I beg to move,
That this House
believes UK prisons are in crisis;
notes the increasingly high rates of violence, self-harm and drug use in prisons, and the resulting pressure on the NHS;
further notes that the last report by the outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons warned that outcomes across the prison estate were the worst for ten years;
believes that no prison staff should have to go to work facing a threat to their safety;
notes with concern the decision of the Scottish Government, announced in its recent draft Scottish Budget for 2016-17, to reduce funding for the Scottish Prison Service by almost £40 million in cash terms;
is appalled by the disturbing allegations of violence at Medway Secure Training Centre;
regrets the Government’s inadequate response to the Harris Review and to mental health in prisons;
is concerned that re-offending rates are so high;
believes the Government lets down victims of crime by failing to enshrine their rights in law;
regrets the Government’s reckless privatisation of the probation service and the job losses in community rehabilitation companies;
and calls on the Government to put all G4S-run prisons, STCs and detention centres into special measures, to immediately review the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation and to publish the Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
Prison and probation staff have some of the toughest jobs in our country. With few exceptions, they work with industry, compassion and resolution to protect the public and to help to change lives through rehabilitation. All of us in this House owe them our gratitude. Over six years in the shadow Justice team, but also as MP for one of Britain’s most iconic prisons, HMP Wormwood Scrubs, and, in the past, as a criminal barrister, I have visited many prisons and spoken to both prisoners and staff, and to their representatives in the Prisoner Learning Alliance and Napo, to which I also pay tribute.
The inescapable conclusion is that the prison system in this country—I use the term to include both the adult and youth estates—is not working, contrary to the famous pronouncement of the noble Lord Howard. From the Lord Chancellor’s statements and speeches so far, I think he may agree. The question for today is: what are he and his Government going to do about it? It is certainly the view of many in his party that prison is not working. We have waited some time for a parliamentary debate on the crisis in our prisons. This will be the fourth in a week. I hope that is a reflection of the new priority that parliamentarians in both Houses are giving to this issue.
I take the intervention in the spirit in which it is meant, but I hope we are not going to have a war over who did what when. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will see in a moment, we are talking not about the last 10 years, but the last 50 years.
I should make a special mention of the debate on prison reform in the other place on
“That this House believes UK prisons are in crisis”— the noble Lord ended his excellent speech with these words:
“In 1970, we faced a prisons crisis; today, we face a prisons scandal.”
Every speech in that debate was superb, and I hope this House can live up to those high standards today.
“had no difficulty in supporting any of them”.—[Hansard, House of Lords, 21 January 2016; Vol. 768, c. 910-940.]
I assume the same can be said for the Lord Chancellor. To remind him, the five proposals are: deprivation of liberty, but not to make life as uncomfortable as possible; end overcrowding; reduce the number of people sent to prison; do so by re-examining sentences; and pass responsibility to the governor and staff. The Lord Chancellor has spoken approvingly of the last of those points, but does he agree with Lord Fowler and his Minister on the other four points? More importantly, if he does, how will he set out to accomplish them? That is not a trick question. I do not know whether the Lord Chancellor is in muesli mode or Shipley mode today. He has made some fine rhetorical flourishes on the subject of prison reform and set reviews in progress, but what action do his Government intend to take?
I am happy to give the Lord Chancellor a platform today to add some substance to the rhetoric—it is a platform rather than a scaffold—but I will do so by setting out the scale of the task before him. Let me begin with the basic issue of safety. In the 12 months to September 2015, there were 267 deaths in prison custody—95 suicides, up from 60 in the same period in 2010; 153 deaths from natural causes, up from 123; and seven homicides. There have been the same number of homicides in prison in the past two years as there were in the preceding eight. In the 12 months to June 2015, there were 28,881 reported incidents of self-harm, up by 21% in just a year; 4,156 assaults on staff, a 20% rise from the year before; and 578 serious assaults on staff, a rise of 42% from the year before. Tragically, a prison officer, Lorraine Barwell—it was the first such incident of its type in a quarter of a century—died in July last year after being the victim of an attack in the line of duty one month earlier. We owe it to her and her family to ensure that her colleagues are as safe as possible.
My hon. Friend has started by setting out staggering and appalling statistics on the number of prisoners who have sadly taken their own lives or who are self-harming. Does that not underline the problems of mental health in prisons? What more should the Government do to tackle the serious problem of mental ill health among the prisoner population?
My hon. Friend—I know he speaks from a position of knowledge on the subject—is right. I will come to that in a moment.
The prison riot squad was called out 343 times last year—once a day on average—compared with 223 times the year before and 118 times in 2010. Alcohol finds have nearly trebled since 2010. From mobile phones to drugs and legal highs, the list of what people can smuggle into prison at the moment is elastic. According to one prisoner at HMP Oakwood, a prison that the previous Lord Chancellor called
“an excellent model for the future”—[Hansard, 5 February 2013; Vol. 558, c. 114.]
it was easier to get drugs than soap, so there are some restrictions. Earlier this month, seven officers reported suffering ill effects from inadvertently inhaling legal highs. You couldn’t make that up.
I agree with most, if not all, of the provisions in the Bill. The issue we are dealing with here, however, is smuggling contraband into prisons by a number of means, including the increasing use of drones.
Turning to overcrowding, figures released by the Prisons Minister on Monday showed that 25% of all prisoners are in overcrowded cells. In some prisons, such as Wandsworth, the figure rises to over 80%. It is, in the words of the chief inspector,
“sometimes exacerbated by extremely poor environments and squalid conditions.”
This memorably led one member of staff to tell him, of a cell in Wormwood Scrubs, that he
“wouldn’t keep a dog in there”.
In the past 25 years, the prison population has almost doubled, from under 45,000 in 1990 to over 85,000 now. It is projected to increase to 90,000 by 2020. Staff are already struggling, following cuts on an unprecedented scale. There are 9,760 fewer operational prison staff than in 2010, and nearly 5,000 fewer prison officers since 2010. Some 250 prison governors resigned or moved jobs in the past five years.
On education, the Prisoners’ Education Trust reports that prisoners tell them they have to choose between going to the library and having a shower, because of the lack of staff to escort them. Nearly half of prisoners report having no qualifications and 42% of people in prison say they had been expelled or permanently excluded from school. The Lord Chancellor appointed Dame Sally Coates, the distinguished former head of Burlington Danes Academy, to review prisoner education. Perhaps he will let us know what progress she has made.
On mental health, according to an answer given to my hon. Friend Luciana Berger, 60% of prisoners who took their own life last year were not receiving assistance under the assessment, care in custody and teamwork process, which is supposed to identify prisoners at a heightened risk of suicide or self-harm.
My constituency has two prisons—Altcourse, which is privately run by G4S, and Liverpool Walton. Both were inspected recently. The common factor in both inspections was understaffing. Does my hon. Friend think that some of the factors he is identifying are due to the staff numbers at both prisons being the lowest in living memory?
The cuts in staff lie at the root many of the problems I am identifying. The fact that in many cases prisoners now spend 22 or 23 hours in their cell, and have restrictions on work, education and association, is leading to increased violence and poor behaviour in prisons. That is a very short-sighted development. I think the Government realise that, but perhaps too late.
Turning to probation and reoffending, figures I obtained last month revealed that almost one in 10 offenders are convicted of an offence within 18 days of release. HM inspectorate of probation’s fourth report on the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation was published on
Let me turn to the youth estate, and in particular the role of G4S. We welcome the measures announced yesterday by the Lord Chancellor to effectively put Medway secure training centre into special measures. This is unsurprising, as they are exactly what I called for in an urgent question two weeks ago. I also welcome the decision by the director of Medway to stand down. However, individuals should not bear the entirety of the blame for what looks like corporate failure by G4S. I have now written to the Serious Fraud Office to ask that it investigates the allegations, made in the BBC “Panorama” programme on Medway, that instances of disorder were concealed to avoid G4S incurring fines under its contract. This is in addition to the ongoing SFO investigation into G4S and Serco’s manipulation of the tagging contracts for financial gain.
G4S has a truly dismal record of managing public contracts here and abroad. At Rainsbrook STC, six staff were dismissed and the contract was terminated last September, following an inspection report that said some staff were on drugs while on duty, colluded with detainees and behaved extremely inappropriately with young people. The company taking over the contract is MTCnovo. It is a name not well known in this country because, in origin, it is a US prison firm. As such, it presided over a riot in an Arizona state prison and ran a youth facility in Mississippi that a judge described as
“struggling with disorder, periodic mayhem, and staff ineptitude which leads to perpetual danger to the inmates and staff.”
It probably left that reference out of its application, along with the fact that its directors helped to set up Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.
The problems of the youth estate go way beyond G4S, however, which is why the chief inspector of prisons has called for an inquiry into the failings at Medway and the implications for the wider youth justice system.
On the Justice Committee, we interviewed the chief inspector and found his answers on ministerial interference in his reports very interesting. Does my hon. Friend agree that, to the outside world, the fact that the chief inspector’s contract is not being renewed makes it look like he was doing an effective job in holding the MOJ to account, and is now being silenced?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and one that I will come on to.
If the Lord Chancellor is a prison reformer, as he is now billed, we are prepared to work with him. He could start with the Prison Reform Trust report, “Correction or care? the use of custody for children in trouble”, published last year, which looked at successful models around the world. Successful prisons are becoming smaller, more focused and more rooted locally, which is why he is right to abandon his predecessor’s plans for a new borstal. Although he is also to be commended for wishing to close unsuitable prisons, if, as a consequence, prisons are built a long way from friends and family or we move from local to titan prisons, that will have its own drawbacks.
We need prison watchdogs with real teeth and independence. The outgoing inspector, Nick Hardwick, has done a great job in spite of, not because of the Government. This brings me to the point made by my hon. Friend Dr Huq. The reports last week that the MOJ had tried to control or muzzle him were outrageous. I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s announcement yesterday that he will retain Mr Hardwick’s expertise as head of the Parole Board, but let us use this opportunity to shake things up. We need a stronger, more independent inspectorate that is able to produce reports with total independence from the MOJ and to conduct more frequent and unannounced inspections.
The hon. Gentleman paints a bleak picture. Of course we must always do more, but does he accept that, according to a recent report by the chief inspector, outcomes for women have improved and the number of children in custody has fallen?
I accept entirely what the hon. Lady says. I am painting a realistic picture, as the necessary starting point for the improvements that Members on both sides of the House wish to see. There have been improvements. The decline in the number of people in youth custody, from more than 3,000 to less than 1,000, is extremely impressive. It has happened under successive Governments. We are concerned, however, about the condition and treatment of the young people still in custody and the type of facility they are in. The incidents at Medway and elsewhere are examples of how things are failing in that sector as much as elsewhere.
My hon. Friend Jenny Chapman wrote in response to a prison report:
“Too often we see the response to a poor inspection report centre on the appointment of a new governor or the assertion that things have improved dramatically since the poor inspection took place.”
It is time we put much greater effort into preventing people from getting involved in crime in the first place. We need a renewed focus on education and stepping in to divert young people from a life of crime. We must do better for trans people in our prison system. The “Dying for Justice” report, by the Institute of Race Relations, and the Harris review both revealed that black, Asian and minority ethnic people were over-represented at every stage of the criminal justice process. Yesterday, I spoke at a meeting here on the discriminatory effects of joint enterprise charging decisions on BAME individuals and groups, and asked the Lord Chancellor to examine that area of law, which his predecessor failed to do.
In light of the number of Members wishing to speak, I shall terminate my remarks. I welcome the change in tone on prisons since the Lord Chancellor’s appointment, but so far that is about all it is. It is possible to be tough on crime, to put the protection of the public first and to make sure prisons play their role in punishment as well as in rehabilitation, but it is also true, to quote Dostoevsky, who knew a thing or two about crime and punishment, that,
“the degree of civilisation of a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
It is in the self-interest of every citizen that prisoners, having served their time, become productive members of society and do not continue to pose a risk through reoffending. The Lord Chancellor may not be “a muesli muncher”, as he put it yesterday, but he is the Minister for porridge—and it is about time he served up something substantial.
Coming as I do from Aberdeen, I know that porridge is not necessarily something that we consider to be unattractive. My hon. Friend Philip Davies might be relieved to hear that.
Let me first congratulate Andy Slaughter on securing this debate. I thank him for the serious way in which he laid out the scale of the challenge that my Department faces—and, indeed, that faces all of us in this House. He rightly drew attention to the fact that this is the fourth debate on prisons and probation in the last week. He was absolutely right to draw attention in particular to the excellent debate conducted in the other place last week. It was a debate on a motion initiated by Lord Fowler, a former Conservative Cabinet Minister, and it is striking that so many Conservative colleagues are here today. It is important to recognise across the House that the cause of prison reform is one that is shared by people from every political party and should not be regarded as the province of any particular political organisation or caucus.
In thanking the speakers in the House of Lords, I draw attention to the fact that the hon. Member for Hammersmith as well as most of them took the opportunity in the time allowed to them to thank those who work in our prisons. It is important for us all to place on the record if we have time—I recognise that many want to contribute to the debate—our gratitude for the courage and the idealism of those who work in our prisons. I mean not just prison officers, but chaplains, volunteers, teachers and others.
