Justice Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 92

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Justice Committee

on Tuesday 26 March 2013

Members present:

Sir Alan Beith (Chair)

Steve Brine

Jeremy Corbyn

Mr Elfyn Llwyd

Seema Malhotra

Andy McDonald

Graham Stringer

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Helen Grant MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Ian Porée, Rehabilitation Programme Director, Ministry of Justice, and Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer, National Offender Management Service, gave evidence.

Chair: I welcome the Minister and Mr Spurr back to the Committee and welcome Mr Porée. We have bones to pick with your officials about how the Committee should be kept informed of things that are happening, but we do not propose to spend this meeting talking about them, because we are more interested in the direction of travel in the document that was produced on Friday. Although brief, it has a direction of travel that most of us very much welcome. I ask Mr Corbyn to open up.

Q250 Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you very much for coming. You will be pleased to know that yesterday the Committee had a very good visit to HMP Styal and Adelaide House. We understand that you will be visiting Adelaide House in the near future.

Helen Grant: In May-and Styal as well.

Q251 Jeremy Corbyn: Excellent. I hope you will be as impressed as we were with some of the work that has been done.

Helen Grant: I am looking forward to it.

Q252 Jeremy Corbyn: The Secretary of State has twice told the Committee that he has separated ministerial responsibility for men and women in prisons. Has this happened? How is it working in the Department at the moment?

Helen Grant: Yes, it certainly has happened. It reflects the fact that he sees clearly that women have specific needs and certain issues that have to be recognised. He decided to put me in charge of women in the criminal justice system. My colleague Minister, Jeremy Wright, is responsible for men in the criminal justice system, so there is definite separation.

Q253 Jeremy Corbyn: In your view, what are the specific needs of women in prison?

Helen Grant: I think that women offenders are a highly vulnerable group. They commit crime-not always, as I was quoted in one of the papers, but often-because they are highly vulnerable and because of earlier failures to protect and support them. They often have different needs from men. They are more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. They are more likely to self-harm and to have mental health problems, and they are more likely to be primary carers at the time and date of sentencing. We are therefore dealing with a different situation. If we are going to be really serious about reducing reoffending, we have to address some of the root causes that lead women to offend. We have to deal with those causes, whether they are drugs, alcohol or domestic violence.

Q254 Jeremy Corbyn: In the light of your first few months as the Minister, what do you think the system does and does not do well in respect of women prisoners and potential prisoners?

Helen Grant: In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of prisons. I have been to Holloway and Eastwood Park in Gloucester. Prior to becoming a Minister, I went to East Sutton Park, which is fairly near my constituency. I have been to the Elizabeth Fry approved centre, and I have been able to visit the ISIS women’s centre in Gloucester, Alana House in Reading and the Minerva women’s centre in London. To be perfectly honest with you, I have seen some very good practice both in prisons and in the women’s community facilities that I have been able to visit.

To give you an example, when I visited Holloway, I was able to see women being prepared and made ready for work, in terms of clothes and producing CVs, which is absolutely key. They are then linked into an organisation through the gate called Working Chance, which I have also been able to visit, so that, on release, a woman has a much better chance of finding a job. Of course, when a woman finds a job, it gives structure to her life and puts some money in her pocket. As they say, there is also pride in her progress, which is absolutely key in reducing reoffending. That is an example of very good practice that I was able to see in prison.

With regard to the women’s community facilities, which I like very much, I saw some fantastic partnership working when I went to the ISIS women’s centre in Gloucester. I was able to sit in on part of a drug rehabilitation session where the women were challenged to change their life, which is what these facilities can really do. Many still see them as slightly easier options, but they are not-they really do challenge women to address the issues that caused them to offend in the first place. That was very good practice that I saw there. I also saw women being helped to break the cycle of domestic violence. As I am sure you know, many women in prison have been victims of domestic violence. Speaking as someone who was a domestic violence family lawyer for 23 years prior to becoming a politician, I know absolutely what domestic violence can do to a woman. It absolutely crushes self-confidence and self-esteem, which are the prerequisites, of course, for aspiration, motivation, success and, as far as we are concerned here, stopping reoffending. Unless you can get that self-confidence back and get rid of the perpetrator-the person who is pulling you down-the chances of being able to move on are much reduced. I hope that has answered the question. I have seen an awful lot of good practice.

Q255 Jeremy Corbyn: I agree with you about Holloway; it is in my area and I have visited it. What are the weak areas in treatment of women prisoners, in your view, from what you have observed so far? What do we not do well?

Helen Grant: Can I bring my colleagues into this? I have with me the chief executive of NOMS, on my right, and Ian Porée, who is dealing with our "Transforming Rehabilitation" programme and is in charge of commissioning. They may well have some interesting comments on where we perhaps need to do better.

Michael Spurr: I think we have been getting better at targeting our interventions to meet the specific needs of women, but there is still more to do on that. What we call our philosophy of segmentation is really about trying to identify the specific needs of an offender group and then ensuring that we are putting resources into meeting those needs. For a long time, we did not do anything like sufficient work with women.

Over recent years, we have accelerated the work we have done to look at the specific needs of women. That has led us to develop particular programmes such as the CARE programme, which is running at Foston Hall at the minute and will run at New Hall. It targets women with complex needs after offences of violence against the person and is aimed specifically at those particular women. We are identifying the people who need that type of programme. For example, we have been doing work in the community with Women’s Aid to develop the freedom programme for women who have been involved with domestic violence. Again, that is a very specific, targeted programme to meet particular needs.

There is still further work to do in that area, as we get better at understanding it. There is still not sufficient evidence about what the specific needs of women are; to be quite frank, there is a frustrating lack of it. Only in recent years have we really targeted the group and looked at what are the gender-specific issues that we should be tackling. I think that is the area for further development, although I want to make the point that we have been tackling that area and, I would have to say, have made some considerable progress in it.

Q256 Chair: Can I be clear about your ministerial responsibility? When the Secretary of State came in, he talked about being responsible for women in prisons. Does that extend to women offenders-women in the criminal justice system-generally? That is a question to the Minister.

Helen Grant: That is certainly my understanding of it.

Q257 Chair: This is really a question for Mr Spurr. Might it not be a good thing if you were more ready to be frank about the weaknesses in the system, rather than rushing to claim the credit for the areas of improvement? Obviously, we are also interested in those.

Helen Grant: Are you addressing Mr Spurr?

Chair: Any of you can answer the question, but it arose out of Mr Spurr’s earlier reply.

Michael Spurr: I did say that I thought we needed to do more in that area. Equally, I wanted to say that it was not something we had just thought about and were not working on. The response to the question was that I do think we need to do more to target the specific needs of women. I do not think I was being overly-defensive-I was trying to demonstrate that we had recognised the issue and were working on it. If I may say so, I do not think it is unreasonable for somebody in my position to say, "We have identified something that is wrong and are trying to put it right." If I were not doing that, you would be asking me why not.

