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Crime Prevention

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 8th December 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Linklater of Butterstone Baroness Linklater of Butterstone Liberal Democrat 2:30 pm, 8th December 2004

rose to call attention to the case for wider community involvement in determining policies relevant to crime prevention, alternatives to prison and the rehabilitation of offenders, in the interests of public confidence in the criminal justice system; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to call attention to a subject which, in all its complexity, is at the front of the minds of all of us concerned with the quality of life in this country, and as it relates to criminal justice matters in particular.

What lies at its heart is the issue of public confidence in what our criminal justice system is doing to prevent crime, to punish or deal with offenders and, ultimately, to make our country a safe and secure place in which we can all live in peace of mind. Confidence is a state of mind which underpins much of what we do and think, and if damaged can be difficult to restore—which is our problem today. But it is vital to a balanced, rational approach to most aspects of life, and none more so than to criminal justice.

I declare an interest as chairman for the past four years of an initiative called "Rethinking Crime and Punishment", which was funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation—of which I am a trustee—and has just published its findings. It was set up because of trustees' concerns that what we are doing in this country to those who break the law has got worryingly out of kilter with what is balanced or rational, to the extent that we are now imprisoning more of our citizens per head of population than any other country in western Europe—44 per cent more than Germany, 52 per cent more than France—while levels of most crime are dropping and the numbers coming before the courts are stable. Worse still, little is being achieved in reducing reoffending, with reconviction rates as high as 80 per cent for the youngest offenders, or even in increasing a sense of security or safety in our communities. We seem to be running ever faster in our use of custody only to be standing still, or indeed falling back, in achieving so little of desired outcomes.

Public confidence is rooted in perceptions of what is going on, and what has become clear is that there is a gap between what the public perceive and the reality in relation to crime. The British Crime Survey earlier this year showed that two-thirds of the public thought that crime had risen a lot over the past year, when in fact it was dropping, and that sentencing was thought to be less tough than in fact it is. That is compounded by the perception of many politicians and sentencers, largely mediated through the press, that what the public want is an ever tougher prison-based approach. However, that is equally removed from reality, as the MORI poll we commissioned clearly demonstrates.

Indeed, that is one of the most interesting findings in the array of more than 60 projects that we have commissioned over the past four years. What has emerged is that the public are much less retributive than is often thought to be the case and prison is not favoured as a means of reducing crime or of changing people for the better. As far as young offenders are concerned, the poll showed that prevention, rehabilitation and education are given a much higher priority than prison. Equally, and unsurprisingly, the public do want wrongdoers to be punished and to make reparation—as an analysis undertaken for RCP by Strathclyde University shows—and they would prefer tougher community penalties that make offenders pay back and learn a lesson, coupled with more prevention.

It must be said that to punish with imprisonment those who are severely mentally ill, who have addiction problems or a significant learning difficulty—as many thousands of people in prison do—but who often receive little or no appropriate treatment, is as pointless as punishing people for the colour of their hair. Noble Lords may have seen the programme on Channel 4 this week, or read the deeply disturbing reports in the Guardian in the past three days, and realised that not only is that the case, but that we are asking our wildly overstretched prison services to perform impossible miracles. That is simply unacceptable.

The tragedy is that in the minds of many sentencers, politicians, policy makers and the press, toughness and prison have become synonymous and toughness is the key performance indicator. How often has someone left court with a community sentence but been described in the newspapers as "walking free"? Toughness, or prison, seems to be an end in itself, and the possibilities offered by the alternatives are all too often believed to be inadequate, or are ignored.

How, therefore, do we restore confidence in the system? The evidence is that more knowledge and direct involvement in the process can go a long way towards achieving that, for fear is rooted in ignorance. When the public, politicians and sentencers are better informed, it means that policies and practice, and rhetoric and reality, can come closer together, and the public can get a system that they actually want. A major public education programme is necessary, and RCP has funded several initiatives as examples of that.

It is widely accepted in theory by politicians and sentencers alike that prison should only ever be used as a last resort, and only for those from whom we need to be protected because of the nature of their offending. They also accept that short sentences, in particular, are a complete waste of the country's resources; do nothing for victims; have minimal impact on public safety; have little or no effect on offending behaviour; and further damage the chances of prisoners and their families taking their places as contributing members of society. We should be pushing at an open door, yet the gap between rhetoric and reality remains wide.

