Prisons and Probation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:20 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury 2:20 pm, 14th May 2019

Oh no, he is not going anywhere—this is a long-term sentence! I have the highest regard for the current Minister. He has done more than his fair share of heavy lifting in the impasse on Brexit. I offer him the following suggestions with affection, but they are urgent, and I wish him to do them immediately.

No. 1, we must accept that diversion from custody is the only answer for sentences shorter than 12 months. To do that, we need robust alternatives, not a “get out of jail free” card. Once we have those in place, we need to re-educate judges, who in my experience—as the Minister knows, I know at least one extremely well—are kind, well-motivated and have seen it all before. We need legislation to reduce the number of short sentences. We have to stop churn through the prison gates.

No. 2, we need a full review of categorisation. It strikes me that several Members here today are well placed to lead that review; I am not looking too hard at any Member on either side of the Chamber. We know from Lord Farmer’s review that being close to family reduces reoffending. Current categorisation is holding us back. We have new evidence about the age of maturity, particularly in boys, which needs to be fed into decisions on where we place people.

No. 3, the Minister needs to have on his desk—in my view, every morning, but possibly every week—figures on the regime, by which I mean hours outside cells and numbers of people in segregation, for every prison in the country. Only then can he truly evaluate what is going on. I would be grateful if he shared those figures with the Justice Committee. While he is at it, could he ask for monthly figures on imprisonment for public protection and share them with us? That would be really helpful.

No. 4, we need to end Friday releases immediately. There is no excuse for releasing people at the end of the week, when services are simply not available to help them.

No. 5, we need to evaluate why and when we make children and young people disclose their criminal records. We know that it ruins their lives. A diverse group of MPs are championing that, from my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers to the right hon. Members for Warley (John Spellar) and for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). The Home Office and the MOJ need to decide who is responsible for that policy and act as soon as possible. It is not right for any child’s life to be ruined by an early misdemeanour.

No. 6, for years we described—and I described in court—our sex offender training programmes as the gold standard. A substantial amount was spent on producing those programmes, but they have conclusively been proved to have failed. Can we evaluate the programmes we have put in their place? The number of sex offenders is growing.

No. 7, we need to block mobile phone reception in prisons now—why on earth not?

No. 8, we need to provide a £37,000 scanner for every prison to stop drugs getting in. Everybody from the Minister down needs to go through them. There was a major stabbing of a prison officer in Bullingdon Prison in my constituency last week.

No. 9, prisons are places of radicalisation. We need to grasp that and not lock people of similar views together simply because it makes control easier. A categorisation review might give us evidence to help with that.

No. 10 is on race. We need to be honest. It is not right that a black woman is more than twice as likely to be arrested as a white woman. I am pleased that the all-party parliamentary group on women in the penal system will look into the arrest of women. More than half the inmates held in prisons for young people in England and Wales at the moment are from a black and minority ethnic background. That is an extraordinary figure and not one to be proud of, and real change is needed. In short, I fear there will come a point when the Minister wishes he was back with the withdrawal agreement Bill.