Helen Grant: On that matter, I think considerable improvements and advancement have happened in the last six years, since Jean Corston’s report. A lot has happened; I may be asked about that later. There is also recognition of the fact that, just because there have been improvements, it does not mean that we are there. Sadly, women are continuing to get involved in crime, chaos, havoc and family breakdown, with children going into care and repossessions, and there are still a lot of women in prison. As long as that is the situation and as long as I am responsible for this part of the portfolio, of course we will have to do more. That brings me back to why we have published the strategic priorities. It would, I hope, explain some of the content as well.

Q258 Andy McDonald: Good morning, Minister. We have heard from a lot of witnesses in the course of our inquiry that, effectively, in the absence of visible leadership, progress on the Corston agenda has stalled. Do you accept that, before your appointment, the MOJ did not give women’s offending the attention required to maintain progress on the Corston recommendations?

Helen Grant: No, I don’t accept that at all. I think there has been considerable movement on the Corston recommendations. The Government have accepted 40 out of 43 of them. Michael at NOMS has implemented many of them. We have embedded gender-specific standards, training and initiatives right across the prison regime. Michael referred to a superb facility that runs in conjunction with Women’s Aid that really helps women in the prison regime to address issues such as domestic violence. We have also ended routine full searching of females. We have established a women-specific conditional caution. I think that is a very good initiative, because it allows a woman to be effectively assessed-to have a full needs assessment at one of the women’s centres. We have actually reduced the female estate by 400. NOMS has invested £3.78 million in the funding of 31 women’s centres around the country, the vast majority of which are doing a very good job of tackling the root cause of female offending. I would have to disagree-I think a lot has been done. I am pleased with it, but of course we need to do more.

Q259 Andy McDonald: How have your approaches to other Government Departments on these matters been received? Is there the critical mass of women Ministers that Baroness Corston thought was crucial to progressing this agenda?

Helen Grant: For example, I sit on an interministerial group on human trafficking and an interministerial group on violence against women and girls. Another of my colleagues at the MOJ-I cannot remember which one; it might be Jeremy Wright-sits on the interministerial group on homelessness. For a start, there is that. It does not do any harm at all-in fact, it is very beneficial-that I am a Minister in the Justice Department with responsibility for women in the criminal justice system and also one of the Ministers for women and equalities, so you have the overlap there. Going forward, the new powerful advisory board I referred to in my strategic priorities anticipates membership from criminal justice partners and stakeholders but also from other Government Ministers and officials, which will allow us together to pull all the levers we need to pull right across Whitehall to get the job done that we need to do.

Coming back to specifics on that-it started well before my time, so I cannot take credit for it-very good interdepartmental work is happening with Health on certain liaison and diversion services from police custody and from court. We are working with Health on some very good pilots for intensive treatment-based alternatives to custody. We have been working with the Home Office on the violence against women and girls strategy. Of course, we also work with DCLG on its troubled families strategy and trying to stop intergenerational criminal behaviour. There is quite a lot happening, but that is not to say that we cannot do more.

Q260 Andy McDonald: On the latter point, who has ministerial responsibility for those women who are not yet in the criminal justice system but are at risk of entering it? Does that fall within your remit?

Helen Grant: To a certain extent, on the fringe. Some of those women will be attending the 31 women’s centres, so we will have an opportunity to try to catch and divert them at that point.

Q261 Andy McDonald: Was that by accident, though? Is it the case that no direct responsibility was laid out to say that that comes within somebody’s remit and it just happens that the women’s centres necessarily embrace women who are in the system and those who might be at risk?

Helen Grant: No, it is part of the responsibility, and there is work to be done. However, it is not just the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. It will be the responsibility of a number of other Government Departments, as well, to deal generally with vulnerable and high-risk women.

Q262 Andy McDonald: You mentioned the advisory board. Who do you plan to have sit on that board? Have you had have any thoughts on that? Are you planning internal structural changes at official level to support the work of the new board?

Helen Grant: On the basis that we have not sent out the letters to those whom we want to have on the board, it would probably be wrong for me to jump the gun and announce that to you today without telling them. I hope the Chair accepts that. As I said, it will be made up of critical criminal justice partners and stakeholders, other appropriate Ministers across Government and high-level officials. We will have our first meeting in May. The meetings are likely to be every quarter.

Q263 Chair: When the Government proposed to set up an advisory board for youth justice-a decision that was overtaken by events, of course-this Committee was given a clear assurance that any recommendations of the advisory board would be made known to this Committee. Will that kind of assurance be given in this case as well?

Helen Grant: Could I take advice on that and write to you this afternoon?

Q264 Chair: I see Mr Spurr shaking his head sideways.

Michael Spurr: I cannot see any reason why we would not share recommendations.

Helen Grant: I cannot see any difficulty.

Chair: Clearly, the Government recognised in relation to the youth advisory board that the whole point of the board was to put forward recommendations that could then be not only presented to Ministers but examined and often, no doubt, supported by this Committee in the process that would follow. It is quite important that we have that access.

Q265 Steve Brine: Let us turn to community-based provision. Last week you announced the additional £300,000 for women’s centres, although it was mentioned in the House earlier in March in response to a question from Fiona Mactaggart MP. How has that £300,000 been allocated?

Helen Grant: It will obviously be in addition to the £3.78 million we spent last year and have committed to again going forward for 2013-14. It is a funny word, but really it will provide additionality, putting services and facilities where they are not at the moment. I also mentioned it at Justice Questions, because I think it is something that we need to do. I want a deepening and strengthening of services at certain facilities as well.

Q266 Steve Brine: It is a lot of money in normal parlance, but it is not a lot of money if you are talking about additionality for gaps in service and strengthening existing service. It will not go far, will it? Would Michael like to add to that?

Helen Grant: I would like him to do so, but I would also like to say something. We already know that more money than the £3.78 million plus the £300,000 will go in, because some probation trusts are committing their own resources to women’s community centres that, rightly, are probably having to do the same or more with a little bit less. They value the service and are saying, "Okay, we will make up the difference." Examples of that are Thames Valley and the London Probation Trust. It will become clear as we go forward, but we are talking about minimum amounts. I think that is positive.

Michael Spurr: This is the only set of money that we have ring-fenced in the whole of the NOMS agency budget-around £3.5 million on top of the baseline provision for probation trusts-for women’s services. Last year, the probation trusts added £180,000, which is what takes it to £3.78 million this year. We have said that the whole of what was spent last year above the baseline provision will be ring-fenced. The baseline provision is what standard services for women will be provided from. I think that is really important. The work that has been going on has been to extend provision, particularly in those trusts that had not had any additionality through the original £3.5 million. I know there was a lot of concern about what was happening with the services, as discussions were taking place with women’s centres and others. I met the Corston funders, and we have provided complete transparency about where we are in those negotiations. I know that the National Audit Office is going to look at what has happened with that money. I welcome that, because I think it will demonstrate that more money is actually going into this. Of course, it would be great to have a lot more money to put into this area, but we have a reducing budget. To be able to ring-fence and increase the amount of money that is there for additionality is a success in what is an important area for us.

Q267 Steve Brine: With a challenging budget, what has NOMS been doing to monitor the effectiveness of the women’s centres? What information do you hold about their effectiveness in reducing reoffending, for example?

