It is encouraging to see in the Justice Secretary's open letter of 21 June 2017 a renewed commitment to the rehabilitation and reform of those going through the prison system. WDP has long advocated this important method of reintegrating people into society after they have served their sentence. It is a welcome and highly positive step to see reference to the intention for prisons to work with communities.
Early intervention in a prisoner's local community promotes building up a strong support network when they are released. Likewise, ensuring that prisoners get support early in their sentence, for issues that contribute to criminal behaviour (such as drug-related problems) substantially reduces reoffending.
The Justice Secretary notes that reoffending is a drain on the prison system, with 1-in-4 former inmates reoffending. This creates avoidable economic issues, and it causes overcrowding. This is a major issue, with 68% of prisons holding more inmates than their permitted capacity. It has been reliably shown that a focus on rehabilitation reduces reoffending: the Norwegian prison system has a much lower rate of recidivism. The UK rate was 46% in 2015, while certain prisons in Norway were at 16%.
Helping inmates break the cycle of criminal behaviour enhances their future attempts to gain legitimate employment. We hope to see an increased commitment to supporting ex-offenders in this way. All too often the job market is incredibly hostile to former prisoners - driving them back to negative behaviour. This is highlighted in a 2013 report by the Ministry of Justice, reporting that those who served under a year in prison and found formal employment had a reoffending rate of 32%, while those who did not find employment had a reoffending rate of 69%.
Employers have a key role to play providing jobs for ex-offenders: we hope that the Minister engages actively in dialogue with them on this issue. There are models the Minister can turn to for ideas: HACRO's Leaving Prison Behind Programme provides a blueprint for rehabilitation and resettlement of offenders which delivers effective early intervention. This approach has been shown to support ex-offenders' reintegration into the community and importantly provide the skills and support to enter the labour market.
WDP also welcomes the commitment to combatting the use of 'new psychoactive substances' throughout the prison system. It is widely acknowledged that these are an increasing danger to inmates, and we hope that the introduction of specially trained sniffer dogs, along with measures to curtail smuggling using drones, will severely curb the availability of these. However, even if such measures are introduced, the need for comprehensive treatment and care of drug users remains an imperative.
The commitment of £1.3bn investment in the system is a positive first step: it will create up to 10,000 new places while also phasing out dilapidated prison units. Despite the present political situation, it would still be deeply disappointing to see highly important matters such as these not receive the care and attention they require from our government.
We hope that the Justice Secretary is genuine in his commitment to ensuring that the UK's prisons will seek to transform the lives of those in custody, so they can contribute positively to the communities in which they live and benefit society as a whole. It is time to make more earnest efforts to combat the cycle of reoffending.