Chris Grayling is the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, and MP for Epsom and Ewell
If you sit with a group of current or former offenders, you almost always get the same message. Most started on crime when they were young, would like to stop, but often do not know how to get their lives back together, and get themselves into a position where they get a stable home and a job. And all too often when they leave prison, the easy option is just to do the same thing all over again.
Crime in Britain today is very different to what it was a decade or two ago. There has been a steady decline in the number of people committing crime for the first time. There are fewer entrants to the criminal justice system. And crime is falling as a result. Better policing, tougher punishments, more thoughtful interventions by the voluntary and public sector, often supported by private sponsorship, are helping steer more and more young people away from the temptations of crime.
None the less, there is a hard core who are different. More and more of our crime is being committed by the same people, going round and round the system again and again. Chances are the person who walks into a prison for the first time will end up back there again and again over the course of the following decade or more. Reoffending in Britain today is moving upwards. Almost 50 per cent of those who do time in our prisons will reoffend again within a year. And yet we know the things that can make a difference. Stable relationships. Somewhere to live. Mentoring and support. A job.
But our current system is a chaotic mix of the good and the bad. Within probation trusts there are hardworking people doing a professional job in containing crime. Within parts of the voluntary sector, there is excellent work helping to build stability in the life of an offender. However, it’s patchy. And inadequate and chaotic. The Justice Select Committee found recently that only 25 per cent of probation staff time is actually spent working with offenders. I want a system where probation professionals can focus on what they do best - doing what works to tackle individual offenders' specific needs.
Worse still, prisoners who go to jail for less than a year get no support or supervision at all after they leave – and most go back to a life of crime. There is little relationship between where you are detained and where you will live after your release. More than a hundred prisons, all over the country, send released prisoners back to London. Small wonder there is little or no adequate through the gate support to ensure that prisoners are properly prepared for release and then given guidance when they get there.
That’s why we are pushing ahead with the most radical reforms to our system of supporting and managing offenders for decades. At the heart of the reforms are three big changes.
The first involves extending supervision to all prisoners when they leave prison, and not just those who serve more than a year. There will be no more offenders walking down the street outside their jail with £46 in their pocket, often nowhere to go, and no one to help them. It has been a travesty, and it will stop.
The second involves a massive shake up of our prison system, so we can provide proper through the gate support. In future, almost all prisoners will spend the last few months of their sentence in a prison local to their home.
The third involves the creation of that new type of through the gate support. We’re bringing in the best of the private and the voluntary sectors to reinforce what the public sector does. I want to see a new kind of service emerge, where prisoners are met at the gate by a mentor who has already planned for their release while they were still inside, who has worked out where they will live, what extra support, like rehab or training, they will need, and will serve as a wise friend and supporter to them for a year after they leave.
And crucially, we will give the organisations who deliver that new service much more freedom and much less bureaucracy to operate in – but in return they will be partly paid by results. That’s absolutely the right way to deliver innovative new ideas, but to protect the interests of the taxpayer.
Of course that won’t work for every prisoner. There are some deeply dangerous and unpleasant people out there, and they will continue to be supervised closely by a new National public probation service. Wherever there is a serious risk of harm to the public, we will make sure that it is Government and the public sector that watches over that risk.
Today marks a major milestone in the development of our plans. There’s been enormous interest from both the private sector and the voluntary sector over the last few months. We’re now inviting them to state a clear interest in being part of our tendering process. And we’re setting out in much more detail how the new system will work.
The Conservative Party will always take a tough line on crime. If we are not the party of law and order, we are nothing. But in the interests of our society and the victims of crime, we also need to understand the reoffending problem, and take real strides to solve it. That’s what these reforms are all about.