Michael Spurr: There is a limited evidence base at the moment for their effectiveness in reducing reoffending. As you will appreciate, it requires clear measures and time to be able to say what impact has occurred. Quite frankly, we have not had the clear measures in any of those centres and the data that would enable us to evaluate them on a reducing reoffending basis.

Q268 Steve Brine: Why not? Because you have not had enough time to do so? How long has the oldest of them, for instance, been there?

Michael Spurr: About three years. The reality is that the individual centres themselves have not collated the data. They have done some work on evaluation; the women’s turnaround projects, for example, were evaluated. It did not conclude that we were able, with the data that were available, to say that these had reduced reoffending. However, it did conclude that there was value in the centres; most people would recognise that. On the softer measures, there was general agreement that what the centres were doing was positive for the women who were there and that, generally, they fit a "What Works" agenda in terms of building social esteem and engaging people, particularly early on in their offending lives. At this moment, we have indications that these are positive, but we do not have evaluative evidence that demonstrates that they are reducing reoffending. We have set requirements for collation of data from the centres as we now go forward with formal contracts. NOMS has been involved directly with the centres only for the last two years. We have now set data collection requirements that will enable us to have a better evaluation of how the centres are operating going forward.

Q269 Steve Brine: You can see my concern. We as a Committee are trying to put together a report backed by evidence to support policy moves. Although you are saying that there is general agreement that they are building self-esteem, if women are going out and committing more crimes, but doing so with confidence, that does not really satisfy me. I was slightly surprised, to be honest, when we went to Adelaide House yesterday. I concur with Mr Corbyn that it was very impressive. The unit was led with strength and confidence by a very strong woman called Pat Thomas, who was very much the matriarchal figure. However, when we asked about their success rate, they did not know. Then, when I asked about their being recommissioned, she said that you were about to recommission them for another 12 months. On the basis of what-a general feeling that they are doing good things?

Michael Spurr: They take difficult-to-place women who would struggle to find accommodation and support on the outside. Relatively small numbers are involved. Getting proper evaluated statistical evidence with small numbers and cohorts is always difficult. Reoffending data in themselves are difficult to collate. Generally, you need relatively large cohorts that you can match against similar cohorts to see whether or not a particular intervention has had an impact. What the centres are doing is broadly in line with our wider "What Works" evidence base. We are looking to refine that and get better evaluated data, but you should not stop doing work that is broadly in line with the "What Works" agenda.

Q270 Andy McDonald: You say that because it is a small number it is hard to evaluate. We are sitting here wondering why that should be. We would have thought that a smaller number was easier to evaluate, as there would be smaller numbers to track, reflect on and report on.

Michael Spurr: Individual centres will talk about their individual women and say, "We have had success," but, in statistical terms, to be able to demonstrate that that particular intervention has been the cause of that success, you have to be able to match the people with whom they are working with a similar cohort of people they have not been working with. That is what I meant. That is harder to do with smaller numbers than with a larger cohort of people.

Helen Grant: I think we are going to be in a position to do that very soon, because since April, we have been monitoring the referrals that have been made from the probation trusts to the 31 women’s centres. In a few weeks’ time, we will have a year’s worth of data. Then we will be able to compare the reoffending rates of women who have been into the women’s centres, for example, with those of women who have not.

Q271 Steve Brine: I suppose I am trying to separate out the 31 women’s centres from the six approved premises. Those are the more hard-core end, aren’t they?

Michael Spurr: Approved premises are primarily around protection, as opposed to women’s centres, which are more open-for those who run the risk of offending, as well as for those who have been offending. It is equally difficult to evaluate the specific impact they have made on that group. However, as I said, we are collating data and looking at a range of measures. The softer measures, relating to individuals’ response when they come back-how they involve themselves in employment and so on-do matter. We are collecting those data now, which should give us a better understanding going forward.

Steve Brine: There is something else, but we will move on.

Q272 Chair: Can I look at the issue of deaths in custody, which was, of course, the starting point for Corston? There has been some improvement on that, but the INQUEST group published a research report highlighting serious flaws in the learning process following inquests into deaths in custody. It identified patterns in cases of deaths in custody: histories of disadvantage and complex needs; inappropriate use of imprisonment; isolation from families; prison being unable to meet women’s needs; poor medical care; and limited access to therapeutic services. Incidentally, those are all things of which we saw the opposite yesterday, as better attention is being given to them there. However, that range of criticisms, the continued high rate of deaths in custody among women and the very high rate of self-harm all suggest that you have some way to go yet. Do you agree? What are you doing about it?

Helen Grant: Lessons always have to be learned. We take the findings from coroners’ inquests very seriously indeed. Of course, this information has to inform our policies, initiatives and strategies. Again, this is Michael’s area, so I ask him to comment.

Michael Spurr: I do not think it is fair to say that we do not try to learn lessons from coroners’ inquests or, indeed, incidents as they occur. We have a group within headquarters-the safe custody team-that looks specifically at incidents of self-harm and deaths in custody and is dedicated to learning from those. Overall levels of both self-harm and deaths in custody have reduced. With self-harm, that is particularly because of reductions in the female estate; it has actually gone up in the male estate, with young men, but it has come down significantly with women, in terms of both the number of women who have been self-harming and the number of incidents of self-harm. The number of deaths is relatively small, because the female estate is relatively small. You therefore have to be very careful about statistical analysis, but thankfully there have been fewer deaths. The overall rate of suicide is as low as it has been since the mid-80s. That is not completely by accident-it is because we have been trying to learn lessons.

We work very closely with INQUEST. The Ministerial Board and Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody have supported us in that work. We sit with INQUEST and others and look at what learning we can take out. The reality is that an awful lot of what the report from INQUEST said, which I do not disagree with, acknowledges the very complex needs that women have. The whole issue around mental health-the vulnerability that women have when coming into custody, which puts them at a much greater risk of both self-harm and, therefore, potential suicide-makes it necessary to do the type of work that I was talking about earlier to identify the specific interventions that we can develop to address those needs, and that can make the difference. The type of support groups that we put together for women to address, in custody, the whole issue of abuse that many women have suffered are things that we neglected for far too long; we have been trying to do more of those. I do not think that we are resting on our laurels at all. Do I think we have further to go? Absolutely, because every incident of self-harm and every death is unacceptable from anybody’s perspective-we do not want that to happen. In no way are we where we want to be, but I believe that we have been making progress on that.

Q273 Chair: It has long been this Committee’s view that initial training for prison officers is too limited. To what extent do you give additional or special training to those who are going into the women’s custody estate?

Michael Spurr: Since 2007, we have developed specific women’s awareness training. I will not disagree with you that we would like to be able to give our staff a lot more training and professional development. The Committee has made that point before, and I have agreed with it before. There is an affordability issue. I cannot hide from that, but we have developed specific women’s awareness training, which I think has helped. It goes along with the whole line of trying to get gender-specific arrangements in place for managing the women’s prison population, which, it is now fully accepted, is different from the mainstream population we deal with, which is obviously dominated by men.

Q274 Chair: Do you think that the rough balance of male and female officers in the women’s estate is right? Do you have a view on what it should be in most institutions?

