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Investing in Alternatives to Custody

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): The Government have always been clear that prison is and will remain the place for violent and dangerous offenders, while there are many less serious offenders for whom community punishments can be more effective penalties than short prison sentences. Such offenders can be required to do unpaid work of real benefit, and provide some payback to the communities
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they have wronged. They can be subject to tagging, curfews and intensive supervision where appropriate; and receive targeted interventions to tackle any drug, alcohol, mental health and offending behaviour requirements. Reoffending rates for offenders subject to community punishments are lower than those for short-sentenced prisoners. Community punishments can be more cost-effective and can offer more opportunities for rehabilitation than short-term sentences, dealing with the offence and the causes of offending behaviour. We have therefore made very significant investment in probation—a 67 per cent. real terms increase since 1997, and well over 6 million of hours of unpaid community payback done by offenders in 2006.

Recently, however there has been an increase in numbers of offenders sentenced to short periods of custody, something which inevitably created pressure on the prison service. I can therefore today announce that the Government are allocating further funds, including £40 million to probation in 2008-09, so that sentencers can be confident that the resources are in place to deliver effective community punishments.

The funds will be allocated in support of a specific delivery plan by probation areas. We will monitor the impact of these resources closely to ensure that they are spent in support of those sentenced to community orders rather than short prison sentences.

Drugs (Prisons)

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): I am announcing today that David Blakey CBE QPM, formerly Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, has been appointed to lead a review of the Prison Service’s measures to disrupt the supply of illicit drugs into prisons.

It is of significant concern that on average 55 per cent. of people entering prison have a serious drug misuse problem, with this figure rising to 80 per cent. in some instances. Many have offended to fund their need
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for drugs. Inevitably, their desire for illicit drugs does not simply disappear when they enter prison. As a result, the Prison Service faces major challenges in trying to respond to prisoners’ attempts to secure access to illicit drugs. The Prison Service has a range of measures in place to tackle this issue—ranging from the searching of visitors, to working with the police to identify criminal networks intent on supplying drugs to particular prisons.

The level of drug positives detected by the random mandatory drug testing programme in prisons has fallen by nearly two thirds since its introduction in 1996-97 from 24.4 per cent. to 8.8 per cent. in 2006-07. This is thanks to a number of initiatives including the introduction of mandatory drug testing, better detox, better treatment, CCTV surveillance of visits, increased used of closed visits, more drug dogs and improved security performance on searching and intelligence.

My right hon. Friend, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice announced on 31 January 2008 (Official Report, 37WS) that further measures will now be considered to further develop this work. This will include reviewing the criteria for open/closed visits across the prison estate, with a particular focus on local prisons.

The review will look at introducing more rigorous searches, including the provision of more sniffer/search dogs. Mr Blakey has been asked by the Director General of the Prison Service to conduct a review of the measures in place to tackle the supply of illicit drugs into prisons. The terms of reference are:

The review report will be submitted to the Director General by 31 May.

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