In tandem with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Andrew Selous, who is the Prisons Minister, I had the opportunity last year to visit Manchester prison, or Strangeways as it used to be known. I spoke to a young man who works in the segregation unit and I asked him why he had chosen to work with some of the most challenging offenders. He explained movingly that he had come from a part of the city that was particularly affected by crime, and he wanted to do something in his own career and profession to help make his community safer. He chose to work with those challenging prisoners in the segregation unit because he believed that the personal relationships he could form with individuals there might be able to change their lives for the better while making his community safer. I believe that sort of idealism is typical of those who work in our prisons, and it reinforces an essential point: the quality of the relationship between those who work in our prisons and those for whom they care is not soft or in any way a retreat from public safety, but critical to ensuring it.
The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that the number of attacks on our prison staff has increased by 42%, and these range from severe cuts to damages to internal organs and fractures. In order to keep safe the people who, as he has outlined, work so hard in our prisons, will he order a review into safety at work for prison staff?
The hon. Lady makes an entirely fair point. I do not deny the scale of the problem revealed in the statistics that she and her hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith deployed. The National Offender Management Service runs a violence reduction programme that involves studying precisely why there has been this upsurge in violence. Factors, which have been acknowledged by Members on both sides of the House, have contributed to that. One is the pattern of offenders. Prisons contain more who people who have been convicted of violent and other challenging offences. It is also the case that the spread of new psychoactive substances—which have been misleadingly called “legal highs”, but which the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Andrew Selous, has more accurately termed “lethal highs”—has contributed to a lack of self-control and to psychosis, increased mental health problems and violence in our prison system. We must make some difficult choices to ensure that we can limit the currently widespread availability of those drugs, and also keep people safe in our prisons. I shall talk about one or two of those choices shortly.
I agree that we face a problem—let me emphasise that—but I do not wish to use the word “crisis”, for two reasons. First, I think that it has the potential to undermine the morale of the people who work in our prisons. Secondly, I think that it might draw attention away from the incremental changes that we need to make, which can add up to a significant programme of prison reform. If we allow ourselves to be panicked by headlines and scared into overreaction, we may not be able to take the solid incremental steps that we need to take if we are to improve the present situation.
I was struck by the concern expressed by Steve Rotheram about prison staff numbers. Those of us who care about not just the safety of staff but the effectiveness of the prison regime are understandably keen for our prisons to be staffed effectively, but let me make two points. First, the number of prison officers has increased by more than 500 in the last year. Secondly, there is no absolute correlation between the number of prison officers and the nature of the regime, and the number of violent incidents. I do not deny for a moment that we need to ensure that prisons are properly staffed and prison officers are safe, but the extent of the security that individuals enjoy in a prison is a consequence of a number of factors.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right. Not only should there be safe staffing levels, but we have a duty of care to ensure that that is the case. However, it was Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons, not me, who identified the correlation between low staff numbers and the propensity for drug-taking on the prison estate.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, if we are to deal with this problem, we must be vigilant in ensuring that we have not just staff but the training that is needed to support them.
The hon. Gentleman’s mention of the chief inspector of prisons gives me an opportunity to repeat what I had a chance to say only briefly yesterday, and again to express my gratitude to Nick Hardwick for the role that he has played. His latest annual report certainly does not make comfortable reading for someone in my job, but I would far rather have someone who told us the truth, and ensured that we performed our duties as elected representatives and as Ministers in the full knowledge of the truth, than someone who felt, for whatever reason, that they had to varnish or edit the truth. As I think most people would acknowledge, Nick Hardwick and I do not come from exactly the same point on the ideological spectrum, but because I am committed to using every talented voice and experienced pair of hands that I can find in order to improve our prison system, I am delighted that he accepted my invitation to chair the Parole Board.
It is understandable that, during an Opposition day debate, the hon. Member for Hammersmith should point the finger at failings that he alleges are unique to the Conservatives, and it is understandable that he should focus on the trends and statistics that appear to have worsened under a Conservative Government. However, it is also appropriate to recognise that, as was pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Edward Garnier, there were problems under Labour as well. For example, the incidence of reoffending—which I think provides a real index of the effectiveness of our prisons—is broadly unchanged. I do not say that because I want to make a partisan point; I say it merely because I want to emphasise the difficulties that we all face in improving our prison and probation service. In 2009, 46.9% of those who served custodial sentences went on to reoffend. The figure is now 45.1%. If I wanted to make a partisan point, I would say that the number of reoffenders had declined, but in fact the difference is statistically insignificant, and it is a reproach to all of us.
My right hon. Friend has made an important point about reoffending. I wonder whether he has had a chance to consider my suggestion that the probation and police services should be merged so that offender management outside the prison estate became the responsibility of the police, who, in the end, are having to pick up the pieces. Might we not see a step change in the numbers that he has just outlined if we made that move, as well as quite a large financial saving?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work he did as Deputy Mayor of London, when he was responsible for policing and crime and made a significant contribution to reducing knife crime on our streets and in deploying the Metropolitan police more effectively. I think all of us would agree that prisons and probation cannot work effectively unless there is a close working relationship with the police service. However, I would caution against making a change at this point of the kind my hon. Friend suggests. It is a fascinating idea, and it has been put to me by others whom I respect, but we are just 12 months into the transforming rehabilitation programme initiated by my predecessor, and it is only appropriate that we acknowledge that that programme has already seen an increase in the number of frontline probation officers, again of more than 500.[Official Report, 23 February 2016, Vol. 606, c. 3-4MC.] Yes, it has brought in commercial expertise, but it has also brought in the charitable and voluntary sector and, for the first time, there is a direct requirement to provide support for those prisoners who leave after serving sentences of 12 months or less.
I think that was a humane and wise decision on the part of my predecessor, because we know that people who serve shorter sentences are more likely to reoffend. We can debate the factors that drive that, but what is undeniable is that if someone has served a shorter sentence—if they are part of that cohort more likely to reoffend—they deserve the support of probation just as much as, if not more than, other offenders.
The situation that used to prevail, where these offenders would be given £46 and left to their own devices as they went through prison gate, was replaced by my predecessor and it is only appropriate that this House, whatever other criticisms it directs at this Government, acknowledges that that was a step forward for which he was responsible.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the persistent failure in reducing reoffending rates. Of course part of the challenge in successfully rehabilitating a prisoner is making sure their health and welfare are looked after while they are in prison and also that, when they are released from prison, there is adequate support in the community, particularly for their mental health needs. What more does the right hon. Gentleman think should be done, that is not being done at present, to improve that?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and let me answer it by saying a little more about my analysis—our shared view on the Front Bench—of what contributes to crime, and therefore how we might reduce it.
There are more than 85,000 people in our prisons; 5,000 of them are female prisoners, and almost 10,000 are foreign national offenders, and we obviously want to try to reduce that number by having as many as possible serving sentences abroad. Of the remainder, some have made a conscious decision to do the wrong thing; they have crossed a moral line and society has to make it clear, with a serious punishment, that they should not be let out. It is not just that they are a danger to others; we have got to enforce the principle—the clear, bright line between right and wrong. But there are others in our prison system who will be suffering from mental health problems, and sometimes very serious personality disorders, and while they pose a danger to the public, they also pose a danger to themselves. We need to ensure we improve what is called diversion and liaison—the early detection of these problems and making sure there is an appropriate health solution—and if we do need to keep them safe, whether in a secure hospital or a prison, we also need to ensure that there is the right mental health provision for them.
One of the things I have been doing in the last two weeks is talking to the Secretary of State for Health and the Minister with responsibility for prisoners’ health, my hon. Friend Ben Gummer, and I am due to talk to Simon Stevens, the director of the NHS, in order to ensure we can develop a more sophisticated approach. I am also grateful for the work done in this area by Lord Bradley, whose report on offenders’ mental health under the last Government contains a number of powerful recommendations.
I have done work in my local area of Tyneside with a veterans group, many of whom are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. One thing we have done is develop work in the United States, which has a veterans’ treatment course. The course in Buffalo is the best example; it was the first to be set up and, out of 300 cases, not one reoffended. Will the Secretary of State meet the people involved in this work to try to see if we can make this work, in everybody’s interests?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. We already take seriously the position of veterans in the criminal justice system. At the behest of my predecessor, my hon. and learned Friend Stephen Phillips has produced a report on the care of those offenders, and the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, my right hon. Friend Mike Penning, is carrying forward that work. In particular, he is working with Care after Combat, a charity that supports offenders who have been in the military.
The hon. Gentleman’s point about problem-solving courts is also powerful. When I had the opportunity to visit the United States of America, I saw how veterans courts, drugs courts and problem-solving courts can make a real difference in keeping people out of jail and helping them to put their lives back together, so I would be more than happy to ensure that the Minister talks to the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention brings me on to my next point. Yes, there are some people in our prisons who deserve to be there because they have done wrong. Yes, there are some people in our prisons who are there because of mental health or personality disorders. And then there are other people who have made profound mistakes, crossed the line and committed crimes, but whose actions deserve to be placed in context. I am not for a moment suggesting that the pain a victim feels is any less as a result of the difficult circumstances that some people have been brought up in, but if we want to ensure that there are fewer victims and less pain, we need to ask ourselves what led that young man or woman into criminal activity.
In many cases, the individual will have grown up in a home where violence was the norm. They might have witnessed domestic violence in their very early years. Their brain development might have been arrested by a failure to ensure that there was a loving and secure attachment to a parent or carer who put them first. There might have been an absence not only of love but of loving authority—perhaps no one cared enough about them to teach them the difference between right and wrong. Someone who grew up in such circumstances could go to primary school ill-equipped to benefit from good teaching and go on to secondary school still unable to read.
Such people could find in the culture of gangs on the streets a warmth, a false camaraderie and a sense of self-esteem that they had never found anywhere else. That individual could then go on to commit crimes. Of course, once that individual has broken the law, justice must be done. However, as well as ensuring that justice is done in our courts, we must also ensure that social justice is done on our streets. That means looking at some of the root causes—family breakdown, substance abuse, domestic violence—that contribute to the difficulties that these young people grow up in.
My right hon. Friend is making a profound and powerful point, with which I agree. Does he also agree that the involvement of alcohol is one of the largest drivers of short sentences, and that it often tips people over the edge? He will be aware of the compulsory sobriety project, which has been running in Croydon with powerful results. Now that he has licensed its use across the country, will he put some of his Department’s resources into spreading this disposal, which avoids the need for people to go to prison altogether and is a much more effective treatment for the problem? In removing alcohol, it removes offending.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Minister for Policing has been closely involved in that pilot. So far as we can see, sobriety tags have made a significant contribution to reducing reoffending, and we hope that they will be able to form part of a significant extension of what is known as electronic monitoring, or tagging—in other words, ways in which individuals can be monitored to ensure that they stay on the straight and narrow, as far as possible, in a cheaper and more effective way that can often enable them to maintain their links with work, family or education, which are critical to improving their lives.
That brings me to the hon. Member for Hammersmith’s challenge: what are we going to do about these things? I will be honest: I came into this job not expecting to be in it, but I have found it fascinating and challenging and I have found some of those with whom I have to work inspiring. In contrast to the time that I spent at the Department for Education—I had three years to shadow; when I came to office I had a clear plan that I wished to implement, although not one that necessarily recommended itself to all parts of the House—I have deliberately set out to listen and to learn. I have asked people whose idealism is not in doubt and whose ability is clear to explore the landscape for me. That is why I asked Sally Coates, who cares about the education of the disadvantaged, to look at education in our prison system. Her report will be published in the next couple of months.
It is already clear, as a result of a decision made at the time of the autumn statement, that money that was previously spent by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will now be spent by us in a way that suits prisoners and the needs of offenders and of wider society rather than the requirements of a further education framework that was not appropriate for all offenders. More will be said by Sally in due course and by Charlie Taylor, who has devoted most of his career to working with some of the most difficult young people and who, in his review of the youth estate, has drawn preliminary lessons similar to those highlighted by the hon. Member for Hammersmith.
Yes, it is the case that young offenders are, in many cases, better cared for in smaller environments. Yes, it is the case that they need structure and discipline in their lives, but they also need a clear path towards educational attainment. One problem in our prisons is that, for many, educational attainment is capped by the way in which qualifications have been funded and educational providers have been procured. Prisoners have had diet after diet after diet of level 2 qualifications, which initially may give them a sense of purpose and renewed hope, but ultimately end up with them on a hamster wheel where they are not making the progress—in terms of education and of rehabilitation—that we would like to see.
I have addressed the issue of improving education. I have also asked the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire, to lead a programme to ensure that we can get more prisoners working fruitfully. That will mean: building on the success of organisations such as Halfords and Timpson that have done so much to recruit offenders; incarnating the lessons that the Mayor of London pointed out last week when he said that many employers found that ex-offenders are more honest and more reliable than many of those whom they hire; and providing new incentives for prison governors to give their inmates meaningful work. We must think hard about how we can expand the use of release on temporary licence.