Michael Spurr: It is about right. It is about 60% female and 40% male. On both male and female, I would not want it to be very different from that; around 60% to 40% is about the balance that you would want for the specific gender of the population. In some prisons where the figure is slightly below 60%-not by much-I would want it to be up to 60% women in the establishment. That is a reasonable benchmark for what we think operates properly, while being able to provide equality of opportunity for women to work in male establishments and for men to work in female establishments. Equally, we must recognise the specific needs of the population, as obviously there are certain functions that can be carried out only by somebody of the same sex as the offender. It is a necessary requirement, therefore, to have a higher proportion of the gender that we are managing in a particular prison.

Q275 Chair: Are there any problems with getting that balance right?

Michael Spurr: There have been. The problems normally occur if you re-role a prison and have the wrong mix. We have not done that for a while. We went through a period in the 1990s and early 2000s when we were changing men’s prisons into women’s prisons; that is when most of the issues occurred. You may then have the wrong balance, and switching that over is difficult. Of late, we have not done that. The only re-role has been the other way-out of the female estate, for Morton Hall to become an immigration removal centre-so that is less of an issue. We recruit to the 60:40 balance as a reasonable and proper justifiable demarcation.

Q276 Mr Llwyd: That is interesting, because yesterday the governor of Styal prison said that he was hoping to improve substantially on the 60:40 balance, to increase the number of women. I do not know whether he is going against the flow.

Michael Spurr: He is not necessarily going against the flow, and he may want to have more female officers there. You asked me what I thought the balance was. In general terms, both for men’s prisons and for women’s prisons, 60:40 is about what I would accept. I would be worried if we had a balance that was over that. That does not mean that, from the governor of Styal’s perspective, he would not want more female officers. That is fine, but we also have to be fair to staff. I have to be able to justify why you would appoint a woman rather than a man to an establishment if there is equal opportunity. That is justified in order to be able to maintain a proper balance, but generally that balance is about 60:40. That is what we have said on both sides. We have not differentiated and said that you need 70% women in a female establishment but only 60% men in a male establishment; we have said that it is about 60:40 for both.

Q277 Mr Llwyd: Presumably there would be some discretion for the governor to vary that in certain circumstances. Are you talking about an average, across-the-board figure?

Michael Spurr: We have a 60:40 broad ratio. We then have to follow proper employment law in terms of whom we appoint. Generally, as long as we are not breaching an employment law, people can flex that to some degree.

Q278 Chair: Presumably, governors and managers in prisons have the best idea of how far a shift in the balance would help them to manage the problems they have in the prison, rather than some sort of arbitrary figure that sounds about right and fits neatly with maintaining equality of opportunity for staff.

Michael Spurr: I have to take an overview. You asked me what the broad proportion is. Governors have some discretion to flex that. Not everybody is at 60:40; some are better than that. There are a few that are slightly below and that I want to bring up to the 60:40; that is entirely legitimate. I would not say that you have to be at 60:40. I am saying that that is a reasonable breakdown of what the balance should be.

Q279 Andy McDonald: I am sorry to labour the point, but the information we were getting yesterday at Styal was that the outcomes would be better. There was a gender-specific issue of women relating to women that brought about improvements and the default setting with male officers was not the same, in terms of how they would deal with any issue that arose. There would be greater empathy in talking through issues, rather than an iron curtain coming down to say, "This is how it must be." The advice we were getting was that the outcomes were better, in terms of handling behaviours, when the ratio was higher than 60:40.

Chair: It was also the case that the presence of positive male role models was significant and important.

Andy McDonald: Yes.

Michael Spurr: People will have different views on what the right proportion is, but I cannot say that you have to have 100% women in a women’s establishment. That is wrong-it is actually not legal.

Q280 Chair: That is not the view that was put to us.

Michael Spurr: Indeed. You asked broadly about our benchmark, which is 60:40. That does not mean that a governor may not think, "Actually, because of the way this establishment is set out, I might need some more women." As long as there is a rational reason for that, there is some flex within it.

Q281 Mr Llwyd: We were a little concerned when the Secretary of State told us, in effect, that this whole policy area was not really one of his top priorities. He also said that we would not see the long-awaited strategy published this side of the summer. Does the new document we have just had constitute the strategy, or should we expect to see a fuller, maybe cross-departmental, strategy later in the year?

Helen Grant: I can reassure you that this area is absolutely one of my priorities. It is very important to me. We have done a lot of work on this area since I became a Minister. Officials have not stopped. I have visited numerous facilities and institutions, met criminal justice stakeholders and partners, and participated in round-table meetings. It was my great desire, as the Minister responsible, to let this Committee and others, at the very least, see our top-line priorities and, as Sir Alan said at the beginning, the direction of travel. That was very important to me as the Minister responsible for this area. The Secretary of State supported me in relation to that wish and request. A number of Government Ministers had promised this strategic priorities document; the MOJ business plan had referred to it. I do not really want to get bogged down in semantics, but it is about priorities. I cannot say it is a full strategy, because it is not. It will be the board-this powerful new advisory board-that will make things work and come up with a strategy. These are my ideas-my aspiration for improving outcomes for women in the criminal justice system.

Q282 Mr Llwyd: What approach will you take to consulting relevant stakeholders on your objectives?

Helen Grant: Of course we will use the new advisory board to take forward the various priorities, strategies and ideas that we have. We will have a good mix of people and organisations-outside and inside Government-on that group, which will challenge, consider and look at the priorities. If the priorities withstand that, the group will drive them through to delivery. That is how it will work.

Q283 Mr Llwyd: My colleague, Mr McDonald, has touched on this, but I will ask you about it. Your strategic objectives focus primarily on women who are already involved in the criminal justice system. What exactly do you mean by a whole-system approach?

Helen Grant: Could you explain that a little bit more, please?

Q284 Mr Llwyd: Heading number 4 in your document refers to a "whole-system approach". I am not absolutely clear about that. I would have thought that a whole-system approach would encompass those already in the criminal justice system and women and girls we might work with to prevent them from offending.

Helen Grant: I am just reading it now.

Mr Llwyd: If these are your ideas, Minister-

Helen Grant: Bear with me one moment. It is what it says, really. It is about working with partners inside and outside the criminal justice system and trying to improve the life management of women, too. One example of that may well be something that has come out of our "Transforming Rehabilitation" reforms. We are now proposing as an idea that, for those who have been in prison serving short-term sentences and for whom at the moment there is no conditional licence on release, there will be conditions, assistance and support on release to make sure that, from the day they move out of the incarcerated location, they are directed into education, into a job or to a place where they can get housing or treatment. That is really what we are referring to.

Q285 Mr Llwyd: I think that is crucial and absolutely laudable; there is no doubt about that. However-this is something that does concern us-in the overall approach, should there not be some concentration on attempting to prevent young women and girls going into the system in the first place? That is the point I am getting at. Can you look again at whether we should include that particular part in an overarching strategic document? We all know that, if you are able to deal with something at an early stage, it is far better than when somebody enters what is sometimes called the revolving door.

