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.