One overarching theme which emerged from the findings of RCP was that the way to rebuild confidence is to engage the public more in the criminal justice process at many levels, particularly in the work done by offenders in local communities. Our system does not, as yet, encourage much involvement. How many citizens have ever visited their local prison, let alone engaged with offenders? There is evidence that, given the opportunity, people would welcome it.

The youth offender panels, which were set up by the Youth Justice Board and decide what sort of community sentence or unpaid work should be carried out by first-time young offenders, consist of 5,000 volunteers, a third of whom had never volunteered for anything before. People wanted to be involved. A survey done for us by Ecotec found that large numbers of people were interested in volunteering to help with the education of young offenders. If knowledge promotes understanding, so involvement bestows empowerment.

An opinion poll by MORI done for RCP found that two-thirds of people said that they would be interested in having a say in the kind of work done in their locality, and one-third said that they were very interested. Eight million hours are currently spent on community penalties across the country. How much are any of us aware of what is being done? One example is Donna's Dream House in Blackpool, where 100 offenders on community punishment orders spent six months and 4,000 hours of unpaid work to transform a crack den into a holiday home for terminally ill children. As a result, many lives have been changed, including those of several offenders who got jobs in the building trade and others who stayed on to volunteer. That project is well known and is supported by the local community, and a fine example it is.

When local people can see what is going on as a payback to their community and play a much bigger part in the decision making, how much more effective is the reparation and the promotion of understanding and confidence in the system? Reparation through the restorative justice process, with its capacity to bring closure for victims and greater understanding to offenders of the consequences of their actions, must also be developed.

We also commissioned an independent inquiry on alternatives to prison, led by the distinguished retired judge, Lord Coulsfield. He also concluded that community penalties and programmes should be delivered locally, that they should be properly targeted and that the local community should be much more closely involved in their delivery. Significantly, he recommended that judges and magistrates should be required to have ongoing training and first-hand knowledge of the programmes and projects in their jurisdictions, and should have regular feedback on their effectiveness. He also recommended that those receiving community sentences should be "sent down" like those getting custodial sentences, so that the message goes out that they are not being acquitted.

Sentencers are at the heart of the whole process and should engage with the outcomes of the decisions they make. That will, in turn, affect enormously the quality of their decision making. Clearly, there is still much to be done in the expansion and quality of community-based programmes, where NOMS will have a key role, and if sentencers get closer to them, they too will have an impact on delivery. There are significant resource implications, and here lies the real challenge to the Government—whether there is the political will to take this forward.

There is ample evidence that effective projects can significantly reduce crime. The Staffordshire prolific offenders project is one involving probation, police, the National Health Service, a housing association and a local college. It addressed the inter-relationship of drugs and crime, and involved treatment, job training and education as well as increased police surveillance. The outcome from the evaluation was that there was a 53 per cent drop in reoffending, an estimated 4,000 crimes were prevented, and there was a saving of £5.5 million. By any standard that is an impressive result.

I have also met those involved in a similar scheme in Avon and Somerset which has had similarly good results and has been distinguished by the enormous enthusiasm and satisfaction of all those working together on an inter-agency basis. It is yet another positive dimension of these projects.

What the public clearly said in the polls was that they place the highest priority on prevention, and that the keys to reducing crime, and the three highest priorities, were better parenting, more police and better education. Prison was at the bottom of the list. In other words, the issues reach out and become the responsibility of all of us, not only of those in the criminal justice box.

The preference for dealing with offenders is that they should be made to pay back to the community, make amends to victims where appropriate and demonstrate that a lesson has been learnt. There is not much visible payback possible from a prison cell. Punishment can take a variety of forms, and being challenged to change your ways and even the people you know—if your life has been peopled by other drug users, for example—can be the hardest of the lot. It really is the case that challenge of that kind in the community is absolutely not a soft option. Prison is, since it removes from people any responsibility or decision over their own life.

Can the Minister confirm whether he agrees that the key to community confidence is greater knowledge and involvement, and, if so, how the Government plan to take this forward? Can he also tell the House what plans there are to develop the visibility, effectiveness and availability of appropriate community-based penalties? Can he reassure the House that if the public, as the studies show, really are not as retributive as many have supposed, the Government can shift away from a toughness that equates to prison to a response based more on reparation and payback to the community and the victim? Do they have the political will?