Helen Grant: That is a point well made. Of course, a number of reviews are happening at the moment. There is not just the work that we have been doing on women offenders. There is the whole "Transforming Rehabilitation" agenda that Ian is leading on. We are reviewing the female custodial estate as well, which will impact on what you are saying. There is also the work that we are doing with women’s centres. It is important to recognise that not only ex-offenders use these centres; women and girls who are on the brink-on the edge of offending-are also directed to them. Again, that may be a good example of additionality and deepening and strengthening the service that we provide. I take on board what you have had to say.

Michael Spurr: It is also worth mentioning the work that we have been doing with the Department of Health on diversion arrangements for mentally ill people. The Department of Health is continuing to commit £50 million to extending services for diversion before court, at police custody suites, and at court. That is aimed primarily at diverting people away from the criminal justice system before they enter it. I believe that will have a significant impact on women in particular, because the aim should be to move people into treatment services rather than into the criminal justice system. That is probably the most obvious example of joint, cross-Government working. We have got commitment from the Department of Health in a critical area that will make a big impact for women. I am sure that, as the Minister said, the Department of Health will play a critical part on the advisory board on women that the Minister will chair going forward. That will be the type of arrangement we will need to have with other Departments to take forward the whole-system approach that has been set out.

Q286 Mr Llwyd: I think you would agree that the 31 women’s centres that we have are a vital component of all of that.

Michael Spurr: Exactly. That is why we have continued to fund them.

Q287 Mr Llwyd: How do you respond to the suggestions from some witnesses that the scope of the review of the female custodial estate should be widened to look at the actual use of custody?

Michael Spurr: I do not think there are any plans within the Department to look at the sentencing framework, which would be a much wider review than this is intended to be. The reason for this review, agreed with the Secretary of State, is that we are looking to rationalise the whole of the custodial estate. We have to make savings; that has led us to close some prison establishments. Inevitably, women’s establishments are smaller and high cost, but it would be foolish to think that we will just consider those establishments and the way that we are managing women alongside everything else we are doing for the male estate. The rationale for the review is specifically to look at how we can operate the custodial estate for women more effectively and at what opportunities there are to do things differently within the women’s estate, taking forward further the work I have already spoken about that we have been doing on segmentation-looking at how we are using the resource, what individual establishments should specialise in, whether we have the right type and size of establishments and whether we can find ways of delivering the services that women need better and at less cost, to be frank. We have to look at how we can reduce cost as well, but I do not want to reduce service provision for women; I actually want to do the reverse-to improve service provision for women. The review is unashamedly looking at how we are currently managing within the custodial estate. The sentencing framework is much wider. The review was never intended to look at that.

Q288 Mr Llwyd: I am heartened by what you said earlier about the money going into mental health and so on, but I was told yesterday by a senior member of staff in Styal that over two thirds of the women there are not a danger to anyone in society or to themselves. I wonder whether we should really get to grips with the people who are there. The people who should be there should be there, but those who should not should definitely not be there.

Michael Spurr: There is no question but that we want to ensure that sentencers have strong, good community options for women. Those include things such as the programme for domestic violence that I mentioned earlier. As we develop our community provision, it is important that we have specific programmes and interventions for women that mean that sentencers feel that, if necessary, they can sentence a woman to a community penalty rather than to imprisonment. We should have the type of diversionary arrangements that we spoke about earlier. That is absolutely key to what we are doing at the moment-the right sentence for each individual, man or woman, but particularly providing sentencers with specific options for women, where they are able to use them. The women’s centres play into that as well, when it comes to having specified activities for women in the community. For example, we have developed an acquisitive offending programme that is targeted at women and delivered in the community as an alternative, potentially, to a short prison sentence. It deals with stealing from shops and so on, which is often a particular offence for women to drive a drug habit or other peoples’ drug habits. I think that is important.

Helen Grant: As you have seen from the document, a key element of the priorities-in fact, it is listed as priority number 1-is to provide this robust, punitive, community option for sentencers. From the conversations that I have had with many magistrates, they would often like to sentence a woman to something in the community, but, because there is nothing or there is a worry that the sentence is not credible enough, on occasions the woman will go to prison. As you said, there are some prisons in the country where low-risk women are currently incarcerated. If we can provide more robust community sentences, for a certain category of low-risk women those could be a very good alternative to custody. However, I also make the point very clearly that these sentences have to have a punitive element. The type of punitive element I am thinking of is something like curfew, unpaid work or tagging; there has to be an element of punishment. If these work and we can drive them through, which is one of the elements the advisory board will focus on, we could see a number of low-risk women in the community, dealing with the issues and being challenged to change their lives, and not in prison.

Q289 Chair: Do you recognise that one of your tests is to present to the public-and, indeed, the judiciary and the media-the reality that it is possible to construct alternative sentences for women that are more challenging and more likely to reduce reoffending than a short spell in a women’s prison?

Helen Grant: Yes, I do. I have a recollection of sitting as a member of your Committee-it may well have been in this room-more than a year ago when we heard evidence from an ex-offender, a young man who sat where I am sitting now, who said that what he had to do in his community sentence was more challenging and more difficult in some respects than the time he spent in prison. It is a challenge, because these sentences are not fluffy, easy options. As I said, they have to challenge the woman to change her life, really to get a grip, to get out of these awful relationships and to get off the drink and the drugs. That is the only way we will get better numbers and reduce female reoffending and everything dreadful that, I know as a family lawyer, goes with it. That includes children in care and homes repossessed-havoc.

Q290 Graham Stringer: It is six years since the Corston report. We have had the Bradley report and lots of warm words from Ministers in different Governments, but the number of women imprisoned remains about the same. Why?

Michael Spurr: It is not quite the same.

Graham Stringer: I said it was about the same.

Michael Spurr: It is 5.8% down on a year ago, which was sufficient to enable us to close one women’s prison. I guess that is about the sort of conversation we have just been having-being able to demonstrate to sentencers that there are proper alternatives that meet the requirement of the offence and in which they have confidence. We have been working hard to do that. The women’s prison population is relatively small, so a small reduction is still significant. A 5.8% reduction in the overall population in the 12 months up to last week, when it was 5.8% down on what it was a year ago, is a significant improvement, but obviously we have to provide the places and punishments in the community that will satisfy sentencers that they can properly discharge their responsibility to meet the requirements of the offence. The population of women in prison has gone down, we have closed some places and we are doing more to strengthen community punishments in the way the Minister has described.

Q291 Graham Stringer: Targets have gone out of fashion a bit, but what do you think would be a measure of success in reducing the number of women imprisoned?

Helen Grant: In reducing the number of women in prisons?

Graham Stringer: Yes.

Helen Grant: That is what I want.

Q292 Graham Stringer: As a figure, presumably, one fewer person would not be a success and a 50% reduction would be a success. What would be your measure of success?

Helen Grant: As many as possible-as many as is right, not forgetting, of course, that there are some women who commit very serious crimes and need to be locked up for their own good and the good of society. We do need prisons, often they can serve a very good purpose and they are there. However, as was mentioned earlier, we believe that there is a group or category-I cannot give you a precise number, I am afraid-of low-risk women who could be rehabilitated and moved on to a better life by serving a punitive, robust sentence in the community and, perhaps, using one of the excellent women’s centres we have or some other women’s provision to challenge them to change their lives.

