Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Prisons and Courts Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:02 pm on 20th March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston 7:02 pm, 20th March 2017

I, too, welcome much of the Bill. I am pleased to follow Mr Vara, and I particularly endorse his comments about judicial diversity. This is a far-reaching piece of legislation, although we have to infer quite a lot of the detail from the White Paper, particularly in relation to prison reform. As others have said, the Bill is relatively thin on detail.

I welcome the establishment of a new statutory purpose for prisons, but I also hope that there will be opportunities to strengthen and extend it as we take the Bill through this House and the other place. The Prison Reform Trust has suggested that the statutory purpose should make exclusive reference to standards of fairness and decency. Given the problems in our prisons today, including the exceptional amount of time that prisoners are spending in cells and not engaged in purposeful activity, the disturbances that have put prisoner and staff safety at risk, and the appalling mental health of many of those in our prisons, I strongly endorse the need for a purpose that captures those elements of fairness and decency.

Like many hon. Members who have spoken today, I want to talk about the need for good mental healthcare in prisons. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, at least 3% to 4% of prisoners have a psychotic illness; 10% to 14% have a major depressive illness; and up to two thirds have a personality disorder. Many prisoners are so unwell that prison is utterly the wrong place to treat them. This was starkly brought home to me when handling a constituency case over the past few months. That case has really shown that the system is not working to ensure that prisoners’ mental health is paramount. It involves a young man accused of very serious offences who has been on remand in Manchester prison since before Christmas. He is seriously psychotic, and prison is not the right place for him to have been sent to, yet still, four months on, no secure hospital bed has been found where he can be securely and appropriately cared for. I therefore strongly endorse the call by my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman for statutory time limits in the Bill for the length of time that someone who is so unwell can be kept in prison. We need to take that important measure to ensure that parity of esteem between mental health and physical health exists in our prisons as it does in the wider healthcare system.

We also know that women in custody have a high incidence of mental health problems. This year, we mark the 10th anniversary of Baroness Corston’s seminal report on women in custody, and this is a real opportunity for us to make a step change in the way in which we deal with women in the penal system. The Justice Secretary has said that she intends to bring forward a strategy in relation to women in the next few weeks, and I very much look forward to debating it with the Government. I hope that Ministers will take this opportunity, and not simply build more new women’s prisons that are far from home and too large to provide the right regime for their particular needs. Baroness Corston identified the need for small, local, secure units—not prisons—that specifically cater for the needs of women. This is a once-in-a-generation chance for Ministers to transform the nature of the women’s prison estate, and I really hope that they will not miss the opportunity.

I am also concerned that the Government seem intent on building new large male prisons, such as Berwyn, which I understand is to have a population of 2,000 prisoners. However, there is a lot of evidence of smaller prisons doing better, according to the Centre for Social Justice, the Prison Reform Trust—which found that prisons with fewer than 400 prisoners were more likely to perform well than those with more than 800—and the National Audit Office, whose 2013 report showed that the smaller prisons achieved better internal performance ratings. We do not know whether there is a difference in reoffending rates for small and larger prisons, and I would be grateful if anyone in the House could enlighten me on that. If we do not have the information, however, I strongly urge Ministers to conduct a programme of research to help us to understand that.

My right hon. Friend Mr Hanson went into some detail about the importance of family contact, which incarceration a long way from home naturally makes more difficult. According to a 2008 study for the Ministry of Justice, family contact reduces recidivism by 39%, which is a substantial reduction. A joint report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons and the Youth Justice Board found that boys who suffered from emotional or mental health problems were less likely usually to have a visit at least once a week from family or friends than those without mental health problems, yet half of women and a quarter of men on remand receive no family visits. Concentrating prisoners in larger prisons, further from home and covering large geographical areas, is going to work against the family contact that can make such a difference.