoners to job opportunities, and a firm called Novus Cambria helps the men with their CVs, so opportunities to secure a job are there before offenders even set foot back into the community.

On accommodation, the prison is also successful. Currently, on the day of release, 85% of men are getting into prepared accommodation—the 15% who do not are referred to the local authority. The prison joined a construction industry training board pilot scheme, where offenders are trained in prison in trades such as bricklaying, plastering, joinery and welding. Components are manufactured in the workshops for affordable, environmentally friendly houses being built for more than 130 families in Ruthin and Llangefni on behalf of Williams Homes, and jobs are available with that firm on release. Next month, DesignLSM, in collaboration with the actor Fred Sirieix, will transform the food hall in the prison into a high-street business run by prisoners to provide them with the opportunity to gain qualifications and experience in hospitality.

Berwyn prison is the second-largest prison in Europe and the largest in the UK. It started off with good intentions of promoting rehabilitation. Cells were called “rooms” and wings “communities”, and internet was provided. There have been some appalling teething troubles, but the prison, its governor, Nick Leader, and his staff must be given full credit for the initiatives they have taken. I am sure that the Bill will be welcomed in that community.

12:08
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I was quite annoyed when I saw this Bill appear in Forthcoming Business. I thought, “What? This hasn’t been fixed yet?” We have talked about this issue for years. I was then even more annoyed when I saw that the Government are supporting it. Why could they not do so sooner? I simply do not understand why we should accept throwing former prisoners out on to the street without any sort of support network. We already put far too many people in prison, and we do not concentrate enough on restorative justice and on expecting people to find out how to improve their lives and not get sent to prison—including, sometimes, for quite minor and inconsequential crimes.

A report was released today about a farmer who has been sent to prison for 12 months because he absolutely destroyed two sides of a riverbank which was extremely precious from an environmental point of view. Quite honestly, I would not have sent him to prison; I would have put him into community service for as many years as it took him to recover every single blade of grass and leaf that he destroyed. I think that we could do more of this.

This kind of incident happens quite differently in Scotland, as Scotland does not release people on Friday, when they do not have any support network left. Why, if Scotland does it, have we not done it sooner?

I welcome this Bill, although I am still angry that it has taken this long—but I am glad that it is happening at last.

12:10
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his enthusiastic introduction to this Bill, and it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I agree with all her comments. I feel certain that all the speakers today will be singing from the same hymn sheet. I am grateful to the House of Lords Library for its briefing.

During a prison sentence, especially if it is a long one, offenders lose touch with reality and often lose touch with their families and friends. Depending on their offence, their families may have decided to sever all contact, or they may have lived alone in rented accommodation. During their sentence, this accommodation will have been let to others. Many offenders, therefore, have no home to return to and no alternative accommodation on their release. With no accommodation, their ability to apply for work is limited, and they have nowhere to sleep. If they have nowhere to go, especially over a weekend, the risk of their reoffending is considerable.

Statistics show that adult offenders without stable accommodation on release are 50% more likely to reoffend, and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has referred to this. They need support and help, which is rarely available on a Friday afternoon. Those who are lucky enough to have retained contact with, and the support of, their families, may be many miles away from their home. That has an impact on their children. Some 15% of offenders are held more than 100 miles from their homes, and 41% are more than 50 miles away. When that offender is a young person, this can be very challenging for them to cope with. When offenders are released on a Friday, away from their natural base, they are effectively being set up to fail. I fully support proposed new subsections (3C) and (3D) of the Bill. Offenders should be released with at least one working day ahead of the day of their release, so that as much support as possible is available to them.

I turn to the issue of young offenders. I am pleased that there is specific mention in the Bill of young offender institutions and secure children’s homes. Statistics show that children looked after and those who are care leavers are overrepresented in prison populations. They may have had a bad start in life and have made mistakes and be paying the price for it, but this can be remedied if help and support are available at the most crucial and vulnerable point in their lives—the day when they are released back to society. It is, therefore, vital for help to be available and not clocked off because it is a Friday afternoon or the day before a bank holiday, when local authority housing departments are likely to be closed.