We need to give governors more power to ensure that offenders, at a particular point in their sentence when the governor is as sure as he or she can be that that individual’s risk to others is diminishing, have the opportunity to go out during the day to work or to acquire educational qualifications to prepare them for life on the outside. Almost every prisoner will be let out at some point; we cannot keep every criminal in jail forever. If we are to release prisoners at some point, it is far, far better that they have, by a process of acclimatisation and growth, learned what it is to work responsibly in an appropriate environment or to work hard to acquire the educational qualifications that will give them a new start.
As well as giving governors more power over release on temporary licence, we want to give them more autonomy overall. In offering governors more autonomy, I know that there will be some—perhaps it will be colleagues in the Prison Officers Association—who think that this is a Trojan horse for privatisation or for a bigger role for the private sector. Let me say two things. First, the private sector has had something to offer in prisons, and that is something that unites both Front-Bench teams. There was a growth in the number of private prisons under Labour, and private prisons such as G4S’s Prison Parc in Bridgend do an exemplary job. That is underlined in every inspection.
I want to see governors who are currently in the system—people who joined the National Offender Management Service because of their idealism—given more freedom within the state sector to do what they do best. Baldly, my model is one of academy principals or of the chief executives and clinical directors of NHS foundation trusts who have shown that, with increased autonomy within a structure of clear accountability, they can achieve significant improvements.
I began by saying that I was grateful for the tone in which this debate was opened by the hon. Member for Hammersmith and I am looking forward to hearing and reading as many of the contributions as possible. Let me apologise to the House for the fact that I will have to leave the Chamber at 5.30, although I hope to return at 6.30. Every single contribution to this debate matters. All 85,000 of the prison population, which is so often out of sight and out of mind, are individuals whom we should see not as liabilities but as potential assets. Many of them have led broken lives and many of them have brought pain and misery into the lives of others, but we want to ensure that, in the future, they can contribute to our society rather than bring more pain and misery.
We are tough on crime in the Conservative party, and we appreciate that really being tough on crime means being intellectually tough enough to wrestle with the problems of why crime occurs and how to stop criminals from offending again. What is truly soft on crime is being intellectually soft and reaching for easy, simple soundbites instead of intellectually rigorous solutions, and that is why I commend the Government’s prison reform programme to the House.
The question of how prisons cope with offenders safely and securely is incredibly important, so I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. The concern that prisons are becoming an increasingly dangerous environment for staff and prisoners must be addressed. On the one hand, we have people with the incredibly tough job of regulating and ensuring the safety of those in prisons and, on the other hand, we have offenders who are themselves vulnerable, especially in relation to their mental health. The claim by the outgoing chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales that prisons are at their worst for 10 years is therefore alarming. Deaths in prison custody, incidents of self-harm and assaults on staff are grave issues, so it is important not only that they are tackled, but that we discover their root causes and develop legislation that aims to curb negative behaviours.
Prisons are a devolved issue in Scotland, and the approach of the Scottish Government is distinct from that for England and Wales. While we might be dealing with similar challenges on crime and punishment, we respond to offenders differently. The strategy in Scotland reflects our reshaping of penal policy. The decision not to proceed with the women’s prison in Inverclyde highlights the fact that the Scottish Government are listening and want to reform prisons to make things better for those serving their sentences and the people who work there. Funding will instead go to alternative initiatives further to reduce reoffending with an emphasis on rehabilitation and effective reintegration. Reducing reoffending is a key aspect of resolving the problems faced by the prison system and society as a whole. Reoffending costs about £3 billion a year. It creates victims, damages communities and wastes potential.
The Scottish Government recognise the specific needs of female offenders. Some £1.5 million of community-based justice services for women and support for specialist services for female offenders have been costed. They are based on recommendations by the commission on women offenders and include intensive support to overcome problems caused by alcohol, drugs, mental health and domestic abuse trauma, as evidence shows that they can be drivers of offending behaviour.
The change of policy has been widely accepted. Sharon Stirrat, the director of operations west of Sacro, the community justice organisation, voiced her support of the Scottish Government’s plans. She said that Sacro supports
“the use of credible alternatives to imprisonment for women, many of whom present with multiple and complex issues. The strong focus on recovery, improved partnership working and the investment in community-based services offer an encouraging way forward.”
The Scottish Government believe that short-term prison sentences are ineffective and contribute to several of the problems cited in the motion, yet community-based alternatives such as electronic monitoring and community support initiatives can curb the violence, abuses and ill mental health associated with prison life. Such an approach has already been successful in Scotland.
The Scottish National party’s vision for Scottish penal reform reflects our aim of trying to mitigate some of the effects of austerity on vulnerable people. Through such reform, the SNP offers a safe and effective alternative to the prison system with a focus on rehabilitation, reintegration and a reduction in reoffending. The policy is deliverable within the Scottish budget and tackles the root causes of the very issues that Labour opposes in its motion.
My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Edward Garnier said that some of the dire descriptions of the state of affairs in the prison system could have been given in the House several times in the past few decades. Twenty-five years ago, when I was Home Secretary, and responsible for the prison system, we had debates such as this one, and we have not made enough progress since then, I quite agree.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has provided a new impetus with positive new ideas, and the tone of his speech—and the tone of his speeches since he began to address the issue after, as he said, studying the subject and propounding the way he meant to go on—has been extremely reassuring. The prison system is what we are all rightly concentrating on, as that is where the problems are. I agree with what has been said: the prison system serves two purposes. One is just retribution and punishment, both for serious crime where people have deliberately decided for personal advantage to defy the law, and for people who commit dangerous and violent acts when they lose, or fail to keep, self-control.
The second principal purpose of prison is to try to reform prisoners and to try to ensure that as many of them as possible are cured of their former behaviour when they leave prison so that they find a new purpose in life and do not offend again. Every prisoner reformed means fewer crimes and fewer victims in future. I am delighted that in his approach to his task the Lord Chancellor has put rehabilitation of offenders, where offenders are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities, at the forefront of his aims.
I made speeches in the last Parliament when I was Lord Chancellor covering much of this ground, but I will not repeat any of that. Those fascinated by my ancient views can go back and read them again. My right hon. Friend has spoken about raising the standard of education in prison. Far too many prisoners do not attain any basic standards of literacy or numeracy. Raising skills levels for outside employment is important, as far too many prisoners have never had a job in their life, and we should bring yet more businesses in to join the existing excellent businesses that give proper skills training to prisoners in prison.
We need to tackle drug abuse, which remains scandalously high in prison. We must deal with mental health problems, which are the biggest single issue in raising the healthcare standards of people in prison. I agree with all of that, and I support my right hon. Friend’s enlightened policies. Rehabilitation has been the Government’s agenda ever since we were first elected. Looking back at our performance, I concede that I am disappointed by the progress we have made. Prison management in the Ministry of Justice is infinitely better than it was 25 years ago, and some things have improved. Staff are keen to see the progress described by my right hon. Friend, and there are successes in the treatment of women offenders and young offenders, despite the problems in some institutions, as has been said.
The test that I apply is on the success that we have achieved in rehabilitation. No one shrinks from the fact that we still have to confess that 45% of adult offenders reoffend within 12 months of release. For offenders who serve sentences of less than 12 months, the figure, I believe, is 58%, which means that the prison system is not working as effectively as it should to protect honest citizens outside.
No one knows exactly why that problem is so persistent, but I remain strongly of the view that part of the trouble, if we look at enlightened policies not delivering the results—that is the test we should consider—is the fact that there are too many prisoners in prison. We cannot deliver these policies in squalid overcrowded slums where we do not have the space or the resources to deliver education, training, proper healthcare and better attitudes of the kind we wish to give.
A few years ago when I was Lord Chancellor I complained that the prison population had doubled since I was Home Secretary, despite the fact that the level of crime in the country had markedly dropped. I do not think there was any relation between the two because crime has dropped across the entire western world, in those countries that have shortened their incarceration rate and in those that have extended it. We now have the highest incarceration rate in democratic Europe. We are second only to the United States, where many states now are making determined efforts with even right-wing leadership to get the incarceration rate down and get out of the prisons the people who should not be there.
No. I am sorry. I know my hon. Friend’s views. That is not the reason that I am not giving way. I look forward to hearing them in the short time available, but I do not want to cut anybody out of this debate.
I believe that we should set out as one of our objectives reducing the prison population. I say to my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, who is still in his place, that I set out to do that, not only because I believed that there were people in prison who should not be there, but because that reduction underpinned the bold spending commitments that I offered to the Treasury and which it gratefully accepted. I proposed a 30% cut in the budget of the Department that I had walked into, partly based—there were other savings as well—on getting down the ridiculously excessive prison population. I got it sagging, but it has gone up again, and it is about where it was when we came into office.
My right hon. Friend should not shrink from sentencing reform. He should consult with my friend Lord Justice Treacy, who is in charge of the Sentencing Council, face up to the fact that mandatory minimum levels of all kinds do not match the reality of the varied circumstances of cases, develop better non-custodial sentences and so on. There is a whole speech to be made on that.
Finally, I shall concentrate on one positive suggestion, on which I think my right hon. Friend could proceed, serving the cause of justice, which above all we have to follow, and also meeting the needs of the moment by reducing unnecessary overcrowding. I urge him to get rid of the last vestiges of indeterminate sentences and those who are still serving such sentences in prison. Those sentences were introduced in 2003, they took off surprisingly, and I abolished them in 2012. They were sentences where a minimum tariff was given to reflect the crime but the prisoner would be held in prison indefinitely until he was able to satisfy the Parole Board that he was no longer a risk, or rather that the risks were manageable. I assumed that once we abolished those sentences so that no more would receive them, we would not keep for long those who were already serving such sentences as they steadily earned their release. That has not happened.
When I was Lord Chancellor, there were over 6,000 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences. The forecast was that there would be 8,000 or 9,000 by 2015. We have over 4,000 still there. Of those, three quarters have now exceeded the tariff—the sentence that the judge gave them for their offence—and 392 prisoners have already served five times the sentence imposed on them. Some of them will never be released unless we change the sentencing system. My right hon. Friend has the power to do so.
I wanted to get rid of those sentences altogether and let people out as they reached the tariff. Senior colleagues were understandably nervous and cautious about that and I was not allowed to take the step I wanted to take to achieve that. I took the power in the Bill. If my right hon. Friend studies the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, he will see that he has the power to alter the terms of reference for the Parole Board. At the moment, the individual prisoner has to prove to the Parole Board that he poses no risk. Of course, no prisoner could make any of us certain that he will not reoffend when released; we just hope that most of them will not. The burden should be the other way around; we should only keep a prisoner indefinitely—some of them will stay for life if we are not careful—when there is reason to believe that he would pose a risk if released.
There are 4,000 prisoners that my right hon. Friend could steadily and more rapidly get rid of. I think that easing the pressures on the Prison Service would help him achieve all his goals. I very much hope that he achieves them. If he can deliver what he has decided to try to deliver, he will indeed be a great reforming Lord Chancellor.
Several hon. Members rose—
The tone of this debate has been very civil, so let us hope that that continues—I am not sure whether it will. I am reassured by the civil tone taken by the Justice Secretary, a man I have a lot of respect for, as I do for the Prisons Minister, who I have met on many occasions to discuss the prison nearest my constituency. The Opposition’s motion is well crafted and spells out clearly the situation facing not only the Prison Service, but the probation service—the debate so far has not focused enough on the probation service.
It is absolutely clear that the Prison Service is in utter chaos. Now, I am not looking to put the blame on anybody. I am not looking to hold these six fingers up and say, “You’ve been in for six years, so you should have cleared it by now.” And I do not want anybody to intervene and ask, “What did you do when you were in power?” That is not the issue; the issue is how we put this situation right. The Prison Service is in utter chaos, and I am not bothered about what anybody says, because I have had constituents coming to see me about it, including prisoners, members of the public, teachers, chaplains, people who work on the prisons estate and members of the Prison Officers Association. It is right to place on the record our high praise for the men and women in the Prison Service and the probation service, who do a fantastic job in the most difficult circumstances. It is important that they realise that Members of this House understand the problems they face.
It was not just the unions or individuals who have suggested that the Prison Service has deteriorated; it was the chief inspector of prisons himself. He said that they were the worst he had seen them for 10 years. At the same time as the prison population continues to increase—a record 85,000-plus people are now in prison—we are seeing a reduction in the number of staff on the prisons estate. We have more prisoners but fewer people looking after them. Surely that is a recipe for disaster.
The Justice Secretary said there have been 500 new recruits over the past year or so, but we must consider the staff reductions on the prisons estate before then. We lost lots of people with tremendous experience from the Prison Service, and the people who filled that hole are on lower wages, have worse terms and conditions and lack any experience in what is an important occupation. We lost that experience from the Prison Service and have not regained that ground.
