Yesterday Shadow Justice Minister (and practising criminal solicitor) David Burrowes spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on effective sentencing. This follows a report from the Justice Committee (chaired by the Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith).
Mr Burrowes made a lengthy speech. Herewith highlights.
"Reference has been made to the whole issue of reoffending and seeking to reduce it. The statistics make stark reading and impact severely on all our communities. There is an estimate—and it has to be an estimate in many ways—of 65 per cent. reconvictions. I make that point because it is only in relation to the reconvictions about which we know that we are able to say that 65 per cent. of adults are reoffending. What is the figure in terms of actual reoffending—in other words, those who do not get to the criminal justice system?
The point has also been made that reoffending sadly increases when the age of an offender is younger—the figure is 75 per cent. of 18 to 21 year olds and is even higher for those under 18. Therefore, the matter is of real concern to us all.
There are certain answers that we can come up with for what works. If one talks to the Youth Justice Board or to others—as it has, indeed, pointed out to me in a meeting today—housing, family ties and having a job helps. Those three factors have a massive impact on someone when they have been released from prison. All too often, there is a lack of not just one, but all three of those factors in relation to helping drive down crime. We need to consider sentencing in relation not only to the process of what happens in court and the sentence that is handed down, but the effect of the sentence and how it is enforced both in custody and in a non-custodial setting. Crucially, we also need to consider what happens in the time after a sentence and ensure that the investment in trying to ensure that the offender does not reoffend is properly made out and given true value by resettlement.
That is why we have produced the document “Prisons with a Purpose”—if you will forgive me, Mr. Key, for advertising it. I have not got a signed copy here, but I certainly recommend that all hon. Members read it. We would say that a key part of providing effective sentencing is to improve accountability, which is so lacking throughout the system. In terms of the adult prison estates, we must ensure that a prison governor, through a prison rehabilitation trust, has that accountability. Indeed, payment by results would ensure that rehabilitation programmes in prison drive down the risks of reoffending, that there is involvement outside on resettlement and that there is housing, a family connection and a job. That would very much help to reduce high reoffending rates.
I commend the Committee on highlighting the failings of the Government’s sentencing approach. They include: the plethora of ill-considered and reactive legislation; the failure to plan for the introduction of indeterminate sentences; the inappropriate warehousing of mentally ill prisoners, whom we have not had the opportunity to discuss, but who are a key concern; the lack of judicial and public confidence in community penalties; the massive overcrowding; and the almost 50,000 criminals who are released early. They represent a damning verdict on the Government, particularly in terms of providing sufficient prison capacity—despite numerous warnings that their building programme was inadequate."