Of those offenders released, some will choose to reoffend as a life choice; others will have found the prison experience extremely sobering and be determined to alter their lifestyle and make a fresh start. Providing immediate help and support on the day of release is critical to ensuring success in preventing reoffending. If they have nowhere to stay and no support, it is not surprising that two-thirds of people released without access to accommodation reoffend within a year. The system has let those people down. There will be offenders who may have undiagnosed special needs, and their educational skills can be low. They may not have received the necessary help so far in their lives; those people need extra help and support to enable them to stay clear of the reoffending cycle.

This Bill is short, but it could have a dramatic effect on the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. Adults and young people, especially the 16 to 19 year-olds, along with children in secure accommodation, who should be released into the care of their relevant local authority, are unlikely to find a placement on a Friday. A day’s grace is all that is needed to ensure success, along with the early notification for local authorities to enable them fully to play their part in rehabilitation. Given that the Bill has the support of the Government, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

12:14
Lord Bishop of Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leeds
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My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise in the gap to sing from the same hymn sheet and welcome this Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his inspirational work and commitment to these matters. We need an urgent change in practice for those who leave prison. I know that my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who is not able to be here today but leads for the Church of England on prisons, also welcomes this Bill.

Others have already referred to the impact of releasing people from prison on a Friday, particularly in relation to access to services, including housing and healthcare. This affects men and women leaving prison, but for women it can be acutely dangerous, due to particular risks they face. A report published in 2020, Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison, found that late releases, and releases on a Friday, are known to jeopardise a woman’s chances of securing accommodation. Due to the configuration of the prison estate, women are often imprisoned far from home, leading to isolation and presenting further challenges to securing housing. Risks from perpetrators of domestic abuse are very real for prison leavers, particularly women. A recent Independent Monitoring Board report on HMP Bronzefield found that 65% of women face homelessness on release. I join others in hoping that changing the practice of releasing prison leavers on a Friday will go a long way to helping address this.

Finally, I shall touch on how this fits into the wider picture of resettlement and reintegration into society. We know that links to community and home help prevent reoffending, and we have many examples of good practice within the faith-based sector. The Welcome Directory is an organisation that signposts prison leavers to churches and worshipping communities of other faiths, aiming to “unlock the second prison” of the community. Prison chaplains do valuable work through the gate with external organisations to transition those in prison back into the community. Under the new probation model, the Church of England has been working at a national and regional level with the probation service to link up with faith communities, which do so much good in their localities.

In conclusion, I welcome this Bill and consider that it will make a significant change to the chances of prison leavers resettling well into communities and reducing the chances of recidivism.

12:17
Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
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My Lords, if I may, I shall also speak in the gap. In doing so, I ask the Minister to recall his young days at the Bar—and I shall do the same. One of the depressing features of my young days at the Bar—and I am sure that it was the same for the Minister—was the repeated offender. Time and again, you had convicted for further crimes those who had already been convicted and had spent time in prison. I do not know how far this measure will help, but it is one well worth taking, and I give full support to the Bill.

12:19
Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for his intervention, reminding us of the important work that the faith sector does in this area, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for pointing out that at the heart of this system is a horrible cycle of reoffending that is costly in financial terms and in personal terms for those who have to suffer from the reoffenders’ work. So I congratulate Simon Fell MP and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing the Bill thus far with such impressive cross-party support—I always think that “Bird on bird” is worth listening to. I also congratulate, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bird, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, NACRO, on the success of its campaign highlighting the problems of Friday release. One of my mentors in the criminal justice system was my colleague and noble friend Lord Dholakia, who cannot be here today but was for a long time the president of NACRO.

As a non-lawyer, I am a little surprised that we need an Act of Parliament to micromanage the handling of prisoners: perhaps the distinguished Minister can say. We are talking about amending an Act that is 60 years old. Perhaps it is a sign of how important we consider the restriction of freedom in our criminal justice system, but it does seem odd that we need the full panoply of an Act of Parliament in order to manage prisoners’ release. I share the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for all of us to work for alternatives to prison: it is an extremely expensive and in many ways not effective and not cost-effective way of protecting society. I also share my noble friend Lady Bakewell’s worry about a system that is set up to fail.