I believe that we all want a system which actively reduces reoffending and treats as well as punishes so that we can at last move forwards towards a safer society in which all our citizens can be free from crime and its causes. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Williams of Elvel Lord Williams of Elvel Labour

My Lords, the House will be extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for introducing this debate, particularly for the way in which she has looked at the community outside prisons to see what we can do collectively to make prison life better. It is only right that this House has an opportunity, from time to time, to express an opinion on what is an important part of our social structure. I say "social structure" because it would be quite wrong to regard custodial sentences merely as a deterrent to future crime or a crude method of shutting people away so they are physically unable to reoffend. If we pretend to be a civilised society and, indeed, to be a Christian society—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury is in his place—we really must look a bit further than that.

Before I get to my main point, I have to declare an interest. My wife is a trustee of a small charity called KIDS VIP. It was set up some years ago to work with the Prison Service and other organisations to sustain and develop relationships between children and their imprisoned parents. From there, as its literature says, KIDS VIP has extended its activities to,

"raise awareness of prison staff of how imprisonment affects prisoners, children and . . . the importance of families to prisons, especially for resettlement".

Before I get to the main burden of what I have to say—the importance of family relationships—I should like to say a quick word about children. If we really want to counter a propensity to crime, we should look after the children of prisoners. It is a well established fact that many prisoners are themselves children of convicted criminals. The cycle repeats itself. At present, some 150,000 children are, in one way or another, affected by imprisonment, but their particular difficulties are apparently not recognised by my right honourable friend the Minister for Children. There is a definition of children requiring special treatment, but it has no place for the children of prisoners. This is not really very good.

The only bright spot is a new project in Glasgow set up by the children of prisoners to help others in the same position. This is an entirely laudable initiative, but should not the Minister for Children be doing something more about it? After all, we are told that childcare is to be at the centre of my party's policy-making in the run up to the general election. Here are 150,000 vulnerable children, about whom, at the moment, nothing is being done.

The main burden of what I have to say refers to the rehabilitation of offenders and the reduction in the rate of reoffending. Let me quote from the evidence of the Prison Service to the Woolf/Tumim report, Prison Disturbances April 1990:

"The disruption of the inmate's position within the family unit represents one of the most distressing aspects of imprisonment, and it is often compounded by a sense of guilt of having let the family down and fear of losing them altogether. Enabling inmates, so far as possible, to stay in close and meaningful contact with the family is therefore an essential part of humane treatment . . . In addition, though, relationships with the family can contribute very positively on several levels towards the achievement of successful reintegration into society following release from prison".

Both authors of the report—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and Sir Stephen Tumim—agreed with that. In fact, of course, it was no more than an elaboration of what is already in the Prison Rules, established under the Prison Act 1952.

If further evidence is required for the importance of maintaining family ties, research in the United States reported in the Home Office Statistical Bulletin 1999 showed that prisoners who have maintained close family ties were six times less likely to reoffend in the first year after release than prisoners who were released without family support.

So, given the weight of evidence and the general agreement that the maintenance of family ties is an imperative in the reduction in rates of reoffending, it is reasonable to ask, "How are we doing?". The answer is, "Not very well". According to a report from the Social Exclusion Unit of the Home Office in 2002, 43 per cent of convicted prisoners and 48 per cent of remand prisoners lost contact with their families when they entered prison. Furthermore, the report goes on to say that only half of prisoners use their minimum entitlement to visits. Finally, the report points out that relationships break up on release, if only because the prisoner does not realise how things have changed for their family while they have been outside the family loop.

So I hope that when he comes to reply, my noble friend the Minister will recognise both the importance and the urgency of the matter—this is the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, made—and seek ways to support the Prison Service in enabling families to stay together as far as is humanly possible. It is, after all, only part of what the Prison Service described in the evidence I quoted as "humane treatment".

If my noble friend is prepared to open his mind on this—as I am sure he is—may I offer some suggestions? The first is that prison officers should understand the importance of visits. At the moment, some do and some do not. The second is to make arrangements for children to lessen the intimidating effects of going into a prison, with proper play areas to allow the adults time to talk between themselves.

The third suggestion is to involve families more closely in the life of the prison, for instance, in initiatives such as the Homework Club at Wormwood Scrubs, where children visit and prisoner parents help them with their homework. That, incidentally, would encourage prisoner parents to improve their education levels, but I leave that aside.

