On 21st April 2023, the Bishop of Leeds spoke in support of the Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill, which would ensure that people are not released from prison on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday in order to ensure proper access to services and support:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise in the gap to sing from the same hymn sheet and welcome this Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his inspirational work and commitment to these matters. We need an urgent change in practice for those who leave prison. I know that my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who is not able to be here today but leads for the Church of England on prisons, also welcomes this Bill.
Others have already referred to the impact of releasing people from prison on a Friday, particularly in relation to access to services, including housing and healthcare. This affects men and women leaving prison, but for women it can be acutely dangerous, due to particular risks they face. A report published in 2020, Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison, found that late releases, and releases on a Friday, are known to jeopardise a woman’s chances of securing accommodation. Due to the configuration of the prison estate, women are often imprisoned far from home, leading to isolation and presenting further challenges to securing housing. Risks from perpetrators of domestic abuse are very real for prison leavers, particularly women. A recent Independent Monitoring Board report on HMP Bronzefield found that 65% of women face homelessness on release. I join others in hoping that changing the practice of releasing prison leavers on a Friday will go a long way to helping address this.
Finally, I shall touch on how this fits into the wider picture of resettlement and reintegration into society. We know that links to community and home help prevent reoffending, and we have many examples of good practice within the faith-based sector. The Welcome Directory is an organisation that signposts prison leavers to churches and worshipping communities of other faiths, aiming to “unlock the second prison” of the community. Prison chaplains do valuable work through the gate with external organisations to transition those in prison back into the community. Under the new probation model, the Church of England has been working at a national and regional level with the probation service to link up with faith communities, which do so much good in their localities.
In conclusion, I welcome this Bill and consider that it will make a significant change to the chances of prison leavers resettling well into communities and reducing the chances of recidivism.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord McNally (LD): My Lords, I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for his intervention, reminding us of the important work that the faith sector does in this area, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for pointing out that at the heart of this system is a horrible cycle of reoffending that is costly in financial terms and in personal terms for those who have to suffer from the reoffenders’ work. So I congratulate Simon Fell MP and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing the Bill thus far with such impressive cross-party support—I always think that “Bird on bird” is worth listening to. I also congratulate, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bird, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, NACRO, on the success of its campaign highlighting the problems of Friday release. One of my mentors in the criminal justice system was my colleague and noble friend Lord Dholakia, who cannot be here today but was for a long time the president of NACRO.
As a non-lawyer, I am a little surprised that we need an Act of Parliament to micromanage the handling of prisoners: perhaps the distinguished Minister can say. We are talking about amending an Act that is 60 years old. Perhaps it is a sign of how important we consider the restriction of freedom in our criminal justice system, but it does seem odd that we need the full panoply of an Act of Parliament in order to manage prisoners’ release. I share the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for all of us to work for alternatives to prison: it is an extremely expensive and in many ways not effective and not cost-effective way of protecting society. I also share my noble friend Lady Bakewell’s worry about a system that is set up to fail.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab): I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for talking about particular cases. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about young prisoners, many of whom have been in care. It must be said that many young prisoners have committed much more serious offences than their adult counterparts—nevertheless, there is an extremely high reoffending rate for young prisoners. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds made a good point when talking about the particular problems of women when they leave prison, not least because they are far further away from their home—or very likely to be—because of the nature of the prison estate.
Lord Bellamy (Con): I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for his contribution, in particular in relation to the female estate. I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester is particularly concerned about that. As has been pointed out, we have the same problem with the female estate because it has relatively few offenders so there are not that many female establishments, meaning that offenders are often far from home; they can also be very vulnerable when they are released. This problem needs particular planning; I hope this Bill will give us an opportunity to ameliorate it.
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