I was seven years at the Ministry of Justice, both as Minister and as chair of the Youth Justice Board. I will detain the House only a short time with just two things that struck me during that time. First, just over 10 years ago I went to Birmingham to see the new public library being built. There was a scheme of ex-offenders being employed on its construction and I met a young man in his 30s who talked about his experience. He used the words that my noble friend Lord Thomas used. He said “Lord McNally, you can’t imagine the shock when the prison doors shut behind you and you’re leaving prison. You don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know how you’re gonna make a living and you’ve got 40-odd quid in your pocket. It’s a very lonely place”. I think that that, sadly, is still going on.

The second thing is something else that has come through this debate, which is that there is another way. I was chair of the Youth Justice Board for three years and we see in the record of the Youth Justice Board, which is now coming up to its 25th anniversary, the attention of cross-disciplinary expertise in both diversion and resettlement which does bring results. We see in the report of Professor Rosie Meek of Royal Holloway College, University of London, the impact of sport on rehabilitation. I have some personal knowledge, because she is local, of a young lady called Jules Rowan, who gained qualifications in prison and then used them outside to help others meet the challenges of release. She now works with a fellow ex-inmate, Zak Addae-Kodua, on a programme of advice on national prison radio.

So, what I am basically saying is that there are other ways for society to go. Release on any day of the week should be part of a resettlement plan that offers the best hope of success. The mantra repeated to me time and again when I was at the MoJ was that, on release, prisoners need a place to live, a job and, if possible, a meaningful relationship, and if you could get those three things, you had the best ingredients for a successful non-offending future.

We are fortunate today that we have speakers on the Opposition and Government Front Benches with first-hand experience of where our prison system works and where it fails. In the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, we have someone with vast experience of the system from his long service has a magistrate. In the Minister, we have someone who has served in the criminal justice system at the highest levels of the judiciary and the Bar. So I pass this Bill, with confidence, into their hands. I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in his calls for a cross-party initiative to cut crime by having in place—both before and after release—breaks in the circle of offending that costs so much in human, social and financial terms. I support this Bill.

12:26
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, we on this side of the House support this Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on piloting it through this House. Noble Lords will be aware that the proposal to avoid Friday releases has been around for a number of years, and a number of political parties and advocacy groups have tried to introduce it in previous criminal justice Bills. However, for various reasons, it was resisted by the Government. Nevertheless, I welcome the Government’s support for this Bill.

The rehabilitation of offenders starts within prisons with better conditions, better education and training, support for mental health, help to repair broken family relationships and more drug treatment programmes. If the Government are serious about cutting reoffending, they could look at reducing the use of shorter sentences for non-violent offences. One answer to that lies in effective community sentencing for those who commit non-violent offences. That would help ease overcrowding and allow prisons to get their education programmes back up and running.

My hope is that this Bill will have a positive effect on reoffending rates, along with reducing the number of recently released prisoners who become homeless. Only 45% of people released from prison in 2021-22 had settled accommodation on their release. That means over half were released from prison with nowhere to go and had to use their first hours of freedom searching for a safe and suitable place to sleep. Sadly, 11% of those people ended up homeless or sleeping rough.

Studies have shown that safe and secure housing is key to stopping the cycle of reoffending. His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation found that

“the proportion of service users recalled or resentenced to custody within 12 months of release was almost double for those without settled accommodation”.

I have always found it ironic—but understandable—that when sex offenders are released from custody, they have a guaranteed address because the police need to know what that address is, whereas other prisoners do not get that guarantee.

To state the obvious, when a prisoner leaves custody there is a huge contrast in their life—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about his interaction with the prison leaver in Birmingham. Until their day of release, prisoners have all their housing, meals and medication needs under one roof. Then, on a Friday, they are out—maybe with only the number of a probation officer in their pocket, a little bit of money and the address of a pharmacist. It is then a race against time to find a roof over their head, to apply for benefits, to buy food and to visit their GP or pharmacist if they are part of a drug treatment programme. If all these elements are not in place, there is a much higher chance of relapse and reoffending and a return to custody. When a prisoner is released, it should be seen as a new start, where opportunities are presented and support is readily available—but all too often the opposite is true. We hope this Bill can go some way to rectifying that, but we are realistic in understanding that it is only part of the picture.

