Wera Hobhouse made an impassioned speech in the chamber, highlighting the dire state of our rehabilitation system.
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"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to welcome the new Prisons Minister to his role. His predecessor had promised to resign in August if he hadn’t achieved a substantial reduction in prison violence by then. Will the new minister stick to their pledge?
This Tory Government has collapsed into paralysis – where even the most pressing crisis cannot be addressed with action. Prisons and the state of our probations services is one example of just such a crisis.
The partial privatisation of our probation services has been another instance of the Tories determination to implement a rushed and badly researched policy. The new system was introduced without research or piloting meaning that the state we now find these services in is sadly predictable.
Rehabilitation should be a wholistic project in which an offender and his community feel secure and able to rebuild.
This type of work cannot be done on a shoestring – or when the concern is completely focused on the bottom line. This is a public project – which asks us what type of society we are trying to create.
Contracting should not be rejected out of hand and yet there must be a push for integration, from the public sector, which informs this contracting.
The Liberal Democrats believe in society which puts rehabilitation and communities first. Today’s reality couldn’t be further from this.
Last month’s Justice Select Committee Report confirms what the Liberal Democrats have been saying for months – our prisons are not fit for purpose.
The prison population has exploded, leaving the services unable to cope with the demand. 60% of prisons are overcapacity and some prisons now hold 50% more inmates then they were intended for.
This pressure for space has a human cost.
Recent statistics on deaths, assaults, and self-harm in prisons are shockingly high, and increasing. Last year 325 people died in prison, including 92 suicides, and there were more than 50,000 recorded incidents of self-harm.
Tory policies means that this crisis will become more extreme, with the prison population projected to rise by 3,000 over the next 3 years.
And what are the long-term consequences for everyone else?
We are failing to rehabilitate. With record numbers of ex-prisoners going on to reoffend, it’s putting more strain on a system already stretched to its breaking point.
Short sentences are one of the many explanations for this escalating problem. And yet we already know short term sentences simply don’t work. Evidence released by this Government prove that community sentences are far, far more likely to stop someone reoffending.
Short sentences target the most vulnerable offenders – especially women, with 72% of all women offenders being sentenced for less than a year. 61% of these female offenders, sentenced to short term sentences, go on to reoffend.
Often these months in prison are just enough time for a woman to lose her job, house, and children. They find themselves released back into society with no safety nets and very little in the way of support.
Private probation companies are simply not up for the job given the state of today’s prisons and the severe lack of integration between these services.
Today we’ve heard story after story of these companies being unable to offer the support they are required to give.
Some of these failures are worse then others. Reports from the HM Inspectorate of Probation last September found that private probation companies were failing to protect survivors of abuse once the abuser had been returned to the community.
This report stated: "Too often we were left wondering how safe victims and children were, especially when practitioners failed to act on new information indicating that they could be in danger."
Further investigations discovered that only 27% of eligible offenders had been referred to an accredited programme designed to prevent further abuse.
Private probation companies, allowed under the new system to manage low to medium risk cases, are over stretched. Last September’s report stated that private probation companies viewed home visits as a “luxury”. Domestic factors - such as escalating abuse or unstable living situations – are often the determining factor in whether someone goes on to reoffend. It is simply not acceptable that probation companies are not able to able to enter these spaces due to the costs involved.
The prisons system, and in extension the probations services, are not considered by most people who hope they will never encounter them personally. However, the way we treat those men and women unfortunate enough to end up in the prison system matters – not just to the individuals but also to our wider communities.
Rehabilitation, when done properly, spans both the prisons system and probation services. This work must be integrated to be successful. Rehabilitation is not just some soft-hearted liberal project –ultimately it is about the security of our communities.
I would like to call on this Government to reinvest in rehabilitation by reforming standards, increasing resources, and improving services, to build a safer and more cohesive society."