All of us, as politicians, have deep concerns about this situation, and I will tell Members why. This has been mentioned already, but let us look at the bare statistics on what is happening in the Prison Service as we sit here debating. Deaths in custody are up by 14%, self-harming is up by 21%, and prisoner-on-prisoner assaults are up by 13%. There were 4,156 staff assaulted by prisoners last year—a 20% increase, which has got to horrify everyone—and 572 serious assaults on staff, an increase of 42%, as Members on both sides of the House have said. At the very least, we should be ensuring that members of the Prison Service, who are doing the job that they are paid to do, should be safe in doing so. These rates show that there must be fear and stress every time they get out of bed in the morning or the evening. We are not looking after them—the statistics show that. We have seen the horrific injuries that many of them have received while doing a day’s work to put shoes on the kids and bread on the table. We should be looking at ways and means of ensuring that these statistics are greatly reduced.
Mr Clarke talked about reoffending rates. The adult reoffending rate is now 45.8%—that is wholly unacceptable—and the juvenile reoffending rate is 66.5%. We have to get to the bottom of this, because if we do not, the rates will continue to increase and there will be further chaos on the prison estate. It is frightening. I am not being alarmist, but the Prison Service is in complete and utter meltdown and mayhem.
When we talk about the privatisation of prisons, which has happened many times, it is said, “Well, the Opposition privatised prisons when they were in government.” That is true—it is pointless my standing here trying to erase historical facts—but that does not make it any better when we see what is happening in some privatised prisons today. Sodexo was the successful bidder to operate HMP Northumberland, the prison nearest to my constituency. Immediately, the Sodexo model was to reduce the workforce from 440 to 270. That frightened so many experienced people—I have mentioned them before—that there was a rush for redundancies and many of them left the service: something that we did not want to see.
People who come to see me are frightened. We hear reports about what is happening in the likes of HMP Northumberland with the drugs and the Spice. Spice must be unbelievable. I am not sure if anybody here will admit to having taken it. Certainly I have not, and it would not be my intention to do so. People reckon that Spice is rife—that everybody in the prison is on it, and if not there is something wrong with them, so they should be on it. How are they getting this stuff into the prison? Why has it been allowed to escalate to the proportions it has? Someone mentioned earlier the Bill on legal highs that is passing through Parliament. It does not matter whether these highs are legal or illegal—we must stamp them out on the prison estate, because they are causing problems with violence and everything else associated with the things we are discussing.
Alcohol is a huge problem. There is alcohol in the prisons. People are making their own alcohol. Not last Christmas but the Christmas before, there was an emergency situation in HMP Northumberland where the contact room could not get in contact with one of the prison officers. He was a man who had just been employed; he had not even been checked. He was one of the people who had no experience, but he knew from where he lived a few of the prisoners, who were his mates. Those in charge looked for him and tried to contact him—this was on new year’s day—and when they eventually went up on the wing, where the doors were open and everyone in the prison was having a whale of a time, they found not the prisoners lying intoxicated on their beds, but the prison officer. The real crime was that the keys for the wing were lying there for anybody to get hold of, which I believe is considered a cardinal sin.
I have raised such points with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Andrew Selous, who has responsibility for prisons. Similar things are happening. We have people with mobile phones arranging crimes from their cells. That cannot be right, and we must stamp it out. We have discussed such things. We have bullying and intimidation as we have never seen them before. Another incident at HMP Northumberland that we need to look at happened when there were not enough prison staff to ensure the segregation of vulnerable prisoners from ordinary, mainstream ones. That caused absolute mayhem, as hon. Members can understand. Faeces were found in the vulnerable prisoners’ food, which cannot be allowed to happen in the modern day.
I will wrap up simply by saying that I hope, in this debate on prisons and probation, that someone will speak about the probation side. Since privatisation, the fragmentation of the probation service has caused lots of problems within the service, which is something else we need to consider.
Several hon. Members rose—
It is a pleasure and a privilege to speak in this very important debate. I recognise the serious tone that has been adopted by hon. Members thus far.
I particularly commend the Lord Chancellor for his immensely impressive analysis. He was spot on both about the cause of offending and about the way forward. I commend his analysis to my hon. Friends not just as thorough and thoughtful, but, from my point of view, as profoundly Conservative. As he rightly observed, none of us has a monopoly on understanding the need for prison reform.
The issues are intractable. When I started to make prison visits as a young barrister some 30—nearer 40—years ago, institutions or facilities such as Wandsworth,
Holloway or Wormwood Scrubs were already unsatisfactory and not fit for purpose. They have not got better since, and the pressures have become greater. The pressures of overcrowding and of contraband entering prisons existed then—contraband has long been an issue; what has changed is simply the nature of the technology of the contraband and the means by which it is brought in—so these are long-standing issues.
The Lord Chancellor and his team deserve credit for addressing such issues, and particularly for having the imagination to replace our ageing Victorian prison estate when it is virtually impossible to carry out serious rehabilitative work, and given that dealing with the very real mental health and psychological issues of many prisoners is and should also be a top priority. Now that he has set out a vision, I hope that the Lord Chancellor will very swiftly give the House detailed proposals on how we can move forward.
The Justice Committee is currently carrying out an inquiry concentrating on young adult offenders, which is a particularly difficult subset of the prison population. The inquiry is influenced by the excellent review by Lord Harris of Haringey; in fairness, I should say that his work was done at the request of the previous Lord Chancellor in the coalition Government. The Government have responded to Lord Harris’s review, but I would argue that its detail—it goes beyond purely the specifics of young offenders to draw many other lessons—deserves a more detailed and substantive response than has been made so far. Much that is of general application can be taken from the review.
Safety in prisons is a critical issue. I do not doubt the quality of our prison staff. In the course of our inquiry, the Select Committee has visited Holloway prison and the young offenders institution at Aylesbury, where there are excellent people working. My concern is that the senior management of NOMS do not always give the impression that, in their operations on the ground, they have worked through in practice the assurances they have given us in the Select Committee or elsewhere. It is important that NOMS has a genuinely flexible and responsive management system. There is scope for further review of the way in which NOMS delivers its laudable objectives in practice. I am sure that the new chief inspector, whom we look forward to having back before the Select Committee in about three months’ time, will have a strategy on that matter that he will want to discuss with the Lord Chancellor.
The Select Committee was particularly struck during the inquiry by the evidence we took from the families of young people who had died in custody. It was profoundly moving and demonstrated that there have been repeated and needless failings in some areas, such as sharing information and acting swiftly and decisively on information that could have been addressed. Those things can be put right through fairly basic measures.
There are successes and failings in the prison estate, but neither the successes nor the failings are unique to either privatised or publicly run prisons. We need to be realistic and not simplistic about that. We welcome the evidence that the prisons Minister and the chief executive of NOMS have given to us, but we think that there needs to be a specific programme, with action plans, to tackle violence and self-harm in prisons. I agree that there must certainly be more of an emphasis on rehabilitation.
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke was right to refer to the pointlessness of continuing with the so-called indeterminate public protection sentences. Yesterday, I was at the same event as the shadow Minister, Andy Slaughter, where that point, among others, was made powerfully. We could start work on that swiftly.
We should recognise that a structured life and meaningful work are important in prison. Perhaps we should see whether we can remove some of the legal constraints that prevent meaningful and paid employment. Perhaps it would be right for prisoners to do work that is taxable. The money that they earned could be set aside for them and their families upon release. The Lord Chancellor’s vision points in that direction and I hope that he will give us more detail on how that might be achieved.
Finally, it is important that we have a robust inspectorate to ensure compliance. I wish the new inspector well. I hope that the protocol that was referred to when the permanent secretary and the outgoing chief inspector gave evidence to us recently will be put in place swiftly to ensure that resourcing and independence are not an issue in the ability of the inspectorate to deliver its important work.
All in all, this is an important and thoughtful debate. Those who believe in genuine reform and not in simplistic sloganising, and those who have spent much of their working lives in the system will welcome it.
In preparing this speech, I thought about the different angles from which I could come at the topic. I could have picked radicalisation, women offenders, mental health, drugs, violence, opportunities for early intervention and diversion, or young people. There are plenty of ways to approach the topic of prisons, but I will talk mostly about staff. I spent five years shadowing prisons Ministers. As one would expect, I visited prisons regularly and met hundreds of prison staff, as well as offenders and victims of crime. I cannot tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, how poorly understood, undervalued and ignored our criminal justice workforce feel and, indeed, have become.
That was brought home to me in the starkest possible way when a custody officer, Lorraine Barwell, lost her life at the hands of a prisoner at work. When serving armed forces personnel lose their lives in the course of duty or when, occasionally, police officers sadly lose their lives in the course of duty, their names are rightly read out at the beginning of Prime Minister’s questions that week. No such honour was afforded to Lorraine. I know that no disrespect was intended, but it does illustrate the disparity in the esteem in which prison officers and other uniformed services are held.
Those of us in the House with an interest in prisons policy—it is great that there is so much interest today that there is a speaking limit—have the capability and, I would say, the duty to change that, and change it we must. There is no doubt in my mind that our prisons are in a dreadful state, but, with the right leadership from the Government, it is prison staff who hold the key to unlocking the rehabilitation revolution that we all want.
Several Government Members have said that it is all very well our presenting this motion to the House, but we could have presented it six years ago, in 2010, when things were just as bad. They should take absolutely no pride or comfort in that fact. I want to be part of a Parliament that sees improvement. The opportunity to deliver the rehabilitation revolution that Mr Clarke promised us—and that I believe he so dearly wanted and tried to deliver—has been completely wasted in the last five years. We have seen a deterioration of standards in our prisons and no improvement at all.
So how bad is it really? It is my view—and the data from the Ministry of Justice bear this out—that our jails have never been less safe. Further, the interventions put in place by Government have been ineffective in putting prisons on course for improvement. They are getting worse; they are not getting better. Last year there were 95 self-inflicted deaths in prison. That means that, once every four days, someone in prison takes their own life. There have been seven murders in our prisons. These events are devastating for the families concerned, they sometimes leave victims feeling cheated and they can be deeply traumatic for staff.
The secret to safer prisons is in staffing, and I do not mean just staffing numbers—we have spoken about that already—although that is incredibly important. What I am talking about is what our staff actually do. All staff I have spoken to can tell us of occasions when they believed they made a difference, but they can also tell us of many more occasions when they wished they could have done more. I am all for bringing experts and specialists into prisons to help to deliver education, rehabilitative courses and the like—some of them work and do some good—but what we should be doing more of is using the experienced staff resource that is present on the wing, day in, day out. When a visit is cancelled, when news of a loved one dying needs imparting or when a fight breaks out, it is the officers who are there. They are the staff who should be demonstrating, and are demonstrating on a daily basis, how to keep one’s cool, de-escalate a situation or sometimes, for example, even just how to take a joke properly. It is not psychologists, counsellors or boards of visitors who are present; it is prison officers. They are undervalued, undertrained and underutilised.
There are undeniably problems with substance misuse and mental health, particularly for women prisoners, when we look at the suicide rate.
I am interested to hear the hon. Lady refer to substance abuse. She will know that the figures indicate that there is a greater incidence of those addicted to substances in prison than there is outside. There is also the issue of how the drugs come in. How does she feel the Prison Service should stop drugs coming through the prison gates—perhaps the Minister could respond to that—and ensure that those inside who were not drug users before do not become drug users when they leave?
I am extremely grateful for that intervention. The way we solve that is through staff, because they are there and it is their job to deal with it.
There are not enough of them and they are not sufficiently well trained to perform that task to the standard that we want them to. I want our prisons to be safer, because if they are safer, they are doing their job of rehabilitation properly.
I want to raise one thing with the Minister. The Harris report on deaths in custody recommended that the Minister should phone the family of anybody who dies in prison by taking their own life. He has rejected that recommendation, but I would ask him to adopt it today—to phone the family of anyone who takes their own life and any member of staff who finds somebody who has taken their own life. That would focus his attention, but just as importantly it would focus the attention of his officials and senior staff in NOMS. Facing that reality is something that no official wants to do. They certainly do not want to have to prepare their Minister to do it. There is one self-inflicted death every four days. That is not good enough. He needs to take personal responsibility for that. It would be a welcome move on his part if he could commit that small amount of time to contact the family of someone who dies in our prisons, in our care, each time it occurs.
Sadly, I cannot support the motion on the Order Paper, but I agree with parts of it. As Jenny Chapman said, we have high rates of violence, self-harm and drug use in prisons, which I agree puts pressure on our NHS. I agree that no staff member should have to go to work to face threats to their safety. Who is not concerned with rehabilitation? The question concerns what we do about it.
I want to focus on prisons. Let me begin by reading a short passage to the House:
“The justice budget is far too high. Over the course of the last two decades, the vision for the justice system has been a maximalist one: expanding the reach of the system into people’s lives; expanding state interference through…legislation; expanding the numbers of people entering the courts and, ultimately, entering prison. The justice budget therefore could and should be cut substantially, but it must be cut in the right way.”
Hon. Members could be forgiven for thinking that that is a quote from a Conservative manifesto or a right-leaning think-tank, but they would be wrong. It is the opening paragraph from the 2015 spending review submission from the Howard League for Penal Reform.
