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Mr. Darling: Police officers are trained to operate on aircraft and part of that training means that they have to take into account the difficult conditions they find. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the correction in his first point; no doubt, the pilots themselves would be the first to point out that they are members of an association, not a union.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the next phase of our strategy to improve the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and, in particular, of correctional services.
Our objective has been to reduce crime and to transform radically the performance of the Prison Service and the probation service, and the services working in partnership with them. Since 1997, we have undertaken a unique programme of reform and investment in both services. We have provided 14,700 more prison places, including seven new prisons, and this year we are providing £900 million more in real terms. There has been a 50 per cent. increase in probation funding, and a 30 per cent. increase in front-line staff. Since 199697, there has been an increase of 4,300 additional staff in the probation service alone.
We do not accept the counsel of despair that suggests that offenders cannot be turned away from crime. The whole objective of correctional services must be to prevent reoffending, as well as to provide punishment and protection. Today, we are publishing our report, "Reducing Crime, Changing Lives", which sets out a progressive agenda for the future and the next steps to modernise and reform correctional services. I have placed a copy of the report in the Vote Office, together with the report from Patrick Carter. We are grateful to him and his colleagues for the work that they have done, on which we have drawn extensively in the proposals before the House today.
Prison and rehabilitation after custody can be made to work only if those subject to punishment are forced to address their behaviour. Sending more people to prison but seeing more return, only to reoffend again, is unacceptable. Addressing the causes is, therefore, essential for success.
Together with the Department of Health, we have adopted a radical new policy for health investment to tackle a range of problems, from mental health to drug misuse. This year, more than 50,000 prisoners have received clinical detoxification, 5,000 are undertaking drug rehabilitation programmes, and 40 per cent. of all prisoners have signed voluntary drug compacts. In addition, through education, training and work programmes, we have dramatically changed the opportunity for those in prison to redeem their behaviour and attitude. In 1997, figures on the educational achievement of prisoners were not collected. This year, almost 50,000 prisoners will gain basic skills qualifications and, with the Department for Work and Pensions, we have put in place the custody to work programme, which is already showing signs of significant success.
Last year, 30 per cent. of prisoners entered work or traininga transformation from the pastand 25 per cent. of prisoners had a job on release, compared to 10 per cent. a decade ago. The creation of the Youth Justice Board five years ago and of the new national probation service in 2001 has made a significant difference. The YJB has been responsible for developing the intensive supervision and surveillance programme as an alternative to secure accommodation. We are now
The probation service has developed drug testing and treatment ordersthe first effective community sentence for drug abuserswhich are now being supported by the criminal justice intervention programme. The service is developing the intensive change and control programme, which is a community-based sentence for adult offenders. There is also real momentum behind the restorative justice programme, to encourage responsibility, to address offending behaviour and to make amends to the victim where appropriate.
This month, we are piloting a radical new approach to custodial sentencing. Kirkham for men and Morton Hall for women will be the first establishments to experiment with periods of intermittent custody, such as prison at weekends.
The new sentencing framework introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, is central to reducing crime and, therefore, reoffending. We have introduced new mandatory life sentences for the most heinous crimes; custody minus and custody plus, covering a range of crimes; and much tougher punishment and enforcement for breaches. I want to see robust intensive community programmes replace ineffective short custodial sentences in a way that allows us to take decisive action where breaches occur.
Those reforms will help to deliver considerable improvement in performance of the correctional services, by ensuring both joined-up policy and joined-up delivery, but we believe that we must take further steps for improvement and for more radical progress. Together with the Department for Constitutional Affairs, we will look to link the enforcement of fines and fixed penalty notices as a first deterrent, prior to the need for community or custodial sentencing. We will examine the potential for linking fines with the ability to pay as an alternative to custody. In building on existing reforms, our strategy will place renewed focus on the appropriate intervention for the specific crime.
If we are to deliver further transformation, however, we need significant organisational change. That of course includes the management of the services themselves, including the rooting out of unacceptable practices, such as racism and bullying. That is why I am announcing today the establishment of a single service to manage offenders.
The new National Offender Management Service will have direct responsibility for the punishment and rehabilitation of adult offenders both in custody and in the community. I am pleased to announce that Martin Narey, former director general of the Prison Service, will be the chief executive of the new service. We are also announcing today the establishment of the National Offender Management Board, chaired by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), who has responsibility for correctional services.
In due course, we shall make separate announcements on the inspection regime, which will remain independent. We intend to learn lessons from the use of contestability within the Prison Service. Contestability
We believe that the task of integrating the management of offenders is best achieved at regional and local level, where effective links can be forged and joined-up strategies developed. Those will include working with complementary services, including health, education, housing and employment.
We will create 10 regional offender managers, responsible for the end-to-end management of offenders, covering the nine English regions and Wales. We will, as part of the overall review of the location of Government posts, be looking to de-centralise more of the service.
The regional offender managers will be responsible for ensuring effective case management. They will contract for prison places, community placements, supervision and other critical interventions, as part of the new partnership approach. But I believeperhaps that phrase is a bit hackneyed nowthat the judiciary can be much better informed about the effectiveness of different forms of sentencing and be more aware of what is likely to be most effective for particular individuals. We introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 the new Sentencing Guidelines Council to formulate a comprehensive set of guidelines.
I have agreed with the Lord Chief Justice and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs that it is important that greater knowledge on the effectiveness of interventions, including the cost-effectiveness of different approaches, should inform the work of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. That will be crucial to the work of the judiciary and magistracy at regional and local level. In the first instance, we would seek their urgent intervention in eliminating the drift in sentence length and to seek a reduction in unjustified variation in sentencing across the country.
I expect those reforms to lead to a much more effective, consistent and transparent criminal justice system, but those who work in the service bear the brunt of both the challenges and the change for the future. I wish to pay tribute to the staff in the prison and probation services and the YJB, whose expertise has contributed so much to the achievements that I have already outlined in this statement. Those changes represent an assertion of our confidence in those who work with offenders and our belief that the new arrangements will help substantially to make their work in custody and in the community significantly more effective.
I repeat that reducing reoffending by better protecting our communities, by punishing offenders more transparently and by equipping them to avoid a return to criminality is our key objective. I know that that goal will be shared by both the House and the country, and I commend the statement to the House.