The fourth suggestion is to follow through once the prisoner is released into the community. The first days and weeks are crucial—and the most difficult. The released prisoner needs a home to go to; he or she needs to know how to relate to his or her family so that the family does not break up on release, because times have moved on since he or she served their sentence, and the ex-prisoner does not go on to reoffend.

Those are, perhaps, aspirations, but I do not believe that they are impossible aspirations if we want to be considered a civilised society. There is one particular measure that I have mentioned to my noble friend the Minister. We should at least make a start; I very much hope that my noble friend will accept it and put it into practice. It is this: there should be a standard on provision for and treatment of families at visits at prisons, to be included in prison audit. It is, after all, not much to ask. It does not happen at the moment, but I am certain that family involvement would improve if prisoners felt that their families would be well received and if families felt that they would not be put off. If that were to happen, it is my belief that it would contribute substantially both to "humane treatment" and—a practical point—to the reduction of reoffending.

There is obviously much to be done, as the noble Baroness pointed out. All that we can do today is to point my noble friend to certain things that could or should be done. After that, all we have to say to my noble friend is, "It's over to you".

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative 3:30 pm, 8th December 2004

My Lords, perhaps I may start by giving my pedigree for having the temerity to speak in the company of grandees in this important debate. I was most interested by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, because in a funny way they tied in with my own thoughts. But, first, as a recently appointed trustee of Crimestoppers, I thought that this debate would give me the opportunity to call attention to a recent development in community involvement concerning crime, which is proving to be remarkably successful. But more of that later.

My second reason for speaking relates to my past experience as a member of the Board of Visitors for six years at Her Majesty's prison, Pentonville. I also served as a governor in what was then known as an "approved school". I used to arrive there in my somewhat ancient car, which I would carefully lock before leaving to attend the governors' meeting. This I did until, one day, a boy came up to me and said, "Listen ma'am, if we want your car, we'll take it. Don't bother to lock it". I never did so again.

All my past experience—and perhaps being a widow of a headmaster of a boarding school is relevant—tells me that crime is fed by illiteracy. Children who avoid school, cannot read or write and have time on their hands, find it fun to steal. It is fun to become a big wheel in the eyes of your mates by zooming around on other people's motorbikes and/or in other people's cars—and, with a bit of luck, there is a bed to come back to and various options for getting something to eat. Someone in that position probably knows, but at the time does not care, that without being able to read or write he will find a regular job practically impossible to obtain. So the petty crime with which he started off needs very little pushing to turn serious—and so to prison.

As a member of Pentonville's Board of Visitors, I was allowed to go anywhere in the prison, and I could talk to any prisoner. My main occupation on my visits turned out to be reading prisoners' letters to them and, sometimes, helping them to express themselves on paper. Very, very little time was given over to classes where prisoners could learn to read or write. So eventually, the prison gates open and they are free—but free for what? Alas, more often than not, the whole dreary roundabout starts again.

We will never lower the crime rate unless we can catch those wayward children and somehow or other make them aware of the powers of literacy. One further thought: I propose that the time spent at reading and writing classes should be included, when appropriate, as part of certain sentences. I will be interested to know whether the Minister has any reactions to that suggestion.

Today your Lordships are considering ways in which the wider community can influence, be involved and have confidence in our measures for crime reduction and the judicial process. I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to one of the many charitable organisations that struggle along financially to do just that. Your Lordships will touch on alternatives to prison, but there are many criminals for whom prison is the only possibility—not only to stop them committing crime for the period when they are locked away, but to give the communities relief, freedom from fear, and the confidence that something is being done about crime.

In particular, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to Crimestoppers, the charity that operates a single national telephone number that people can call anonymously with information about criminals. The people who call are often those who are close to the criminals and fear retribution, but want to do something about the situation, or perhaps those who simply do not want to get caught up in the lengthy processes involved with dealing with the police.

Crimestoppers is extraordinarily successful. Last year, the police gave Crimestoppers direct credit for solving 48 murders. This year, it has been given credit for the recovery of more than £15 million-worth of illegal drugs. That saves the police considerable resources, shortens the time of the investigation and in many cases provides the police with the only clue or item of information that results in success. By being a charity and a volunteer organisation, Crimestoppers maintains integrity. People know that their names and telephone numbers will never be divulged. Thus the organisation cannot claim success stories and does not get the full credit that it deserves.

