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Antisocial Behaviour (Wirral)

6. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): If he will make a statement on levels of antisocial behaviour in Wirral, South. [33824]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): For the current year, Wirral crime and disorder reduction partnership was allocated nearly £400,000 to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. That is helping local agencies to bear down on this type of unacceptable behaviour through a range of preventatives and other measures.
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Ben Chapman : Is my hon. Friend content that, in the funding streams, resources and allocation of priorities used by the police, sufficient focus is given to constituencies, such as mine, with large suburban and semi-rural areas and countryside? Does he agree that incidents, such as that when Bebington British Legion was invaded by 10 youths who intimidated and abused those inside, might be best avoided if the already scarce police resources were not diverted to urban areas? Will he assure me that an appropriate balance is drawn between semi-rural and suburban areas, which have their own problems with antisocial behaviour, and downtown areas, which have a different set of problems?

Paul Goggins: It is important to strike the balance to which my hon. Friend refers. He never fails to take the opportunity to raise the issue in both Parliament and his constituency—rightly so—and to push the kind of partnerships that can make a difference. Wirral is an action area. It has an antisocial behaviour co-ordinator, whose job it is to ensure that each and every part of my hon. Friend's constituency and the rest of the Wirral gets the appropriate response whenever antisocial behaviour rears its ugly head.

Prison Population

7. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): If he will make a statement on the size of the prison population. [33825]

8. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): If he will make a statement on the size of the prison population. [33826]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): The prison population on Friday 2 December was 77,262. It is the duty of the Government to provide places for all whom the courts send to prison. Our aim is to work with offenders while they are in prison so as to remove the danger they offer to the public and to reduce their propensity to reoffend.

Dr. Lewis: Does the Minister accept that the early release schemes that have been applied in the past have done nothing to reduce the prison population, because otherwise why are our prisons bursting at the seams? Will she undertake not to try to resolve that problem by further reducing the prison sentences served, which so discredits the sentences nominally imposed that our newspapers are full of the complaints of the families of PCs and head teachers who have been murdered that the murderers are being let out far too early?

Fiona Mactaggart: Since the inception of the scheme to which I think the hon. Gentleman largely refers, more than 119,000 prisoners have been released on home detention curfews. Something like five or six additional prisons would have been required had it not been possible to release those people in such a way. While I am second to none in offering my condolences to people who have suffered tragedies due to released prisoners who have breached the conditions of their curfew, it is worth pointing out that the reoffending rate among those on home detention curfews in the period following their curfew—and, indeed, while they are on curfew—is
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substantially less than that of other offenders. Although the scheme is obviously not risk free, that suggests that the risk is being managed relatively well.

Philip Davies: Due to the lack of available prison spaces, more than 6,700 crimes have been committed by people who have been let out of prison on an electronic tag. Some 1,200 people who were let out of prison early on parole since 1997 went on to commit a further crime before the end of their sentence. Is it not time to make more prison places available, stop electronic tagging and make prisoners serve their sentences in full to restore some credibility and confidence to the criminal justice system and for the safety of all our constituents?

Fiona Mactaggart: The Conservative party is making much of this kind of flouncing, as it did during the general election, when it promised 20,000 extra prison places, but only something like a fifth of the money to pay for them, which they claimed to have identified from administrative savings. The synthetic passion that Conservative Members are demonstrating is frankly not up to snuff. We need to reduce offending and that is what this party has done. We need to ensure that prisons are used for violent, dangerous and seriously persistent offenders and that is precisely what we are doing. We need to ensure that people serve sentences effectively, which is one of the reasons why immediate custody rates have gone up from 6 to 16 per cent. in magistrates courts and from 49 to 60 per cent. in Crown courts. It is also why the average length of sentence served has gone up from 20 to 27 months. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman checks his facts before he pounces.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that one contributing factor to overcrowding in prisons is the thousands of people who are in on remand, some of whom end up being acquitted and quite a lot of whom end up with a sentence that is shorter than the time they served on remand? Will she consider the significant variations between different police and court areas in the numbers of people who are remanded, as opposed to being on bail, before trial?