Q293 Graham Stringer: I accept that, but it is very difficult for this Committee to measure or judge whether or not you have been successful if you are not prepared to give a ballpark figure that would be judged a success. I accept that murderers will remain in prison for some time and that there is a group of women for whom prison is not appropriate. Do you have any ballpark figures for that?

Michael Spurr: We are judging success on reoffending, as opposed to prison numbers. The Secretary of State has been very clear that that is the objective. Women’s reoffending rates are lower than men’s; that is positive. Overall, the rate for women is 19%, including all forms of conviction, compared with 29% for men; that includes cautions and so on. The focus is on providing the right alternatives for sentencers in order to be able to meet the needs of the offence. As the Minister said, we are working on strengthening alternatives in the community, but we have not set a target for what the prison population should be. Our aim is to reduce reoffending. I expect that reducing reoffending should lead the prison population to reduce. It has been reducing for women, which is positive, for that reason.

Helen Grant: It also needs to be remembered that who goes to prison is a matter for the independent judiciary. It is not a matter for Helen Grant or for anyone else. That is how it will have to remain. The judge has access to all the circumstances and facts of the case and will have to weigh them up and make a decision. What we want to do for that judge-that sentencer-is to give him or her the maximum number of options possible in terms of where they send a woman.

Q294 Graham Stringer: I understand that, but earlier you talked about diversion strategies. I do not know whether you want to expand on that or whether you could talk about reducing the use of custody for breach-where women are sent to prison for breaching their terms when they would not have been sent to prison for the original offence.

Helen Grant: There is a widely held perception that many women in prison are there for breach of a probation order or a licence for relatively minor offences, but I have some figures before me that say that, in 2009, 13% of women received into prison on immediate custodial sentences were received for breach of a court order, compared with 12% of men. The figures are not good, but they are, perhaps, not as high as some would make out.

Q295 Graham Stringer: I have one last question. You talked about the measure of success being a reduction in reoffending. Are you still publishing statistics on reoffending after two years?

Michael Spurr: The main reoffending figures are published on a one-year basis-that is the annual cycle. We can track reoffending over two years or longer, but the statistics that are normally quoted for the percentage of people who reoffend are for reoffending after one year.

Q296 Graham Stringer: Are they publicly available after two years?

Michael Spurr: Yes.

Q297 Mr Llwyd: Mr Spurr, earlier you used the word "segmentation". What has the NOMS segmentation exercise revealed about the size of the gaps in the service provision that the new commissioning arrangements under "Transforming Rehabilitation" will be expected to plug?

Michael Spurr: I am not sure that the segmentation work is what is driving the "Transforming Rehabilitation" programme; Ian could and should speak about that in a moment. Segmentation identifies what the particular needs of offender populations are and where we should target our limited resources to make best impact on that. It is true for both men and women. We look at offender group reconviction scores, take the highest-risk people in terms of chances of reoffending-those at scores of over 50-look at what programmes and interventions we are providing for those individuals, and make sure that we are targeting the right people to go into the right programmes. From a women’s perspective, for example, we were targeting women at Drake Hall prison, which is in Staffordshire. We had a thinking skills programme-a cognitive-based programme-there. When we looked at the needs of that population, we saw that they were a lower-risk group and were not benefiting from that programme as much as others would have, so we switched to a programme called FOR, which focuses on practical resettlement for women. That is what we mean by segmentation.

The "Transforming Rehabilitation" programme is addressing a different issue. Many providers may well use some of the data and evidence that we have produced on what makes the biggest difference, but it is about changing the way we deliver sentences in the community and radically restructuring them so that we are able to extend provision, as you are aware, to all offenders in custody, including those serving short sentences. That will impact particularly on women, because there are a disproportionate number of women, compared with men, serving short prison sentences. I will ask Ian to say a word about the "Transforming Rehabilitation" programme, just to make that point clearer.

Ian Porée: Picking up from what Michael was describing, earlier you asked what some of the areas are where we think we can still bring in significant new improvements in how we work with women offenders. It would be in that area of managing the transition from within custody back into the community and having a proper through-the-gate or managed model, where, essentially, you have understood the needs of the woman, prepared the release process and then supported the woman, on release, back in the community. The "Transforming Rehabilitation" programme will look not only at bringing in scope those offenders serving short custodial sentences but also at putting in place a through-the-gate service that helps to support the individual through that period of time. At the moment, there is very little through-the-gate provision available from custody back into the community. What the reforms propose is to put in place that level of support. As Michael has already said-

Q298 Mr Llwyd: Could I interrupt you rudely for just one second? Are you saying that the intention would be for everyone, when they go through that gate, to have the necessary back-up? Both you and I know that it is absolutely crucial that it is there, otherwise within hours there is a tendency to reoffend.

Ian Porée: That is the intention-essentially, to commission the services across England and Wales, which put in place that through-the-gate provision for everybody released from custody, including those serving short custodial sentences, as the Minister set out, so that for the first time they will receive that support. At the moment, many do not receive that through-the-gate provision. Of course, in order to take on board that additional scope of services with the group of offenders who currently do not receive these services, we will need to transform the whole system so that it can provide these services. Part of that would be to open up the provision to a much broader range of providers. It is entirely conceivable-the Minister used this example earlier-that a new rehabilitation services provider starting work in custody would join up provision through to something like the women’s community centres, because it would be a very logical support model to work with someone on the inside as well as post-release. The ambition of that is to reduce reoffending. If that is successful, year-on-year reductions in reoffending should reduce the demand within the system.

Q299 Mr Llwyd: I go back to the Corston report. How would you respond to the view held by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation that the Corston report has resulted in too much emphasis on women who have not committed serious offences? If you agree, what do you plan to do to address this?

Helen Grant: At whom are you directing the question? Would you like something from all of us?

Mr Llwyd: Whoever wants to shoot back.

Michael Spurr: I do not think it is fair to say that the review led to an over-emphasis and focus on women with less serious offences. The vast majority of the population in women’s prisons-as, indeed, in male prisons-are serving relatively short sentences and will be released, so it is not unreasonable that there has been a specific focus on that group of offenders, many of whom are repeat offending and, therefore, cause a lot of damage and difficulty for the public. It is right that we would do that.

We have been looking to develop better interventions for individuals in the higher-risk group of women. In fact, very early on, in answer to Mr McDonald’s question about segmentation, I mentioned the CARE programme, which is a very specific programme aimed at women with complex needs who have committed serious violent offences. That was not there before and has been developed specifically to address some of those complex needs. We have closed the women’s unit in Durham prison that held category A women but provided very little for any of those high-risk offenders. We have developed an alternative set of arrangements, including what we now call restricted status. We have a personality disorder unit for women in Low Newton prison, called the Primrose unit. We have a therapeutic community provision for high-needs, high-risk women in Send prison. We are working to develop further the personality disorder work on which we are working in partnership with the Department of Health. That will extend provision into Foston Hall and, as a progression unit, into Drake Hall prison, and provide provision in the community in Crowley House, which is an approved premises in Birmingham. I do not think it is fair to say that we have neglected the high-risk women. I think we now have a range of interventions that are much better for those women than was the case in 2007.

