The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Damian Hinds)
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.