We will end the merry-go-round of reoffending

By tapping into the expertise, resources and innovation of the private and voluntary sector, the government is bringing a fresh approach to rehabilitation.

Editor's note: This piece is a response to Alan White's article, "Three reasons Chris Grayling's outsourcing plan for the probation service is a terrible idea"

Last year around 600,000 offences were committed by those who had broken the law before. And almost half of people who leave prison are back to their old ways within a year.

These are dreadful figures and represent untold misery and pain for victims and billions of pounds in wasted taxpayers’ money. Anyone who is happy to live with this is on another planet.

Try telling the homeowner who has had their home broken into by the repeat burglar, or the old lady who has been mugged in the street by the recidivist crack addict that we’re happy with the status quo, that we’re doing enough.

Simply put, we are not, and I am determined to deliver swift and significant reforms so we can finally stop the merry-go-round of reoffending and give the public a criminal justice system they deserve.

By tapping into the expertise, resources and innovation of the private and voluntary sector, we will bring a much needed fresh approach to rehabilitation. Only paying providers in full if they are successful at reducing reoffending is the right way forwards, ensuring taxpayers’ money works harder with organisations that are fixed on turning round the lives of troubled offenders.

We need providers to work with all offenders. Our payment by results contracts will be split in two: one success payment for reducing reoffending and another for reducing the number of further crimes committed by the people they are working with. This will stop providers picking off the low hanging fruit – on the contrary, greater rewards will be available for tackling the most persistent and chaotic criminals who cause so much damage to our communities.

We will not see big private companies monopolising rehabilitation contracts – smaller grassroots charities and voluntary organisations have an essential role to play in our reforms. We will give them the right support to take their seat at the table. This is why we recently announced a significant package of measures to help the voluntary sector compete for contracts on a fair and level playing field.

Introducing competition and payment by results, and giving the voluntary sector a greater role, means we can do more with less. By freeing up our budgets we can afford to introduce a new minimum 12 months rehabilitation period in the community for every offender leaving prison. This will give frontline staff and offenders a proper chance at finally breaking the cycle of crime.

Our reforms are not about removing the public sector from the mix - quite the opposite. A new refocused National Probation Service will be at the heart of the system, protecting the public from the most dangerous offenders and taking on lower risk criminals whose risk rises. Let’s not forget, the professionals who are making these judgement calls today are the very same ones who will be making them in two years time. The difference is they will be working in a far more flexible environment, one in which they can innovate to find what works best.

The argument for change could not be clearer and we are now working closely with all providers on the fine design of a new approach that will bring together the best of the private, voluntary and public sectors, so we can better protect the public.

People have criticised payment by results, and pointed to the Work Programme. It is still early days but already more than 207, 000 people had been helped into a job through the Programme by the end of September 2012 and performance is improving still further.

We have seen some first-rate, innovative support from providers to get people into work, albeit in a challenging economic climate. That’s not to say we haven’t learnt valuable lessons from it. For example our rehabilitation contracts will not be 100 per cent payment by results. Providers will be paid a set fee for carrying out orders of the court, but to achieve the full value of the contract they will have to demonstrate real reductions in reoffending.

I’m under no illusions about the scale of this challenge and what we are trying to achieve, but I’m determined to drive these plans forward for roll-out by 2015 - it is simply not an option to rest on our laurels. No longer can we shrug our shoulders as if this merry-go-round of crime is an inevitable fact of life that we should all just put up with. We can and will stop it.

Chris Grayling is the Justice Secretary

David Cameron is escorted around C wing by prison officers during his visit to Wormwood Scrubs Prison. Photograph: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images/AFP
Show Hide image

Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.