My Lords, the prison population, as of
My Lords, I thank the Minister for those statistics. Does she accept that they show a rise of almost 500 over the February figures? What contingency plan does she have in mind to accommodate prisoners now that we have reached the total useable capacity in our prisons? Can she also confirm that she has no intention of using police cells for people who have been dealt with by the courts? If that is so, can the noble Baroness say what alternatives are available?
My Lords, as the noble Lord pointed out, I accept that the figures have risen since February. Thankfully, we have not yet reached our useable capacity. We have no intention of using police cells unless there is no other possible alternative. I can assure noble Lords that we have an expanding capacity: some 2,500 more prison places will be available by the end of 2004. Noble Lords know also that we are reforming our correctional services to help balance demand with capacity. This will be aided by the creation of the National Offender Management Service, which will improve the management of offenders and reduce reoffending.
My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness a precise answer, but I can say that those issues are quite rightly and properly taken into account to ensure that the facilities made available to prisoners are appropriate. I shall certainly undertake to write to the noble Baroness about the specific issue. However, she is right to raise it. It is a matter that we have highlighted and it is important.
My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House what steps are being taken currently and what steps she has in mind to better educate the public that community punishments are not a soft option?
My Lords, work is going ahead through various debates, information and education that we are giving to the public, together with what we are doing with the Judicial Studies Board and the work to be undertaken by the Sentencing Guidelines Council. Work is also underway within local criminal justice boards and the National Criminal Justice Board to raise confidence in community sentences. The noble and learned Lord is absolutely right: community penalties are not soft options. They work and can be used to great effect.
My Lords, is my noble friend on the Front Bench aware that the British Muslim community is extremely worried about the increased number of its youth in the prison system today? Is my noble friend further aware that, within education, under 20 per cent of British Muslim youths are achieving grades A to C in five GCSEs? They are also four times more likely to be unemployed and there has been an increase in drug use and drug-related crime among them. While I congratulate the Government on appointing full-time imams to work alongside chaplains within the Prison Service, what partnership programmes are the Government supporting for the rehabilitation, reform and training of these youths for jobs?
My Lords, the increases in the areas identified by my noble friend are indeed worrying. However, I applaud the work being done by imams in supporting resettlement programmes. I should like to welcome the progress we have made both within prisons and through the probation service in addressing reoffending. I know that there are still many gaps in the service, but the creation of positions for imams has been very helpful in our efforts to move forward on the agenda. As regards education, up to the end of February 2004, the prison system, incorporating the public and contracted sectors, has delivered 42,348 basic skills awards. We are working hard to improve those education figures and to enhance the opportunities for work. To that end, we are working with a number of agencies, including the CBI. Young Asian men and women will be very much part of that targeted group.
My Lords, given the 1,000 per cent rise in the number of shoplifters imprisoned over the past 10 years, what plans do the Government have to introduce a de minimis threshold which would rule out imprisonment for minor offences more effectively than the current law manages to do?
My Lords, one of the major contributors to that change may well be the Sentencing Guidelines Council. Your Lordships will know that the role of the council is to set appropriate bench-marks for use by sentencers. We also hope that with the strengthening, improvement and breadth of community sentences, sentencers will have available to them robust punishments that can be used instead of imprisonment, which we have been very clear should be the last and not the first resort.
My Lords, the number of women in prison has not risen as quickly as the number of men; it is fairly stable. However, the issue needs to be addressed. The fourth Starred Question, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, relates to the issue and I shall obviously answer that Question in far more detail.
My Lords, there is a very high instance indeed in relation to drug and alcohol-related problems. A large majority of those tested on admission are found to have either drugs or alcohol in their bloodstream. We are seeking vigorously to address the issue.
My Lords, it depends on which category of offender one is dealing with. In terms of juvenile offending, the reoffending rate seems to be going down. In relation to other categories, it very much depends on the type of offence as to whether the figures are on an upward trend or a downward trend.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, while there are 2,448 children in prison in this country, 775 in France, and, I understand, 12 in Denmark, in Italy they do not imprison children? Can the Minister say what movement there has been in the figures for children in prison and what movement there has been in the figures for children on remand?
My Lords, the figures are going down in relation to those in prison and there has been a slight decline in relation to those on remand. I agree with the thrust of the noble Earl's question: that the number of juveniles in prison is too high.