Helen Grant: There is the embedding of gender-specific standards. For example, every woman, whether she is high risk or low risk, is offered a pregnancy test when she enters prison. That is a small example, but there are many examples of where Jean Corston’s report has done an enormous amount of good right across the piece in terms of offending and the level of offending.

Q300 Mr Llwyd: I move on to another recommendation of the Corston report, which is the provision for foreign national prisoners. Do you plan to devise a distinct strategy for these women, as the recommendation suggests?

Helen Grant: We have done quite a lot on this; I know Michael will have something to say as well. We recognise that foreign national prisoners carry additional burdens that may be connected with language, culture or feelings of isolation. Those are huge, particularly when you are in prison. I know that NOMS-I think this is where Michael will say some more-works very closely with charities that support female foreign national offenders, both in the community and while they are in prison serving their sentences. In addition to that, the Government want to make greater use of prisoner transfer arrangements, which will enable foreign national prisoners to be moved from the prison here to their own country, where, of course, they can be supported by friends, family and children. Again, that will be a big part of the rehabilitation process. A number of allowances are also made with regard to extended visits, the amount of money that can sometimes be used on telephone calls and sometimes-not all the time-use of official phone lines and phones in offices to make calls abroad. It is a special area, and we take it very seriously indeed.

Q301 Mr Llwyd: Mr Spurr, did you want to say something?

Michael Spurr: Not really, other than that I think the work we are doing with UKBA is also important to identify. Part of the strategy is to have clarity for all foreign national offenders, men or women, about their status, which is a huge issue early on in the sentence, and then to work to that position, particularly if it will mean removal to their home countries. We need to identify what that means and to work through it with them. That is the only point I would add to the Minister’s answer.

Q302 Mr Llwyd: I will make what to some people might be a strange, tangential point, but to me it is not. In Styal yesterday, there was a big banner outside one building on which the word "Welcome" was displayed in every language on earth, apart from Welsh. I wonder why.

Helen Grant: Did you alert them to that fact?

Q303 Mr Llwyd: I did alert them to it. Bearing in mind that there are Welsh prisoners there, I thought it was rather strange, but that is by the by. This is the final question from me. What do you believe is required to better support women’s relationships with their children? This is probably for the Minister.

Helen Grant: Women retaining, maintaining and having enduring relationships with their children is huge. It is massive in terms of stopping them offending and reoffending. We put £360,000, I believe, of grant funding into an organisation called Action for Prisoners’ Families, which provides voice and support to a number of very good voluntary sector charitable organisations that work with children and families of offenders outside in the community and in prisons. It is very important that we do as much as we possibly can in this area. I have been reassured and encouraged to a good extent on my various visits to prisons when I have asked about this issue. They tell me of the family days that they run, homework clubs, release on temporary licence and, in some locations, parenting programmes, so that, even though they are incarcerated, offenders can improve their parenting and maintain those very important connections. On children and babies, there is another aspect. As I am sure you know, we have seven mother and baby units around the country. They provide places for 77 women and 84 babies, to allow for twins.

Mr Llwyd: We saw them yesterday at Styal.

Helen Grant: I saw one when I was at East Sutton Park. There was a young lady there with twins, and it was very interesting to see how she was managing. The absolute aim with mums and babies is to make sure that the mum achieves the same very good level of help, care and support in prison as she would in the community. From the organisations and the mother and baby units I have looked at, there certainly seems to be a considerable amount of care and support. Mothers are usually-in fact, always, unless it is a great surprise, of course-admitted to these units in advance of having their babies so that they can start preparing to become parents and can engage in pre-natal classes. They are not required to start work and to engage in the various programmes until around six weeks afterwards, subject to their own health. Then they will, of course, be encouraged to go back to work and to get involved in the programmes. We have Ofsted-registered child care to take care of that and of the babies.

Q304 Chair: Who is conducting the review of the custodial estate, and when will it be over?

Helen Grant: It is being conducted by a lady called Cathy Robinson, who is a very experienced former prison governor of Feltham. I believe it was announced on 10 February, and it has begun.1 They are now doing analysis and sorting out meetings. We expect a report by the summer.

Q305 Chair: Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Of Prisons has spoken and written about women he says are "distressed, damaged or disturbed", for whom he says prison is "simply the wrong place" and "simply unacceptable". Where should such women be held-in what kind of institution?

Michael Spurr: If the courts send them to prison, we have to hold them in prison. If they are displaying mental illness, we have arrangements with the NHS to transfer women who require secure psychiatric care to those places. As we said earlier, the issue is to ensure that the right sentencing disposal is provided by the courts. That is a matter for the courts. If they send them to prison, we have to ensure that the regimes and the care that they receive in prison are appropriate. The chief inspector’s concern was that some of the people there would be better, I guess, in hospital rather than in prison.

Q306 Chair: Actually, there is a distinction between those who have clear mental health issues, who can be referred to the mental health side, and those who have clinically untreatable personality disorders, who represent a potential danger and have a high risk of reoffending.

Michael Spurr: That is why I mentioned the work that we had already begun and are expanding with the NHS on personality disorder. It includes the Primrose unit in Low Newton, which will be expanded to a personality disorder unit at Foston Hall and Drake Hall. In the east and west midlands, we are rolling out support in the community for those who have personality disorder; I mentioned Crowley House approved premises in Birmingham. All of that is being driven in partnership with the Department of Health, with Department of Health funding, to make better use of the funding that has been used in the NHS on personality disorder, recognising that an awful lot of people with personality disorder end up in prison and that it is in everyone’s interest to provide support, both in prison and when they go back to the community, to minimise the risk that they could create and cause to the public.

Q307 Chair: Does the review of the custodial estate presume a reduction in the number of women in prison?

Helen Grant: No.

Q308 Chair: So there is no set direction of travel for the review of the custodial estate.

Helen Grant: It is a review that will look at the location, the geography, the accommodation, the fitness for purpose and the number of regimes across all 13 prisons. It is being considered very carefully. I would not want to make any assumptions about what Cathy Robinson will come up with or recommend. We have just asked her to have a very good look at it.

Q309 Chair: Will she look at an issue like this one-whether the prison system as we currently understand it is the right place to deal with this category of prisoner?

Michael Spurr: No, she will not look at that. As I explained earlier, it is not a review of sentencing options or the potential alternatives; it is a review of how we can best use the custodial estate. She will, of course, take account of prison population projections. That is important. With a small estate such as the female estate, there always has to be some flexibility of use, because small changes can make a big difference. With a small estate, you have to have enough flexibility to be able to respond; that is one of the reasons we are doing the review. Rather than simply saying, "We have a few spare places, so we will close a few more at the moment," we need to look at how we are using the places to get best impact for the women that we hold in custody.

Helen Grant: She will certainly look at alternative configurations.

Q310 Chair: In a rather cumbersome sentence, your document refers to "the scope, within existing financial constraints, for improved sentencing options…that would give sentencers robust community sentencing options". It is a peculiar sentence, but I think you are getting at something you said earlier. What the courts will do depends on what is available to the courts.

Helen Grant: Yes, I think that is right.

Q311 Jeremy Corbyn: I turn to the last section of questions, on "Transforming Rehabilitation" proposals. Do you think they should be incentivised specifically for women prisoners?