I took the trouble to revisit the arguments used by the Government against this proposal in the PCSC Bill. First, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, spoke of the Scottish experience, where there has been direct early release for some time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to. At that time, only 20 prisoners had been released under this scheme, so the argument was that there was insufficient data to draw any conclusions from the Scottish experience. Is the Minister able to update us on the Scottish experience of early release?

Secondly, in a separate debate, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson—the then Minister—argued against the proposal and said that it was deficient in three ways. His first point was that efforts to avoid Friday bunching should be focused on where the chances of rehabilitation of the offender were greatest. The second was that a five-day release period was too long. I understand that in this Bill it is two days; nevertheless, the point is made. His third point was about the impact on short custodial sentences if there was a two-day early release. How has the Minister’s department’s system evolved from these previous oppositions to the Bill? Of course, I welcome it, but I would be interested to hear the department’s thinking.

Turning to some of the speeches we have heard this afternoon, first, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, got back from his cruise relatively unscathed—I say “relatively”, given that he is coughing right at this moment. I also thought that the examples he gave of Berwyn prison were very good ones, and they should inspire other prisons to work in a similar way. Of course, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about the importance of alternatives to prison.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for talking about particular cases. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about young prisoners, many of whom have been in care. It must be said that many young prisoners have committed much more serious offences than their adult counterparts—nevertheless, there is an extremely high reoffending rate for young prisoners. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds made a good point when talking about the particular problems of women when they leave prison, not least because they are far further away from their home—or very likely to be—because of the nature of the prison estate.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, who has a lot of experience in this area, as the House will be aware, spoke about the key ingredients for release. Of course, they are the same key ingredients: accommodation, stable relationships and something to do with your time—namely, education, a job or something like that. That is a truism in trying to promote rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. I support the Bill, because I think it goes one step along the road to achieving that. However, there is a lot more to do to try to rectify the current situation.

12:33
Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, first, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for a characteristically compelling and very moving speech on this issue. I also thank him for the work he is doing—in particular, in encouraging his contacts in Brixton to work with prisoners to obtain jobs on their release, particularly from Brixton prison. This is a very positive development, and it has been a great pleasure to work with him on this issue. I am grateful for the very broad support the Bill has received, both in the other place and in this House, and to all those who have worked on it, particularly Simon Fell MP. I am also grateful for the input of Nacro and other interested parties. It is a great pleasure, for once, to be able to say that we are all more or less on the same page, working in the same direction.

As far as the Government are concerned, the direction of travel is indeed towards rejuvenation, to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and rehabilitation generally. I was particularly pleased about and grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for recounting the positive developments at Berwyn prison in particular, which seems to be setting a good example of the work that can be done and what can be achieved with targeted resettlement and rehabilitation efforts, particularly concentrating on employment—local possibilities with local employers—and accommodation and related matters. I take the opportunity to say that that was very much driven by my right honourable friend the late Secretary of State for Justice, who resigned today but who has very much led the direction of travel for rehabilitation and resettlement of prisoners.

The importance of the Bill is shown by the widespread and consistent support it has received. It is a simple measure, as has been said, but it is likely to have a strong and positive impact on the rehabilitation of offenders leaving custody and it is clear that it commands widespread public support. I am sure that it will particularly help the repeat offenders referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, and I hope that it will reduce that “very lonely place” to which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, rightly referred. It will be particularly important, as has been mentioned, for youth offenders, who were underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. Because we now have relatively fewer youth offenders in custody, youth offending establishments can be quite far away from home, so youth offenders who are released face enormous difficulties if they do not have a support system. This will enable much better support for that particular category of prisoners, including those who have been in the recently created secure 16 to 19 year-old schools, and will mean that they will experience no delay in contacting their youth justice worker and can be properly protected. I compliment and thank the Youth Justice Board for all its work in this general area.