I believe that we have a golden opportunity in this country. We have a new Government, a reforming Justice Secretary—my goodness, did he not prove that today?—a tough financial environment and a third sector crying out for a different approach. It is therefore good that the Prime Minister said the following in his party conference speech last autumn:
“We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this”.
He was quite right.
Our aim has to be to reduce the incidence of crime and the factors that pull people into the criminal justice system in the first place. Is our reason for doing so money? Yes, it is about money and the need to find big savings in the Department, but it is also about effective government. I believe—this is not often said in the
House—that it is also the Christian thing to do. Nearly half of all inmates go into prison with no qualifications. Many of them come out with none. All the problems that may have led them to that life remain unchanged, including, as the Secretary of State said, drug addiction, mental health problems and childhood abuse. Prison is literally locking poverty into our country and we as a society are paying the bills.
What is the intellectual basis for that? I have never been more sure that prison reform is compassionate Conservatism in action, both financial and social. That is why I would argue that criminal justice policy is not solely about the Ministry of Justice; it is as much about our education and welfare reforms. In my opinion, prison is the ultimate state failure, so a smaller secure estate is a smaller, cheaper and more effective state. That should be a cause that all Conservatives can rally around.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we are going to reduce the strain on our prisons, it is essential that we devise community penalties that are more robust and, frankly, more onerous, so that they can command the respect of the public, who rightly expect crime to be punished?
I will come on to that. The community courts that I saw in the United States were a good step towards that. My hon. Friend will find that the Government are very interested in what is happening over there.
The Ministry of Justice is currently a demand-led Department—demand for prison places and probation services is fed by the criminal courts, which are in turn fed by the police and prosecution services, which are in turn fed by the incidence of crime. My view is that we should seek to place the penal system on a more sustainable footing by seeking to reduce demand on the system, particularly in respect of prison numbers, rather than pursuing the old, tired predict-and-provide policy.
If austerity did not force our hand, we should do it anyway. Austerity did not lead to the Right on Crime initiative in Texas, but we should look to it. The Justice Committee of the last Parliament, of which I was a member alongside the current Leader of the Opposition, visited Austin and Houston, where we met Republican state representative Jerry Madden, who is no fluffy liberal—he describes himself as a typical Texan Republican. He told us this:
“30% of the people in prison today we’re scared of - 70% we’re just mad at. We need to lock up the 30 and get a whole lot smarter about the 70.”
I think he is right. Let me be clear before anyone gets excited: this is not about throwing open the doors, but about slowing down the rate at which prisoners come in by providing less costly and more effective alternatives to sentences.
Custody should not be the only means through which society expresses its disapproval. Treatment should be a way of doing that, too. The Texan focus would therefore be to give judges options and to finally tackle the underlying causes of repeat offending. Madden made what must have been a welcome call on the Texas Governor of the time to recommend that he halve the budget earmarked for new prisoners and spend the rest on treatment instead. The drug courts that followed are one of his most striking creations. I spent an afternoon in Houston in Judge Denise Bradley’s STAR drug court in Harris County observing this new justice in action. Every one of the young people coming before it has been in prison before and is now a non-violent reoffender, which is why they are back.
Drug courts are a tough alternative. Offenders live in halfway house-style premises, but they hold jobs and maintain links with their families and, most importantly, their children. Every two weeks they come back to court for a kind of progress report. It is working. Recidivism rates in Texas are falling fast, so it is very welcome that the Government are exploring how we can bring these courts here to England and Wales.
There will always be serious offenders who need locking up and need to stay there. No one, neither here nor in Texas, is arguing any differently, but there are the others and we cannot afford the ongoing rate of state failure that they represent. I agree we should close the old Victorian prisons, but we should not just build more like-for-like. To be clear, I absolutely am saying we should reduce the prison population significantly. The Government should look again at older prisoners, the fastest-growing group in the estate, return to the 82 recommendations from Lord Bradley on the over-representation of people with mental health problems, and look again at Jean Corston’s work on women prisoners.
The Justice Secretary said, in his first major speech last summer, that there is
“treasure in the heart of man”.
I believe he is right. I believe that, like me, he is an optimist about the human condition. My right hon. Friend will know that Winston Churchill said:
“there is a treasure…in the heart of…man”—[Hansard, 20 July 1910; Vol. 19, c. 1354.]
at that Dispatch Box when he was Home Secretary with responsibility for police, prisons and prisoners. We have a much more fragmented system these days, but the basics have not changed. We can lock ’em up and spend a fortune biting off our nose to spite our face in the long run, but it is time to try something different.
I welcome the tone of the debate, and I welcome the Justice Secretary’s approach in listening to those who work in the prison service and those who experience it. I have spoken to prison officers in my constituency, as well as to social workers who work with young offenders and to education workers in our prisons, in putting together my speech for this debate.
HMP Lancaster Farms is in my constituency and it employs a great number of my constituents. In the summer, I had the opportunity to visit the prison and meet staff and representatives of the Prison Officers Association. It was during that visit that I observed a control and restraint training session. It was clear that the physical requirements of being a prison officer were considerable. A concern raised with me by prison officers—they asked me to raise it in the House—is whether, with the increase in the retirement age to 68, we are expecting our prison officers to remain in effective service until that age, given that they face with incredibly strong, often young prisoners who challenge them physically as well as verbally.
Since November, it has been a criminal offence to throw items into a prison without authorisation, but at Lancaster Farms 36 parcels have been thrown over the fence and retrieved by staff. One such parcel contained a hunting knife—a horrific weapon that could have done a massive amount of damage had it made it into the hands of the prisoner it was intended for. During my visit, I had the opportunity to speak with Sarah Rigby, the POA branch chair at HMP Lancaster Farms. She raised concerns about the reduced staffing levels she has seen in the eight years she has worked at the prison. In the interests of listening to the voices in the profession, I hope the House will indulge me if I read from an email she sent me yesterday:
“the reduced staffing levels do mean that my colleagues and I do not feel as safe or confident in dealing with prisoners as we previously have done. When I first started working at Lancaster Farms there could be between 8 and 10 prison officers to supervise meal time when all of the wing would be unlocked. This meant that if a prisoner became non-compliant, or there was an incident (a fight, an assault for example) there was an adequate amount of staff to deal with the incident and to continue to supervise the rest of the wing. There are now 3 Prison Officers to supervise at meal times when the whole wing is unlocked and the majority of the time it is very difficult to find enough staff to ensure there are the minimum 3 we require before we are able to unlock. This is stressful and impacts on both staff and prisoners alike. It can also mean you deal with a situation very differently if you find yourself isolated with a prisoner threatening you. This would not have happened when we had more staff as there was always someone available to come to your aid. The reduced staffing levels also have an impact on prisoners in that we struggle to deliver as high a level of care as we used to be able to. There is little time for general conversation and for building good staff/prisoner relationships.”
The latter point ties in with the speech by my hon. Friend Jenny Chapman.
In all my meetings with Sarah, she has always been passionate about her job—she is passionate about the rehabilitation of prisoners—but the reduced staffing levels are clearly distressing for her and her colleagues working with these vulnerable adults and trying to do their best by them. Assault is a fairly regular occurrence. I recently took on some casework on behalf of two prison officers at Lancaster Farms who were assaulted when a mixture of urine and faeces was thrown at them. The prisoner was prosecuted by the police, but when the victims are asked for their victim impact statements after the prisoner has been sentenced, what message does that send to our prison staff? It sends a message to prisoners that staff are there to be abused and assaulted with little or no consequences for their actions. This view is shared by prison officers I have spoken to in my constituency.
This week in Lancaster Farms, three members of staff were injured in an incident when restraining two prisoners who would not stop fighting. Further to this, two female officers have been assaulted in the last week. Sarah told me that
“neither were considered to be ‘serious’ as there were no visible injuries. Speaking from experience...there may be no visible injuries but these incidents always have a negative impact on staff - it is irrelevant whether or not they are considered to be serious.”
These incidents and experiences of prison staff at HMP Lancaster Farms are sadly far from unique. The Government are presiding over a crisis in our prisons. Too many of our prisons are unsafe, overcrowded, understaffed and violent. It is not right that people go to work fearing violence, but that is the sad reality for our prison officers.
The latest statistics, which have been mentioned, are shocking: a 42% increase in the number of assaults on prison officers in the last year. Does the Minister think it acceptable that any prison officer should have to go to work facing such a threat of violence? We need the best and brightest to enter the profession to rehabilitate our prisoners. What message are we sending people considering this as a career option, when so many of them are being assaulted at work? The state of our prisons is letting down our prison staff, prisoners struggling to rehabilitate themselves, victims of crime and society.
I am delighted the Government have recognised the problems in our Prison Service that need to be addressed. In order to bring down crime rates, it is vital that we tackle reoffending rates in Britain, which we know are far too high. Those reoffending rates are no coincidence. Many prisoners who reoffend are habitual offenders who have been offered little or no rehabilitation during their time in prison. Often they have already been victims themselves. They have been failed by the inability of successive Governments, of all colours, to address problems such as drug addiction, mental health issues and poor education in wider society and the prison system.
That is why I believe it is vital to open up our prisons to many more outside organisations with new and fresh ideas. I want to mention the amazing work of my constituent, Jackie Hewitt-Main, of whom I am immensely proud, and the charity she founded, the Cascade Foundation, of which, I am proud to declare, I am a patron. The charity does amazing work. It has carried out a pilot at Chelmsford prison in Essex and is now working with the National Offender Management Service and Manchester college in Doncaster prison.
Cascade helps offenders at every stage in prison—from when they arrive, following through with education and then release and beyond, as it houses many prisoners when they leave. The primary focus is on assisting offenders who suffer from dyslexia or other learning difficulties and particularly head injuries, who have often long been overlooked and let down by their early experience in schools. We know that more than 70% of prisoners have low levels of literacy, and it is no wonder they are in prison. Many of them are not even able to take the theory part of the test for a driving licence, which would help them to get some legal work.
It is vital to approach such prisoners, but they have often not been well served by the prison education system. Many had a phobia about the classroom environment, and the novel multi-sensory techniques of the Cascade Foundation are superb for reaching those prisoners in a one-to-one way. Jackie and her team of trained ex-offenders and other prisoners use all kind of techniques, including the use of glitter, toothpaste, sand, even pastry cutters to try to engage these often illiterate prisoners, many of whom might be starting with pre-entry-level English.
By using these means, Jackie has achieved some extraordinary successes. The success stories speak for themselves and are inspirational. That is so much the case that Jackie’s work has been honoured by the TV programme “Surprise Surprise”, and she even became The Sun “wonder mum of the year” for 2015 in recognition of the work she has done with so many of these youngsters.
When Jackie was working on her programme in Chelmsford prison, she had incredible success rates in reducing reoffending. Indeed, the rates plummeted to less than 6% among the people she took on in her cohort. Six years later, the rate was massively below the national average. Three of those who had served more than 40 years in prison did not reoffend. I challenge anyone to discount looking at such an innovative idea that has brought such extraordinary success rates.
Jackie is getting amazing results in her current work in Doncaster, bringing people with pre-entry levels of English up to level 2 and beyond within a matter of months. Some make a whole year’s progress within a month, having utilised her extraordinary methods. Let me cite what John Biggin, the previous governor of Doncaster prison, said:
“The potential for sustained and often life-changing results for prisoners going through this programme cannot be underestimated…The potential for good that this programme can deliver is not only worth investing in, but embracing as part of the DNA of our prison.”
Another great success story from Doncaster prison is about an ex-prisoner called DL, who had spent virtually his entire adult life in prison for 22 years. He was deemed to be one of the most disruptive and disengaged men in the prison. He had had a troubled upbringing and successive school failures, giving him a fear of the classroom. With the use of small spaces and multi-sensory learning, he was taught to read and write the alphabet for the first time, and he subsequently made rapid progress—eight years’ progress in eight months! DL says:
“I’ve spent 22 years in prison. I’ve beaten up staff and everything. I’ve just had my 40th birthday and it’s the first one outside prison as an adult. Now I can attend job interviews and I’m planning to take the driving theory test which I’ve always feared to do before.”
I would recommend anyone not impressed by those results and the possible transformative effects that can be seen if we change our approach to rehabilitation in prison to visit the Cascade website.
I mentioned Jackie Hewitt-Main not just to draw attention to her amazing work—it is easy to tell that I am very proud of it—but to stress the transformative role that outside independently-run agencies can achieve by bringing new ideas into the Prison Service. I also commend Doncaster prison because two ex-prisoners from the previous project at Chelmsford prison—Colin Nugent and Phil Aldis—have trained as teachers. These are the only ex-offenders ever to be able to teach within a prison setting. I commend the work of Doncaster prison, which is run by Serco. I say congratulations on adopting that innovative approach.
I believe that freezing funding for prisons and outside agencies to offer assistance to offenders will be an absolute disaster. We need to do more to open up to further new innovative ideas—supporting the work both of prison staff and prison governors. They should be able to innovate, to bring in new ideas and new organisations, and to experiment. We need to do something new, because much of what has been done for years has not worked. Anything that works to bring down rates of offending will also bring down the number of victims.