Helen Grant: Ian is leading on this, so I will let him make some comments. However, from what I have seen already in relation to these proposals, I am very encouraged; in fact, I am very excited. The "Transforming Rehabilitation" document refers right at the beginning to the need to consider the needs and priorities of women and says that they must be recognised. We have held two "Transforming Rehabilitation" events specifically geared to female offenders. I chaired and spoke at one and was able to participate in round-table meetings. We also have-sitting behind me, in fact-a senior official with extensive experience of dealing with female prisoners, who has been employed in the "Transforming Rehabilitation" team to work with that team and with me to drive through that agenda. One of the positive elements that I have seen coming through already from the "Transforming Rehabilitation" agenda is something I touched on before. At the minute, there is no support and there are no requirements-there is no licence-when those who have served sentences of less than 12 months are released. We are now saying that they should have support and that there should be a lot more. As you know, more women prisoners than men serve short sentences, so I am feeling very encouraged, because I feel that female offenders will be disproportionately benefited by that particular policy.

Q312 Jeremy Corbyn: Do you think there is a case for separating commissioning between the male and female prison system and estate?

Helen Grant: I will let our commissioner respond to that, if that is okay.

Ian Porée: The rehabilitation reforms, in particular, provide an opportunity essentially to commission these services across a much broader range of providers from all different sectors. Our priority will be to commission the services in a way that incentivises whoever the providers are to reduce reoffending. I think there is an opportunity for them to offer services at a local level and in a much more joined-up way. The benefit of doing that is that the overall scale of the system will mean that we will get a better set of services if we commission for all offenders, as opposed to individual segments. As Michael said, the women offenders are a much smaller segment. However, as the Minister has just said, we will set very specific commissioning priorities, focused on the needs of women, so that, whoever the successful future providers of these services are, they will have to demonstrate to us that what they offer for women offenders is credible and is likely to meet the objectives of reducing reoffending.

Q313 Jeremy Corbyn: Minister, earlier you mentioned the question of mentoring of prisoners, which I personally welcome and support. There seems to be quite a complicated set of organisations and systems that every prisoner goes through, women prisoners included. Is there any overall monitoring of what happens to each prisoner from the point of conviction right through to the point of care after release? It seems to me that there are an awful lot of holes and gaps through which a prisoner can quite easily fall-at one level, not being met at the gate of the prison on the day of release, right through to post-care.

Helen Grant: It is difficult.

Michael Spurr: The whole point of the "Transforming Rehabilitation" reforms is to address that very issue. The point is that there is no one organisation, particularly for the short-sentenced offenders who have been in prison, that holds the ring, will provide that support and can join up the range of good voluntary, third sector providers and others who work with this group of offenders and ex-offenders. The whole point is that there will be absolute clarity about who has responsibility in the future, because a provider will have that responsibility. Whether or not they are paid for what they have done will depend partly on the results that they achieve. They will, therefore, be incentivised by their contract and by the payment mechanism to ensure that they are co-ordinating, holding the ring and engaging with others in communities, because they will be successful only if they do that.

Q314 Jeremy Corbyn: From what point are they engaged with the prison?

Michael Spurr: We are still working through it, as we have to respond to the consultation. This is my thought, as opposed to where we are in a Government response, because we have not concluded the Government response to the consultation. I think that, effectively, for anybody who is in an establishment for three months and less, the provider organisation will need to work with the individual in custody from at least the three-month point before discharge. They will then work with the individual going into the community as well.

We are looking at the options. One of the things we are considering-I think this is doable-is to identify specific releasing prisons. Having a stable prison population, as we have at the minute, allows us to think about how we configure the estate. We have a specific review for women, but this will be true for the whole estate. I want to think about whether we can use the places that we have rather better to support resettlement than we have been able to do in the past. Again, that will help any provider. If we are able to say that the releases will take place from particular prisons, they can concentrate their resources on those prisons. We have begun to do that a bit in Brixton. We are bringing people back to Brixton from the three London boroughs around Brixton to release them from that establishment. That is working well at the moment. I would like to extend that type of approach elsewhere; obviously, that would involve women as well. That is one of the reasons for having Cathy Robinson’s review of the estate at the minute.

Q315 Jeremy Corbyn: Do you all accept that the absolute key area is when a woman prisoner, in this case, is released? If anything goes wrong in those immediate moments and first few days, it can destroy an awful lot of the work that has been achieved in the past during whatever time the sentence has been.

Michael Spurr: Yes, absolutely.

Helen Grant: Yes, we do.

Ian Porée: There are two very important moments. There are the first few days and weeks in custody when, if someone checks a whole range of things about your family, accommodation and benefits arrangements and those are sorted out very well up front, it can reduce some of the harms later on. Then, as you say, there is that moment of transition from within custody back into the community. That process pre-release and post-release is an essential transition. Paying attention to both of those areas will be essential in the future reforms to try to improve the overall performance of the system.

Q316 Steve Brine: You mentioned the large and small providers. Are you switched on to the fact that small providers bring an awful lot to the table, but there are simple issues with their being paid by results, which takes time? It is a simple matter of cash flow for small firms, which will simply not be able to deal with the parameters that PBR puts in their way, whereas obviously a publicly funded probation service does not have that concern.

Ian Porée: We have spent a lot of time in the consultation on "Transforming Rehabilitation" talking to the whole range of providers, large and small. The point you make is essential. If there is going to be a sustainable but very diverse market, where we get the benefit of the financial strength of large organisations but also the intimacy or engagement of very small local organisations, we will have to embed market stewardship principles in the new market that insist on transparency and sustainability. It would not be appropriate to transfer financial risk to very small organisations because that is simply not sustainable-they do not have the balance sheet to cope with it. The market model will need to ensure that we pay attention to those stewardship principles so that we get the very best out of each sector- public, private and voluntary or community.

Q317 Chair: Yesterday at Adelaide House it was quite striking to us that here was a facility provided by an agency of the Church of England diocese of Liverpool operating on a small scale; it had some other projects, too. It was very challenging, but really it was only achievable at all because it was on that sort of scale-not the very grand scale, for example, that was suggested for the original reorganisation of probation areas into huge contracting areas. Are you conscious that you must not lose the ability to bring in organisations like this?

Helen Grant: Yes.

Ian Porée: For these reforms to succeed, it is essential that we have both very effective local delivery structures and community-based provision and the overarching disciplines of managing at scale supply chains and the financial risk we have been talking about. We would be looking to put in place that full range of provision and offering some of the oversight, as the commissioner, so that the Ministry of Justice gets the benefit of both of those things. In the end, the incentive will be to reduce reoffending. It would be completely strange for an organisation that will be paid by effective results to get rid of very effective services at a local level, because they will benefit from the quality of that service provision. That is what we will need to protect in the system, along with the financial incentives.

Chair: Minister, Mr Spurr and Mr Porée, thank you very much for your evidence. This was the last evidence session in relation to this subject, so we will set to work to prepare a report.


[1] Correction by witness: T he review of the women’s estate was announced on 10 January 2013 and not 10 February.

Prepared 12th July 2013