However, we are allowed to mention one case: that of the horrific serial rapist, Antonio Imiela, known as the "M25 rapist", who is now in gaol having been identified by a call to Crimestoppers following a reconstruction on "Crimewatch", the television programme. The caller made public the fact that she had called Crimestoppers to encourage others to do the same, so that it could be talked about. Six police forces were involved in the investigation, and the man's name did not feature at all in their work until the information was passed to them. Without the call to Crimestoppers, the police said that he would have gone on to commit further acts of increasing brutality. During the series of attacks, many people in the south-east lived in fear. Think what one call did for them—as well as making a huge saving in police resources.

But aside from those operational successes, Crimestoppers achieves exactly the intention of our debate today. The act of calling the Crimestoppers line is a metaphor for the community taking responsibility for doing something about crime. It gives people the power to get the criminal off their backs and make their community safer. That is reinforced by the other work done by Crimestoppers, in schools, on Internet safety for children and by campaigning in communities to encourage people to support the police and become engaged. It is but one example of the ability of volunteer organisations to make a great impact on community involvement, in making this country safer. They deserve the full and active support of your Lordships.

To end on a practical note, the anonymous telephone number for Crimestoppers is: 0800 555111.

Photo of The Bishop of Salisbury The Bishop of Salisbury Bishop 3:38 pm, 8th December 2004

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, for the opportunity afforded by this debate to consider the wider community's involvement in how policy is shaped in relation to crime prevention, how alternatives to prison are being developed and to consider the rehabilitation of offenders. Those of us on these Benches have, for the most part, a number of penal institutions in our diocese. We have considerable engagements with those seeking to administer justice—in particular with local magistrates. We visit prisons regularly, and not only as visitors but to administer the Church's rights and sacraments to those who seek them.

In this country, we have a large and rising prison population—and largely unseen, of course. There is a great deal of public debate about the need to gain justice for the victims of crime. Much energy in public debate is focused on security, and language about retribution is never far below the surface of what emerges in the popular press.

This afternoon I want to make a tripartite plea that we shift the debate back as far as we can to causes rather than consequences. I want to urge, first, that we commend a degree of moderation in the language we use in relation to crime and its prevention; secondly, that we look carefully at the context in which we speak about the victims of crime; and, thirdly, that we shift the debate from concentration on the boundaries—whether of containment or of prevention—to the positive heart of the matter if we are trying to build a better community.

I start with an icon drawn from the case studies presented in today's Guardian:

"Toni used to watch her mother trying to hang herself and use drugs. Her mother used to batter her with her fists or anything else that came to hand. Eventually, she threw Toni downstairs so Toni put herself into care. Her father was not around much. In fact, her mother told her he was not her father and so she is not sure who he is".

Here is Toni's understanding of life:

"'My view of the world is that we are living in hell and we are all ghosts'.

She has thoughts she can't control and voices in her head. She has been in trouble with the police since she was 11, stealing, terrorising the neighbours, setting fire to things.

Recently, she cut a girl: 'Sometimes I feel I have to cut people up if I don't like them. Sometimes it only takes them to do one thing and, if I don't like it, then I'll have to have a go at them'. She wants help for her mental problems but nobody has ever treated her. It's the same in the prison. 'My view of the world is that we are living in hell and we are all ghosts'".

That is a bleak statement and reveals the shadowlands in which many of those caught up in the consequences of crime find themselves. How can we help make this world real and not a ghost world? First, we need to attend to the language of our debate. I suggest that the tenor of much of our response to crime may fuel the violence of such intrusive acts rather than cool it. We talk constantly of fighting crime rather than containing it. We talk of the police force as a historic—and unthinkingly accepted—title as part of our normal discourse. Recently a notable public figure has talked of "limp-wrested judges" representing a "liberal establishment". My question is this: is this kind of language conducive to mature debate, or does it rather use the language of slogan and headline to polarise opinion and to score points? We do not need to score points in this area. This is an area in which our community is judged on its values and on the way in which we treat one another.