The corrosive effect of imprisonment on young people, particularly those entering custody for the first time, is absolutely appalling. Is incarceration, in its present form, suitable for the overwhelming majority of young people? I believe that prevention is far better than cure, and that if we catch them when they are young, we can do so much good.
Report after report highlights the vulnerability of most of these young people, who have been bullied, abused and neglected, emotionally, physically and sexually, and it also highlights their lack of education. If prison is to be justified, as a last resort, it must operate in a small, rehabilitative and therapeutic environment. I speak on the basis of my experience as chairman of Red Bank, a small secure children’s home in St Helens North, when I was leader of the borough council. The staff and board of the home were absolutely committed to the young people’s reform, care and rehabilitation, and they were treated with the respect and empathy that such children need in order to develop trusting relationships and change their behaviour. They were able to learn and understand about society, about why and how their behaviour was unacceptable, and about why they needed to change.
The Red Bank home was given the first “excellent” educational rating that had been achieved in our borough. The children were able to engage in purposeful activities such as cookery, “Dine With Me”, car valeting, woodwork and gardening. They took part in discussion groups, and they learnt how to decorate a home and paint murals. When I saw the programme about the Medway secure training centre, I found myself comparing it to the Red Bank.
We were given a grant of £7 million, which we used to create a purpose-built secure education unit, but it became redundant within two years of being opened. Sadly, we did not receive the capital allocation that we needed to replace the appalling living conditions, and as a result we were not awarded a Youth Justice Board contract. It was traumatic and disruptive for those young people to have to move to different places where they were not given the same care and attention, and the purpose-built education block stands empty now.
Prisons do not work. The outcomes are extremely poor. Prisons have revolving gates. My hon. Friend Cat Smith asked how drugs get into prisons. Well, one answer is drones: there were eight drops last year. Another is potatoes, which are scooped out and filled with drugs before being delivered with other cooking materials. Sometimes drugs are kicked over walls. Visitors are coerced into taking them into prisons, as, of course, are staff. Spice is big business. It is cheap, it does not involve much risk because it is not a crime, and there is a big market for it in prisons. I hope that the criminalisation of the act of taking drugs into prisons, which will take effect in April, will help to reduce the problem.
Last week, along with the other members of the Justice Committee, I had the privilege of meeting some young adults who had been released on temporary licence. I use the word ”privilege” because it heartened me—particularly after the Medway case—to see the good work that was being done. Young people working with the St Giles Trust were involved in all kinds of social work and education. Some were working for degrees, and some were helping other people by, for instance, answering calls. All were enthusiastic and proud of what they were doing, and I was proud to meet and talk to them.
I also met the parents of two young people who had died, and heard about the traumatic times that they had experienced. I heard that they had been let down by institutions that did not hand over the reports that had been given to them, and had been put in inappropriate secure accommodation when they were experiencing mental health problems. Risley remand centre is short of staff, and cannot provide rehabilitation or engage with young people. Older people had also been segregated in inappropriate secure units, for as long as 22 hours a day.
I have often said that my passion is prison reform. I have often asked who would be brave enough to stand up in the House and say what is necessary and to see it through. I listened very carefully to the Secretary of State, and I think he means business. I hope the Government and this House give the necessary support to bring about the change that we owe to society, because at present we are wasting millions and millions of pounds and breeding more hardened criminals. We are doing an injustice to young people who are mentally ill, and we are doing an injustice to their parents who have tried to get help.
There is lots going on in prisons that is wrong, of course; we have all read the reports. I urge that we address the issues raised in the Harris review and the many other reviews. I look forward to being in this Chamber to see, and be part of, the reform and rehabilitation of the punitive system in this country.
First, may I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and other Members: I have a meeting at 6.15 pm with the relevant Minister about the flooding in my constituency so I will be away from the debate for that time? No discourtesy is intended, and I hope my apology will be accepted.
I want to concentrate on one thing that I believe is seriously overlooked in debates on justice: the use of fixed-term recalls, one of the biggest injustices in the criminal justice system. Most people believe that if someone is let out of prison early—whether halfway through their sentence, a quarter of the way through on home detention curfew, or at some other point before they should be let out—if they reoffend during that time or breach their licence conditions, they should go back to prison to serve the rest of their original sentence at the very least, and some, like me, might argue that they should be sent to prison for longer. Unfortunately, that is not always, or even often, the case.
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 amended the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to introduce fixed-term recalls. It was not done because it was the right thing to do; it was done to reduce the prison population when it got out of hand under the last Labour Government and they did not have the necessary capacity. A fixed-term recall occurs when an offender reoffends or breaches their licence conditions, and as a result they do not go to prison for the remainder of their original sentence; they go back for 28 days—just 28 days.
The overwhelming majority of the public believe offenders should serve the whole of the sentence they were given in the first place. In fact, a poll by Lord Ashcroft found that 80% of police officers, 81% of the general public and 82% of victims believe sentences are already too lenient, but thanks to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, as of
I recently asked a parliamentary question and found that in 2014 an astonishing 7,486 people were given this 28-day, all-inclusive mini-break in prison for reoffending or breaching their licence conditions. These included a staggering 3,849 burglars and 546 people whose original offence involved violence against another person, including wounding, manslaughter and even murder.
The sheer number of offenders being returned on these 28-day recalls appears to show that people are being let out when they are not ready to be released into society, yet those who have committed the most serious offences, such as murder, who are released and breach their licence conditions are still required to come back to prison only for a mere 28 days. Anyone who thinks someone on licence for murder should simply be returned to prison for 28 days for reoffending or breaching their licence condition surely needs their head tested. This kind of initiative is ridiculous in an age when public confidence in the criminal justice system is so low.
The Ashcroft poll found that more than two thirds of people—69% —believed that rates of reoffending were high because sentences were too short and prison life was not hard enough. Just recently I was made aware of a case of a local serial offender who was released early on licence for burglary only to commit multiple offences weeks afterwards. That offender was returned to prison, but he was not required to stay there until early 2017, as he would have been if he had had to serve his sentence in full. He was just given his 28-day fixed-term recall. How can that possibly be right? How can that possibly protect the public? That should be the first duty of the Government, rather than making speeches in here trying to make it look to the wider world as though we are compassionate. Do I want people to think that I am compassionate just for the sake of my own reputation? We should be concentrating on how we protect the public from becoming the unnecessary victims of crime.
Surely, if rehabilitation is effective, it will protect the public and reduce the number of future victims of crime. Is not my hon. Friend making the wrong argument on that point?
There should be a lesson in there for my hon. Friend. In fact, the punishments with the lowest reoffending rate of all were the indeterminate sentences that were introduced in the name of public protection—the very punishments that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke scrapped, even though he said at the time that his main purpose was to reduce reoffending. Let us stick to the facts about what actually works, rather than trying to make ourselves sound good to our constituents and to the wider public.
An equally staggering fact is that many of the offenders who are released on licence and who then reoffend or breach their licence conditions and are recalled for 28 days and then go on to reoffend or breach their licence conditions again once they have been re-released are still only recalled for 28 days on that second or subsequent occasion. Between September 2013 and September 2014, 1,160 offenders received more than one fixed-term recall, including 49 offenders who were serving sentences for violence against the person and 705 who were serving sentences for burglary. That is absolutely outrageous, as my constituents in Wilsden and Harden, who are facing a spate of burglaries at the moment, will know only too well. Perhaps we should ask them to listen to some of this liberal claptrap while they are having their homes burgled every five minutes by people who have been released from prison on fixed-term recall.
This weak response to reoffending is becoming so well-known in the criminal community that some people are taking their chances and reoffending, knowing that the punishment will be pathetic. Worse still, some are deliberately trying to get themselves back into prison for 28 days, as that is just enough time for them to make money from dealing drugs and committing other crimes on the inside before being released again. They are deliberately going back into prison because they know that it will only be for 28 days, and that they will not have to serve the rest of their original sentence. The concept of the fixed-term recall takes dishonesty in sentencing—which is already bad enough with people only serving a maximum of half their sentence—to a new low. Fixed-term recalls are completely unjust and unjustifiable, and they should be scrapped with immediate effect.
The prison system is a source of much frustration for many people involved in justice in Wales, and I welcome this opportunity to raise a number of specific issues. Despite recommendations from the police, unions and independent commissions, as well as from a cross-section of politicians, this remains a reserved matter for the UK Government, and the consequences for Wales are clear. In spite of the excellent work done by many justice officers, our prisons are neither located nor designed with the needs of Welsh citizens in mind. We still do not have a women’s prison in Wales—
I will return to that.
There is nowhere in Wales for women prisoners to go. Young offenders from the north must also be housed in England, as there is no facility in the north of Wales.
What we do have is a plan from the UK Government to build a so-called super prison in the north, but it is not being built to serve the needs of Wales. It is a priority for an England-centred justice system—a monolithic pack-them-in-and-pile-them-high type of prison to house offenders from all over the north-west of England. There will be around 700 prisoners from Wales, but double that number will be transported in. Its raison d’être is to meet the needs of north-west England, not those of north Wales. This is about overcrowding in English prisons. The prison happens to be in Wales as a matter of convenience, rather than being for Wales as a matter of strategic design.
This is not just nation-building from Plaid Cymru. This is about ensuring that young people can be housed in their own country, and that women do not have to cross the border into England, far away from the stability of their families and loved ones, as they will surely have to do if we do not have a women’s prison in our own country. Has there been a cold evaluation of the wider cost to Wales, especially to the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which will carry the cost of providing healthcare to 2,100 prisoners? If healthcare at HMP Cardiff costs £2.24 million, has any estimate been made of the Wrexham care costs, as that prison is set to house two and a half times more prisoners? How much additional money will be made available to the health board by the UK Government via the Welsh Government? What are the wider costs of housing released prisoners, especially those deemed vulnerable and thus with priority housing status, and what indeed of the additional policing costs?
I represent the constituency in which Wrexham prison is being built. Does the hon. Lady not welcome the fact that there will be a prison in north Wales for the first time? I am as conscious as she is of the pressure on resources. I know that it is vital, and I will hold the Minister’s feet to the fire on the matter of resources for health and for other services for my constituents.
I welcome the presence of a prison, but the size of this prison is over and above the needs of Wales, and it will bring with it many social problems as well as the costs that I have outlined.
We know that the demand for prison places in the north of Wales is around 700, not more than 2,000. If we are to have a new prison, it would surely make more sense to have a conventional prison that responds to the needs of north Wales, with places for 700 prisoners and separate wings for women and young offenders.
Provision for women who commit crimes in Wales needs to be overhauled to become fit for the 21st century. I support the campaign of the former MP for Swansea East, Siân James, to seek restorative methods that recognise that women’s criminal behaviour has often different motivations to that of men. Too often these women are the victims of the toxic trio of domestic abuse, mental health problems and substance misuse. Female criminals need different solutions to break the patterns of criminal behaviour.
Society needs not just a roll-call of ever-increasing prisoner numbers, but results. We need a justice system that reforms criminals, not one that merely holds them in captivity and out of sight.
The probation system in Wales is facing extreme pressure at present. The probation service was underfunded and did not have the resources that it needed, and yet it showed itself to be far more effective than short-term prison sentences in rehabilitating offenders. The service has met almost all the targets it has been set in recent years and was even awarded a British quality gold award for excellence, and yet, even though it was not broken, we have seen the changes that it has suffered. It did not need fixing. There was no need for privatisation. It was an ideological choice by the Tories, who have scant interest in results, value for money or public safety. Their interest lies in lining private sector pockets.
We firmly believe that the Welsh Government are in the best place to make decisions for the justice system in Wales. Plaid Cymru is not alone in calling for the devolution of justice. There has been an almost unanimous call from legal experts, who have been giving evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee during the pre-legislative procedures of the draft Wales Bill, that a distinct legal jurisdiction in Wales should be established, which would, in turn, pave the way for the devolution of justice, including policing, prisons and probation.
I reiterate that Plaid Cymru opposes entirely the building of a super-prison but, in the interests of improving access to justice in Wales, if it is to go ahead, the recommendations and the adaptations that have been suggested, particularly to provide separate wings for women and young people, must be considered.
I rise to speak in this very important debate as the queen of prisons. I have the women’s prison of Foston in my constituency, and Sudbury open prison and Marchington prison on my border, so the area of Derbyshire and Staffordshire is well placed for prisons and for understanding prison problems. I do not agree with the motion on the Order Paper, as there is no real understanding of the changes that have been made to the prison system.
I will focus my remarks on Foston women’s prison because it is the one in my constituency. A number of changes have been made. There is help for the ladies who have financial problems, and care for those with mental health issues. There is also advice for those who know they will leaving, and what that will mean in terms of their family—whether they can still stay with them or whether they need to make new arrangements. They have also been given tools to help them not only with their numeracy and so that they are better equipped for reading and writing but, even more importantly, to cope with financial pressures when they come out of prison.
