Some of the most chronic reoffenders are those with drug and alcohol addictions. When I was Minister for Justice in the last Labour Government I ensured that we tackled this issue head on and ensured that drug and alcohol rehabilitation orders. We have seen a noticeable drop in the number of orders being placed on people.
The reason why this matters is because revolving door prison sentences are not effective for people with these problems. Short-term prison sentences mean that people do not gain access to the treatment they need and more often than not prison becomes a college of crime. Those sentenced for less serious offences learn more dangerous skills off hardened criminals and then utilise them on the streets when released.
Prison only works if we have the policies in place to make them work. We need to see an increase in drug and alcohol treatment orders to deliver safer communities.
The utter waste of time and money that privatisation of the probation services has delivered is shameful. I called on the Secretary of State for Justice to apologise for this waste. He didn’t.
I also asked how much money had been spent on these failed policies. Again he tried to reverse his way out of a response by selectively quoting figures. Figures that I have been told before in Justice Select Committee hearings and ones that don’t add up.
The Minister states they are not spending as much on Community Rehabilitation Companies – the privatised aspect of probation. Of course that is true because the scheme is being ended early. What I want to know is how much will be spent setting up a new scheme and compensating these companies who have failed. The Ministry of Justice is a lot less forthcoming in these figures. If I had to hazard a guess as to why it would be because it has cost taxpayers a fortune.
Since access to legal aid was restricted in 2013 there has been a dramatic increase of litigants in person – people who represent themselves in court. Litigants in person often struggle to understand court procedures and their legal entitlements, and cases involving them take longer to resolve. This increases the risk of unjust outcomes for the litigant, and is also a huge burden on court finances and resources – and ultimately the public purse.
The Government has finally bowed to pressure from victims, campaigners and Labour MPs to agree to hold a review of the family courts following troubling cases where victims of domestic violence and their children have been left at risk of violence.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner has published work which shows that, as a result of cuts to Legal Aid, children have been forced to either become litigants in person, obtain advice and support pro bono or from the already stretched voluntary sector, or give up attempting to resolve their legal problems at all.
It is right that this review has been established by the new Minister, but we must ensure that children and vulnerable people are at the forefront of our minds when we implement changes to the legal system. The cuts to legal aid have undermined this principle and it is high time that the UK Government took meaningful action.
If we crash out of the EU without a deal we will lose all 26 agreements we currently have in place to allow the transfer of prisoners. I asked the Minister of State what progress has been made to make sure that we keep these transfer agreements.
The Minister agreed with me that a no deal Brexit would see us lose these agreements and move back to an old system where transfer of prisoners would be far slower.
This is just another example of how Brexit is impacting things not discussed nearly three years ago. When even a Minister that supports the Government is saying we will lose a beneficial agreement due to Brexit we must listen.