I fully accept the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that there is a great deal more to be done, but I venture to suggest that we are beginning to make progress in these areas with the various initiatives that have rightly been mentioned. In that connection, the noble Lord asked what has changed since the Government’s previous position. As I understand it, there was a consultation on the Prisons Strategy White Paper which produced a lot of responses. It enabled further discussion to be had, particularly with policy officials, prison staff and third parties in the community as to how we should manage all this. The Secretary of State will now delegate the decision to prison governors and the equivalent but will give some guidance as to how it is going to work, so that you give priority to certain people and make sure that, as it were, it is staged down through Wednesday and Thursday as well as Friday. There will still be some residual prisoners who are released on Friday; there is no particular reason why those who have homes to go to, such as the white collar offender, should have particular priority, but that enables you to give priority to the people who need it most.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked why we need an Act of Parliament. We need one because—I think I am right about this; I will write to the noble Lord if I am wrong—if Parliament says you should serve a sentence of so much, you have to serve that sentence. Only Parliament can authorise people to be released just short—in this case, a couple of days short—of serving that sentence. Although it is only a couple of days, one needs legislative authority to do it. I think that is the answer, but I will check in case I have it wrong.

I hope I have covered the various points that were made. This is perhaps not the occasion to discuss sentencing policy. I entirely accept the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that these matters, including whether we should use prison in a slightly different way and whether we should avoid shorter sentences, need to be reviewed continually. These are important issues but I venture to suggest that they are not for today.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for his contribution, in particular in relation to the female estate. I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester is particularly concerned about that. As has been pointed out, we have the same problem with the female estate because it has relatively few offenders so there are not that many female establishments, meaning that offenders are often far from home; they can also be very vulnerable when they are released. This problem needs particular planning; I hope this Bill will give us an opportunity to ameliorate it.

Following what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, was kind enough to tell us, I can say that the Government have taken significant steps in improving prison leavers’ accommodation; in building stronger links with employers through dedicated prison employment leads, so that there are now people in the prisons who are responsible for finding employment and prison employment advisory boards through which, as the noble Lord illustrated, local business leaders can come into local prisons; in offering more work within prison; in delivering and improving a prisoner education service; in increasing access to drugs rehabilitation; and in other actions.

The reoffending rate is slowly coming down, from 31% in 2009-10 to 25.6% in 2019-20, and the Government are further investing in driving it down. These are important interventions. The Bill will be an important support for all the things that are going on and will ensure that the offenders most in need of help will be given a full opportunity to access support before a service is in effect closed for the weekend. We will develop policy guidelines to help heads of establishment or the appropriate officials in youth establishments to target exactly the offenders most in need and support them to make decisions that allow offenders who need it time to resettle and reintegrate into their community.

This is a simple and proportionate Bill. I think I have covered most of the points that were raised. I can only reiterate my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and everyone who has helped to support the Bill. I commend it to the House.

12:43
Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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I thank noble Lords for that wonderful discussion, which added to things to underline the importance of this issue. I am glad that we broadened the argument out. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked why we have not done it before. It is a wonderful thing to be reminded of that. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that you need a job, somewhere to go, a relationship and a place to live and that, if those things are not there, woe betide you when you enter the real world that lives out there.

When I left my custodial sentences behind me, the most interesting thing was the fear. I did not quite know what I was doing, even though I had a family and friends. It was a sense of loss of order and structure. We should never forget that a lot of people who commit crime come from shambolic backgrounds, with enormous stress and emotional and psychological damage. I was a very damaged boy. When you go into a custodial sentence, there are many minuses—you lose your freedom and your decision-making—but sometimes there is the building of comradeship. If you have good screws—sorry, prison officers—who are interested in what you are doing, you almost have a replacement for your family.