All that has been made possible by tremendous innovative thinking and, specifically, the excellent work of my local citizens advice bureau. We found that people were making repeat visits to the CAB, so it built up a dossier of the needs of women leaving Foston prison, after which it put together a bid, which I was delighted to support. The scheme has now gone out to other prisons throughout the country because it is working so well. The programme is totally cost-effective and it is not fluffy bunny stuff. Talking as the South Derbyshire MP, I can say that unless such a scheme is tried and tested, offers value for money and helps people in our society, it will not get my signature, but the programme ticks all the boxes.
I am proud that our Government are taking such an innovative approach because we do not want people to reoffend. We want people to go back to having a family life. We want them to give something back to society because that is a meaningful part of rehabilitation not only for them, but for their victims. The scheme should be considered even more deeply and I hope that more prisons throughout the estate will get the opportunity to adopt it.
In the couple of minutes remaining, I shall talk about victim support in the context of parole boards and prisons. Regretfully, I know of a horrendous constituency case, of which the Minister is aware, in which owing to a mess in the civil service, an inmate was allowed a second go before a parole board, despite having previously been turned down. He passed the second time, and of course went out and created mayhem, as we knew would happen. Fortunately, he has now been locked up again. I have not heard that the civil servant responsible for the mistake has apologised or been sacked. Even now, I have not heard any apology from the civil service for the fact that the prisoner could get out and create mayhem. I do not want the Minister to apologise today because that would not be fair on him, and that is not what we are here for—we are here to vote against this ridiculous motion. We are here because we want to ensure that people learn from mistakes and that victims are supported to the same extent as inmates through rehabilitation.
The motion, which is far from ridiculous, states
“this House believes…prisons are in crisis”.
Our prisons are becoming less safe for staff and prisoners. With rising prisoner numbers and fewer staff, will prisons be able to continue to provide programmes and activities, or will rehabilitative work be squeezed out as they struggle simply to contain their populations? The outgoing chief inspector of prisons argues in his annual report that prisons are at their worst for 10 years, with the deficiencies most acute in adult male prisons. In addition, we face the reckless privatisation of the probation service.
The most recent Ministry of Justice statistics show that deaths from natural causes, self-inflicted deaths and homicides in prisons have increased. The rate of self-harm incidents in prisons has increased, as have rates of prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff assaults. Mental ill health is more prevalent among prisoners than the general population. Between April and September last week, 343 prisoners who had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act waited more than 14 days for hospital treatment.
The Howard League for Penal Reform report entitled “Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons” points out that the number of front-line prison officers in England and Wales dropped by 30% between 2010 and 2013 from 27,650 to 19,325. In some prisons, the number of officers has halved in only three years, and many prisons have been forced to operate with 40% fewer staff. However, the prison population has not reduced. In April 2014, it was 85,264—255 more than in May 2010.
The motion refers to “increasingly high rates” of drug use in prison, and there is clear evidence of inmates developing drug addiction inside prison. Drug seizures from prisoners have hit a new high, with almost 6,000 finds of illicit substances in 2014. As many hon. Members have mentioned, the use of new psychoactive substances is rife in prisons. The chief inspector of prisons published a report last month stating that so many prisoners abused psychoactive drugs that that put a strain on local ambulance services. Additionally, there are some frightening statistics on drug-related deaths of prisoners after their release. Such deaths are seven and a half times higher among UK prisoners in the first fortnight after release. Many of those deaths are due to opiate use, which could be prevented with the use of Naloxone, a synthetic drug that blocks opiate receptors in the nervous system. Prisoners are failed by local authorities that do not provide access to Naloxone for opiate users in the community, disregarding the recommendations of the World Health Organisation and Public Health England. Healthcare provision in all UK prisons should include the issue of Naloxone on release where appropriate, and NHS England, Public Health England and local authorities should develop a joint strategy and funding arrangements for such provision.
The motion is headed, “Prisons and probation”, and I want to say a few words about the probation service. My hon. Friend Andy Slaughter has discussed reoffending rates, with one in 12 criminals committing another offence within three weeks of release. The probation service, however, suffers from a staffing crisis as a result of cuts and reforms. The Government have split the service in two, outsourcing the least complex work to privately run groups known as community rehabilitation companies or CRCs. In 2015, at least 1,200 staff left the probation service as a result of planned redundancy, retirement and career changes due to disillusionment. I should like to quote a senior probation officer, who has chosen to remain anonymous:
“Collectively the service is having a nervous breakdown and my guess is that at least 80% of staff are just looking to get out by any means. The damage is done; there’s worse to come and there’s absolutely nothing that can stop it. I’m pessimistic about the future and it will take a couple of serious murders, prison riots or similar for politicians and the public to take the slightest notice”.
Those are the words of someone working in the probation service, and I truly hope that they do not come true. I hope that we can address the crisis in the probation service. The staff and the work that they do are valued, but they are struggling with an excessive workload and loss of expertise, which has had a detrimental effect on complex cases, including those involving sexual and domestic violence.
In conclusion, I am encouraged by the approach of the Justice Secretary. Like him, I am a great believer in the rehabilitation of prisoners, but I was surprised to hear him refer to the prison in Manchester as “formerly known as Strangeways”. I think that we will achieve prison reform sooner than the good people of Manchester stop referring to that building as Strangeways.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate, and I am grateful to have been called.
I shall focus on two main areas—first, victims, and secondly, rehabilitation. It is not a case of either/or; the two can go hand in hand. Rehabilitation can protect the public by helping to prevent future victims. There is a clear link between securing employment and a reduction in reoffending. Offenders who leave prison and secure employment reoffend at the rate of 32%, which is still too high. For those who fail to secure employment, the reoffending rate goes up to 69%. There is a demonstrable link.
As the Secretary of State invited us to do, I place on record my thanks to those who work in our prisons. I shall pick out three aspects, all of which have links to Dorset. First, the Footprints project is a volunteer scheme that mentors offenders recently released from prison and those serving community sentences. It serves the area of Dorset, Somerset and Hampshire. Encouragingly, ex-offenders often want and aim to become mentors themselves, such is the success of the scheme.
Secondly, Clean Sheet is an independent charity focused on the employment of ex-offenders. It delivers a “Ways to Work” employability scheme. I know that the Secretary of State has visited Guys Marsh prison and, importantly, the Jubilee wing, which is in my neighbouring constituency, North Dorset. There is a less formal environment there, the regime is less strict, and prisoners are encouraged, for example, to make their own meals. As of 2015, only four out of 58 prisoners had reoffended—a striking example. I invite the Minister to look again at that model and see whether it could be rolled out more widely.
Finally, I would like to mention the work of Peter Jones from the Counselling in Prisons Network. He is a constituent of mine and has produced a document on promoting excellence in therapy in prisons. Through counselling and psychological therapy, he works with victims of sexual violence and trauma who are themselves in a custodial setting. This helps to prevent reoffending.
All three of those initiatives have a link with Dorset, but there is a more important link—the passion to reduce reoffending and ensure that ex-offenders get back on the straight and narrow. For me, there is not a choice between victims first or rehabilitation. It has to be both. Victims are very much at the heart of our criminal justice system, but so too should be rehabilitation. Get that right, and there will be fewer victims.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I know that others wish to make their contribution so I shall be brief.
It is incumbent on us all to protect the society in which we live. Rehabilitation, as my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson says, is an integral part of that, but rehabilitation is not new. Those of us who worship from the Book of Common Prayer will recognise the words that God
“desires not the death of sinners, but rather that they may turn from their wickedness and live”.
That has been with this country for many centuries. It is important that the Lord Chancellor outlined today, as he has done previously, the increasing focus on rehabilitation, but I would like to temper that enthusiasm and that positivity with a note of caution.
We must be mindful of those who do not wish to change, those who show no remorse, those who should be punished so that if they are locked up, they are not a risk to the good people of our country. But to be positive and to return to the agenda that the Government have outlined, it is right that we give those who want to change the opportunity to do that. They should not be written off by society, but should be seen as individuals and given the tools to make a contribution to our country.
A troubling issue at the moment is the number of individuals returning from fighting with so-called Islamic State—the satanic state, as I call it, because those people are not followers of Islam. The number of such individuals continues to rise, so it is inevitable that our prisons will soon be housing unprecedented numbers of extremists. We must address the unfortunate truth that British prisons have in some cases been incubators of extremism. I urge Ministers to ensure that we develop an ever-more successful de-radicalisation programme; one that can both punish and rehabilitate, and transform extremists into more tolerant individuals while they serve their time and repay their debt to society. That is a huge task, but it is a vital one. If properly carried out, not only will it tackle the problem of radicalisation in British prisons, but, if we can show that these abhorrent ideologies can be defeated, it will do much to challenge extremist groups in Britain and across the world.
Since 2010, those who break the law have been more likely to go to prison, and for longer, than they would have been in the past. I cannot support the motion because I do not believe that that is wrong in all cases. I do not believe that rehabilitation is right in all cases, as I have outlined. I believe that prison can give us the opportunity, as a country, to change those who wish to change for the better.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to speak in this important debate. There are constraints on time, so I will keep my remarks brief. I want to make three main points, some of which I do not think have been made in the debate.
First, I am very proud to have in my constituency HMP Bronzefield, which is an excellent women’s prison. It is run privately. Some disparaging remarks have been made about privatisation and the involvement of the private sector in prisons. I think the example of HMP Bronzefield belies all those disparaging remarks. It is progressive, highly effective and very efficient. Interestingly, the prison was opened in 2004, seven years into the previous Labour Government. I think that sort of development should be welcomed.
Secondly, and we have not spoken about this enough, it is an incredible success that crime is down 30%. That is the broad context in which our constituents understand the criminal justice system. The figures that really worry the people of this country are the overall crime figures—the likelihood of being a victim of crime. That sits at the top of people’s concerns. It is to the Government’s real credit that those figures have come down considerably over the past five years. That point should always be made.
Lastly, I completely understand the need for punishment, as my hon. Friend Philip Davies mentioned—I share some of his views on these matters, but not all of them. Rehabilitation is clearly a very important part of any criminal justice system. What I will say—I fear that this is a slightly partisan point—is that when times were good we did not invest enough in maintaining our criminal justice infrastructure, by building and modernising prisons and by moving away from the model of the old Victorian prisons. That was a missed opportunity. I am glad that, under the guidance of my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, we are trying, despite a constrained budget, to bring about reform in this respect. He is to be commended for that.
Helping prisoners to maintain stable family relationships improves rehabilitation and reduces reoffending rates, making a real contribution towards improving the life chances of a prisoner after they leave. There are already a number of positive Government and volunteer projects alive to that and they are seeing exceptional returns on investment. Sadly, however, despite the recognition of the stability and quality of prisoners’ family relationships as a key contributor to rehabilitation, NOMS’s own review of parenting and relationship support has found that there is considerable variation in the quality of provision across the country, and that only a third of offenders are given help in maintaining family ties.
Will Ministers consider including the issue in the outcomes that governors will be expected to deliver as they have greater autonomy? There are some really good examples that could be replicated more widely, including informal projects such as the family visit days run at Thorn Cross, where prisoners can eat family meals together and do crafts with their children. There is also the involvement of families of victims and perpetrators in restorative justice programmes. It is important for families of offenders to be involved and to hear their apologies. That enables them to see their father, husband or son say they are sorry and show a desire to live differently, and gives them, as a family, the chance to forgive their loved one, too.
There are more formal programmes such as the Stronger Families and Building Bridges programme. The Family Man programme, which, in effect, pays for itself in preventing reoffending, citing returns of £1.33 for every £1 invested, uses drama, group discussions and written work to help to improve relationship skills—skills that we all need and can be learned in the absence of positive role models in early life.
It is also critical that we enable prisoners to maintain contact with their young children. That is vital if we are to improve the life chances of not only the offender but their children, and break the potential cycle of reoffending into the next generation. At present, two thirds of young males separated from imprisoned fathers in childhood go on to commit crime themselves. The numbers are substantial. A recent report by Barnardo’s estimates that 200,000 children have a parent in jail. That is why courses like Time to Connect, the work of family engagement workers, and even the marriage course at HMP Spring Hill are so important in helping families to communicate and understand each other better.
Will Ministers look at how such courses can be replicated in other prisons? Will they take steps to ensure that such initiatives are highlighted to governors and consider how they can be expanded to help offenders to build strong, positive relationships and give their families a better start when they come out of prison?
I not only join others in celebrating the conduct of this debate but commend the Opposition for their choice of topic.
Fluffy bunnies aside, I think it is fair to say that there is perhaps no greater test of a civilisation than how it treats those who have fallen foul of its laws. Those who do so often come from deprived, or certainly more vulnerable, sections of society. The Lord Chancellor’s speeches on this subject over the past twelve months or so, like those of Ministers, have been among the most thoughtful and the most wide-ranging I can remember on this subject, and today’s was no exception. The focus on prison education and the redemptive power of work, along with, of course, the necessity for prison to act as a place of punishment, is very encouraging and reflects the importance of answering coherently the question of what prison is actually for. At no time and in no other area will the state have such a direct influence over our lives as with those who are in its care, and it is of course absolutely right that we should be held to the most rigorous standards.