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is right. The biggest proportionate increase in the prison population is the remand population, which has increased by 10 per cent. over the past year. It is also clear that different areas have different practices in relation to remand. That is one reason why we need to ensure that better bail information is available to courts so that they do not remand unnecessarily. Apart from anything else, prisoners on remand are not able to participate in some of the effective work that takes place with sentenced prisoners. We need to ensure that we bear down on the unnecessary use of remand, although we need to use it if the safety of the public requires it.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): One thing that would help to cut the prison population would be if we did a better job on rehabilitation. Can my hon. Friend assure me that more resources will be put into rehabilitation, in particular education in prisons and for young people on the secure estate, which has been sorely neglected in recent years, although it has started to pick up?
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Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is right. Our additional investment in education means that one in 10 basic literacy and numeracy qualifications is obtained by adults in prison. We are putting particular efforts into working with young offenders to help them to reduce their reoffending. There has been reassuring progress in some of the reconviction rates for young offenders. We need to ensure that we put in the effort on the programmes, education and, indeed, the other things that are associated with reducing reoffending, such as having a home and a job. All those things help people to go straight.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): Is the Minister aware that when rehabilitation becomes the main way of reducing the number of people in prison, resettlement prisons, such as Latchmere House in my constituency, which has only 207 places, are essentially the poor relatives of the Prison Service? However, Latchmere House has managed to achieve a reoffending rate of only 25 per cent., precisely because it reintegrates people with their families, gets them into jobs and allies them with Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous in their community. Will she reconsider putting more finances into such prisons, which can achieve our goal, rather than looking at them as something to satisfy a punitive instinct?

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Lady is right. Working with prisons that resettle people in a local community is important. We should welcome and develop the work of institutions such as Latchmere House. It is inevitable that they are less expensive to run than the high security estate. I am not going to promise to rebalance spending so that they get substantial amounts, but our direction of travel, in terms of the prison estate, is to look more carefully at the way in which prisons work with their local community to rehabilitate and resettle reoffenders, and with their local employers and others to ensure that reoffenders have jobs and homes, that they are healthy and that their alcoholism and drug use are effectively tackled, so that they contribute to society rather than stealing from it, as they have done in the past.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that in appropriate cases involving non-violent offenders, community punishments are much more successful than imposing prison terms in preventing reoffending? Does she also accept that we have an awful long way to go in convincing the public of that truth? What is her Department doing to pursue that task?

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is right. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 made available to sentencers a robust series of community punishments, which they can target on the individual offender. Only last month, we launched a community payback initiative, which is designed to ensure that offenders make restitution for some of the wrong they have done to the community. I hope that that initiative will publicise how an effective, well-supervised community punishment can do more to rehabilitate offenders than lurking in prison, largely on remand, does for some offenders who end up there. Prison should be used for truly dangerous or violent offenders or for serious repeat offenders.
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Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): With 60 per cent. of our prisons dangerously overcrowded according to Home Office figures, large numbers of convicted prisoners being kept in police stations in London, record reoffending rates and record levels of suicide among prisoners, the resignation of the prisons chief executive, and now prisoners able to take mobile phone pictures inside our top security establishment at Belmarsh, would the Minister say that Labour's prisons policy is working?

Fiona Mactaggart: I advised the hon. Lady's Friends to check their facts before they made allegations. No prison in the UK is dangerously overcrowded. The chief executive has not resigned: he has moved on to another job, and her comment is a complete mischaracterisation of the action of someone who has served the public so well for so long and who is taking up a new challenge. There is neither a record reoffending rate, nor a record rate of self-inflicted deaths; in fact, the numbers have decreased in both cases. As for her claim that our police cells are full, since the middle of November only three people have been held overnight in police cells. She should check her facts.

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