I am all for restorative justice. I would have put that farmer on a little boat and made him do it 24 hours a day. It is great to talk about restorative things, but you are dealing with damaged children, and they are our damaged children; 90% of them will be the inheritors of poverty, not people who come from the top drawer. Occasionally you would meet an old Etonian when you were banged up, but it was largely “sex and drugs and rock & roll” that got them there, and we were all very jealous of them. Let us make the prisons work by a process of triangulation. There is the justice system, the education system and the health system. They should all be brought together to make the most of that experience for those troubled children. When a man points a knife at you or throws a brick at you, it is not because he was born with a knife or a brick in his hand. It is because of what has happened to him because of the adult world that we live in. One of the greatest things we can do is to say, “Okay, your life has been bad, but let’s try to make changes”.

When I was in the custodial system as a boy and a young man, quite a lot of people there were looking out for us. They were not great psychologists, but they were looking out for us. I would like to see ordinary people encouraged to come into the custodial system to help and support. I would like to see not just psychiatrists but nurses and teachers in there. I would like to see the people saying, “You are special enough to be locked up, but you are also special enough to assist, so that when you leave, you are special enough to rejoin the rest of the world”.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill

Order of Commitment discharged
Wednesday 24th May 2023

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Act 2023 Read Hansard Text
Order of Commitment
15:52
Moved by
Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird
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That the order of commitment be discharged.

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill

Third Reading
10:25
Motion
Moved by
Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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My Lords, I thank Simon Fell, MP for Barrow and Furness, for his wonderful work on getting the Bill off the ground.

What is so interesting about the Bill is that we invest a vast amount of money in putting people in prison and if, at the end of that period, they are released on a Friday and have no family support, friendships or relationships and cannot go to Citizens Advice, the local authority or any of the other support services, they often fall homeless over the weekend. We know that homeless people who have been let out of prison have the temptation and possibility of falling back into the crisis of poverty and the crisis of crime.

Therefore, I am pleased that we are making this wonderful little nugget of change to help us consider that there are a lot of other things to do. Is it not wonderful that we can say, “If we make that investment in somebody’s life, let’s make sure that, when they get out, they don’t fall back into grief”? I beg to move.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bird, described the Bill as a “nugget of change”; that is a modest thing for him to say.

Although the scope of the Bill is narrow and specific, it will make demonstrable change. There have been attempts to make this change in other, larger Bills in the past, which have fallen by the wayside, so I congratulate him, as a relatively new Member of this House, on getting through this significant addition to the way we manage people who come out of prison. As he said, this is a very vulnerable group of people who are very likely to reoffend, particularly if they are released on a Friday, so every step, however little, matters to try to reduce reoffending. I congratulate the noble Lord.

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, I too add my thanks and congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for persevering in taking this Bill through the House and for continuing the good work of the honourable Member for Barrow and Furness, Mr Simon Fell, in the other place.

This is a simple yet effective Bill that will play an important role in supporting the Government’s drive to reduce reoffending and protect the public. It will ensure that custody leavers have a better chance to access the support they need to reintegrate into the community and turn their backs on a life of crime. The Bill achieves that by enabling the offender’s release date, where it would have fallen on a Friday or the day before a public or bank holiday, to be brought forward by up to two eligible days, so that they will be released earlier in the week. Offenders with resettlement needs will no longer need to try to access these services, under what may well be very challenging circumstances, as the weekend begins and services and support stop or fade away.

The Bill applies to both adults and children sentenced to detention. It will ensure that the relevant release provisions exist and apply in all youth settings, including the recently created secure 16-to-19 schools.

I am very grateful to the Members, Lords and officials who have worked so diligently to bring forward the Bill, and to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and his colleagues for their support and encouragement. I am once again very pleased to reiterate the Government’s support, and very much look forward to seeing the Bill on the statute book.

Bill passed.

Royal Assent

11:06
The following Acts were given Royal Assent:
Shark Fins Act,
Co-operatives, Mutuals and Friendly Societies Act,
Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Act,
Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Act,
Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Act,
British Nationality (Regularisation of Past Practice) Act,
Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act,
Financial Services and Markets Act.
The following Measure was given Royal Assent:
Diocesan Stipends Funds (Amendment) Measure.