Work and education are the real arteries of rehabilitation. Prisoners are removed from society, but they do not stop being a part of it. Through work and education, they can see beyond the confines of the prison. As my hon. Friend the Prisons Minister pointed out yesterday, employers who subsequently hire ex-offenders talk about a higher than average level of commitment and loyalty. Last August, the Government brought in mandatory assessment of maths and English for all newly arrived prisoners. This, combined with the Coates review, which will report in March, and the proposals to give prison governors more control over their own prisons, offers hope to all those who see education as a transformational force within our prisons. Almost half of those in prison were expelled or otherwise excluded from education. It is obvious that a relationship of cause and effect is at work: society is paying the price for its failure to offer these people a route to the future.
Of course there are ongoing problems that we need to address, and, as this debate has shown, are addressing, but we are seeing signs of progress. The £1.3 billion investment in modernising the prison estate, shifting it away from its Dickensian infrastructure and improving the lives of inmates, and a renewed focus on education and work as tools of redemption and rehabilitation, are very welcome, but there is still much more to do.
Andy Slaughter opened the debate by saying that it was not one about blame. He was right to do so because it would be absolutely wrong to suggest that the problems in our prison service can be laid at the foot of a particular Government or that the other party has a monopoly on the answers or on success. Government after Government have grappled with the problem of how to reduce recidivism. Throughout the Blair and Brown years, prisoners reoffended in their tens of thousands.
To understand the problems, it is important to start with some statistics. Some 67% of young people who leave custody reoffend within a year, while 72% of those young people regularly played truant from school and more than half of them do not have any qualifications. Those few facts tell us that it is the disadvantaged in society who end up in prison. The Secretary of State is therefore absolutely right to look into the provision of education in our prisons, as he is doing. We know, as the Centre for Social Justice reported, that prisoners who do not take part in any education or training during their years in prison are three times more likely to be reconvicted on release.
It is important to look not only at the availability of education—it is already currently offered—but at how we can encourage people to take up such education. I hope that Dame Sally Coates will consider in her review whether it is appropriate for education to form part of a prison sentence, and whether a reduction in a sentence might incentivise prisoners to improve their skills.
Nelson Mandela said that
“no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
Our nation—our one nation—should hold out a hand and help all those who need a step up and a step out of their current world. However, our ambition should not just end there. We should aim to cut not reoffending, but all offending. For those who are vulnerable, who lack skills and who mix in circles where there is truancy and crime, the other world may be daunting and difficult. Fear is sometimes the greatest prison of all. Victor Hugo said:
“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”
Let us continue to invest further in the education of the next generation to ensure not simply that our young criminals do not reoffend, but that they do not offend in the first place.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to the debate. The tone of the debate has been one of consensus. Hon. Members from both sides of the House want improvements, perhaps with the exception of Philip Davies. He appears to want to take us back to the penal system of the 18th century. Fortunately, penal policy has moved on since then, and I often think it would be nice if he did so too. There have been many notable speeches, and I apologise in advance that the constraints of time mean I cannot mention everybody.
We heard from the former Lord Chancellor, Mr Clarke. He said he was disappointed by the progress made on rehabilitation and criticised our ridiculously excessive prison population. He referred to the last vestiges of indeterminate sentences, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister about any plans he has about such sentences. My hon. Friend Ian Lavery made a wide-ranging speech, and gave examples of the terrible things going on at HMP Northumberland.
The Chair of the Justice Committee, Robert Neill, spoke about the excellent report by Lord Harris, which has not been fully implemented. He referred to the protocol we would like for the chief inspector of prisons. It would ensure that his independence does not become compromised, as was suggested in a recent Justice Committee hearing.
I particularly want to mention the speech by my hon. Friend Jenny Chapman, who is very experienced in these areas. She talked about the tragic case of Lorraine Barwell, and made two requests of the Minister—about naming prison officers killed on duty at the start of Prime Minister’s questions, and about the Harris report recommendation for a personal telephone call to be made to the family of prisoners who take their own lives and to the officers who find them.
My hon. Friend Cat Smith asked whether a retirement age of 68 is too high for prison officers and whether it is safe for them to continue working up to that age. My hon. Friend Marie Rimmer spoke from personal experience as the chair of a secure unit for children in her borough and did so with great passion. Finally, my hon. Friend Liz McInnes rightly highlighted the problems in probation since privatisation.
The public and victims of crime need to have confidence that justice is being done, that offenders are being punished appropriately and rehabilitated, and that communities are being protected. Making prisons work is not only the right thing to do; it will save us money and make us all safer. What we have heard in this debate is deeply concerning. We have a prison service that is at breaking point, with nearly 85,000 people in our prisons. We have the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe, with an average annual cost per place of over £36,000. There is projected to be an increase in the prison population at a time when the Ministry of Justice is required, under the Chancellor’s spending review, to reduce its running costs by £600 million by 2019-20. That is what it costs to run 30 medium-to-large prisons annually.
It does no one any favours—not the Government, the Ministry of Justice, those working in the prisons sector, taxpayers or prisoners themselves—to ignore the fact that we have, despite what the Justice Secretary said earlier, a crisis on our hands. That crisis was eloquently summed up by the current chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, whom the Justice Secretary rightly praised yesterday and again today in this House. His annual report stated:
“You were more likely to die in prison than five years ago. More prisoners were murdered, killed themselves, self-harmed and were victims of assaults than five years ago. There were more serious assaults and the number of assaults and serious assaults against staff also rose.”
Here is just one example of what that looks like. At Cardiff prison in my constituency, Darren Thomas, who was jailed for breaching an antisocial behaviour order for street begging in the city centre, was stabbed to death with a ballpoint pen in his cell by his cellmate. The perpetrator was convicted of Darren’s murder last year.
We need to look wider than Medway. According to press reports that feature in Private Eye this week, the failure of the operators of a G4S-run prison to allow medical assistance to be given to a 37-year-old prisoner meant that he died in his cell because his epilepsy had not been diagnosed. That prison was HMP Parc in Bridgend, which the Justice Secretary singled out for praise this afternoon, so I repeat the Opposition’s call for him to instigate a review of all G4S-run prisons.
Prison staff are not safe either. Serious assaults on staff are up by 42%. The prison watchdog has warned that the increasing use of psychoactive drugs is the most serious threat to the safety and security of jails. The use of those drugs increased by 615% between 2014 and 2015, and the use of the drug Spice has increased by 4,813% over the past four years. I know that the Justice Secretary has said that the legislation on psychoactive substances is making possession within prison a specific offence, but does he really think that that alone will solve the problem in our prisons? As my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter has pointed out, the issue is the smuggling of the drugs into prisons.
The combination of a growing prison population, prisons awash with drugs and alcohol, cuts to staffing and prison budget cuts is a very dangerous mix. The former chief inspector of prisons predicted the danger in a report published as long ago as 2010:
“The hidden and incremental pressures this produces should not be underestimated, even though they are at present being contained. As I said…there are two risks: of increased instability in inherently fragile environments, and of reducing prisons’ capacity to rehabilitate those they hold.”
What was predicted has now happened. All of these problems have costs. They cost lives, they cost livelihoods and they cost taxpayers’ money.
We all agree that we need to reduce our prison population. We can solve the problem only through effective prevention. Prisons try to teach offenders to be good prisoners and to be compliant, but it is more important that we teach them to be good citizens and to be able to show initiative and independence to prepare them for reintegration into our communities. That is why the reckless privatisation of the probation service by the coalition Government was such a mistake, artificially splitting responsibility for offenders between two separate organisations based on different levels of risk, while taking no account of how risk levels fluctuate.
I am sorry, I do not have time.
What was predicted by probation professionals, outside experts, Napo and service users has happened: chaos; huge numbers of redundancies—up to 40% of staff in some community rehabilitation companies—and IT systems not fit for purpose; cases falling through the cracks; and service in South Yorkshire, which the Government gave to a French catering company to run, under threat of renationalisation. Will the Minister tell the House whether the rumours of renationalisation of the South Yorkshire CRC are correct? Decisions on the supervision of dangerous offenders should be determined by public safety rather than profit.
I believe the Justice Secretary is trying his best, and I almost have some sympathy for him. It cannot be easy having to take up his role equipped with a shovel to clear up what I will politely call the residue that his predecessor, now Leader of the House, left him. Perhaps when he has finished shovelling that up—which will obviously take some time—we will see more than just an acknowledgement of the problems or references to prison reform strategy, and instead see concrete steps taken to address the scale of the crisis. This is the third time the Conservatives have promised a rehabilitation revolution. I look forward to hearing soon the Justice Secretary’s explanation of what went wrong last time and what will be different this time round on his watch.
We have had an excellent debate, with 22 Members taking part. I want to start, as others have, by putting on record my thanks to the men and women of our probation and prison services. They are outstanding public servants. They are often not in the public eye and do not get the thanks and appreciation they deserve. Probation officers make difficult professional judgments every day, often to tight timescales for the courts and the parole service. Prison officers face unacceptable violence, which we do not tolerate and are determined to reduce.
The Government are not in denial about the problems we face. We are not rehabilitating or reducing reoffending enough in order to keep the public safe. That is why our reforms are so vital, to protect the public by better rehabilitating offenders. That is why I am delighted that we have more support for prison reform from the top of Government than we have had for very many years. Reoffending has been too high for too long. That is why we have brought together the best of the voluntary, charitable and private sectors to join our excellent public service probation workers in bringing in our probation reforms. That has meant that we have extended probation supervision to some 40,000 short-sentence offenders who did not get it before. We have also introduced a through-the-gate service, joining up probation from prison into the community.
We have created the National Probation Service, and I should tell Members that 19 of the 22 CRCs are being run with a staff mutual or a voluntary, charitable or social enterprise sector body alongside their owners. We monitor their performance very carefully indeed, and the October 2015 performance figures showed that we are advancing in performance in almost all areas. South Yorkshire CRC has developed an action plan to deal with the issues it faces, but I can tell the House that no CRC is in a formal remedial plan. I can also tell the House that there are 560 more probation officers than there were 12 months ago. That is the largest intake of newly qualified probation officers for some considerable period.[This section has been corrected on 23 February 2016, column 4MC — read correction]
In the Prison Service, we saw a net increase of 540 prison officers in the year to
Many Members raised the very serious issue of self-inflicted deaths. I want to reassure the House that the Justice Secretary and I continue to take it very seriously indeed. We have acted on the vast majority of the recommendations of the prisons and probation ombudsman and will continue to do so. We have put more money into providing safer custody in prisons and at a regional level. We have also revised and improved our case management system for at-risk prisoners, which is being implemented.
We are reviewing early days care—sadly, prisoners often take their life in the first few days of their sentence. I draw the House’s attention to our extensive use of the Samaritans-trained prisoner volunteer listener scheme. That is extremely worth while and very much appreciated by prison officers.
I attend every single inter-ministerial group on deaths in custody and will continue to do so. We will carry on learning lessons around the system.
I will mention the hon. Lady’s points. I regularly meet victims and commit to keep on doing so, but she raises a good point. I will increase the amount of victims that I meet, specifically and particularly the families of those who have lost their life in prison. However, as the prisons and probation ombudsman has said, there is no simple, well-evidenced answer as to why self-inflicted deaths have increased so sharply.
Many Members mentioned violence within our prisons. We are taking a lot of measures to equip prison officers better. We are trialling body-worn cameras in 23 prisons. That evaluation is progressing well, and both staff and prisoners see the benefits of it. We are ensuring that every conversation a prison officer has with prisoners is productive and supportive.
We have better multidisciplinary case management involving psychologists and mental health workers to get on top of violence in prisons. For the first time, we have introduced a national protocol to ensure that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service work as closely as they should with the National Offender Management Service to ensure that cases are dealt with seriously. I will take up the specific case that Cat Smith mentioned, when a victim impact assessment appears not to have been addressed in time. We have given clearer guidance to staff on defending themselves and will do everything to get on top of this issue, which is not acceptable. A positive, rehabilitative culture, with rigorous education, purposeful work and strengthened family links, is absolutely central to dealing with it.
Part of the reason why violence and assaults have gone up is that we have too many drugs within our prisons, specifically the new psychoactive substances. The good news is that this month, at last, we start to test for those new types of drugs, which we have not had the ability to do in the past. We will extend that testing to all prisons by
As many Members have said, there are too many mobile phones within prisons. We are acutely aware of that and are investing in new technology such as metal-detecting wands, body orifice scanning chairs, signal detectors and blockers, and dogs that can specifically find phones. However, we recognise that more needs to be done. We will carry on until we are on top of that issue.
Many colleagues who have spoken today mentioned the prison estate. It is excellent news that the Chancellor committed to invest £1.3 billion to build nine new prisons in addition to the new prison that we are building in north Wales, which has not had a prison for well over 100 years. We will design out the features of the new prisons that facilitate bullying, drug taking and violence, so that we get on top of those problems.
Many Members rightly said that it is not acceptable that people go into prison with educational qualifications and leave with none. We are determined to do better in this area. We want prisoners to have the literacy, numeracy and information communications technology skills they need to get on, get a job and sustain that job. It is excellent that the Secretary of State has got Dame Sally Coates—
Division number 178