Secondly, what are the rights of victims and how are they best protected or extended? Outrage is the natural reaction of a victim of crime, but if that "rage" is given legal expression there is a danger that this expression becomes the template of how we deal with the perpetrator. But can this "rage", however understandable, be the language of the community of which, and in which, both victims and perpetrators are members? What is the best way for victims and perpetrators to build the future of a community together when the perpetrators continue to feel like ghosts?

Thirdly, the debate so often concentrates on boundaries—how we can use prison or its equivalents to contain, and so forget, offenders. How can we build a society in which we use sentencing and prison not merely to contain but to re-energise, rehabilitate and even to socialise? If we think not only about the boundaries but also about the centre and make strong centres, we might well want to build more and better opportunities for education in prisons themselves. I agree with the noble Baroness in that regard as illiteracy is a major stumbling block to participation in the life of our society. We need courses in literacy and in wider education and to provide adequate training. We need to offer much more opportunity for social engagement. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, that contact with family, and especially with children, is a vital factor in continuing to humanise those who are in prison. Family relationships more than anything else are what make people human. I refer to the sense of belonging in a family, of having a place and of feeling that there are people for whom you have a responsibility even if you do not think you do it very well. That, more than any other single factor, will help people feel that they have a place and a worth in the community.

We also need to provide proper housing for those leaving prison and trying to get started again. But perhaps beneath all this lies the opportunity to use periods of prison or periods of containment or periods of probation as an opportunity for the formation of the individual as a person with his, or her, own unique contribution to make and with a sense of his own gifts. How that person will rise to the invitation of his gifts will shape whether he thinks of himself as a ghost. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said, many of those who offend are the children of prisoners and are almost automatically drawn into that kind of criminal and inherited vulnerability.

I end by describing my own experience when I was a curate in Armley in Leeds, where a notable Victorian prison was, and, indeed, is, a significant visual landmark in the parish. A vigorous experiment was undertaken there by a private charity, the Northope Hall Trust, and the Leeds Probation Service. There casework was undertaken during the week by probation officers with those whose fathers or elder brothers were in prison. In those days it was almost entirely males who were in prison, approved school or in Borstal. Casework was undertaken with children in the 11 to 13 or 14 age range. The staff ratio was the almost unimaginable figure of five to eight. At the weekends boys went in groups on residential social weekends with an enormous range and variety of activity, including outdoor activity. Those weekends were enormously successful in preventing those young boys following in the criminal pattern that had been set by their fathers and elder brothers. They did not necessarily stop them being criminalised but they socialised them and made it possible for those people to think of themselves as part of the human community.

Those centres were taken up in the Seebohm report and given the wonderfully unimaginative title of "intermediate treatment centres", thus probably causing them to sink. That is the kind of experiment in socialising which is so important if we are to get ahead of the game and to make an impact before people enter a life of criminal activity. I thank the noble Baroness for initiating this debate. I too very much hope that the Minister will tell us how serious the Government are as regards investing in these preventive measures. I know that there may not be many votes to be won in this, but actually if we are serious about the potential of each person who could find themselves drawn into a life of crime and end up populating the prisons, I believe this is one of the investments most worth making. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Lord Chan Lord Chan Crossbench

My Lords, I apologise most sincerely for not being present for the opening speech, particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone. I foolishly got trapped in an Underground train and arrived here just in time for this important debate. My contribution is based on public consultation research done by the Sentencing Advisory Panel, of which I have been a member since the panel's establishment in July 1999. By sharing with noble Lords the two independent public research projects, I hope that we will see the importance of community involvement in determining policies relevant to crime prevention, alternatives to prison and rehabilitation of offenders.

The Sentencing Advisory Panel's members include: magistrates and judges; professors of law; senior officers of the police, Prison Service, probation service and Crown Prosecution Service; and three lay members, of whom I am one. A list of organisations concerned with criminal justice is consulted for a statutory period of 12 weeks before the panel publishes its guidance for submission to the Sentencing Guidelines Council. In addition, the Sentencing Advisory Panel has commissioned two public consultations, one on domestic burglary published in 2001, and the other on rape published in 2002.

The first survey of public attitudes was designed to ascertain whether the public agreed on: the factors that aggravated the seriousness of the offence, particularly domestic burglary; what particular features of the offence and of the offender made it appropriate in the public's view to impose a custodial sentence; and in what circumstances the public thought it appropriate to impose a community sentence.

One of the key findings of the panel's public opinion research was that respondents envisaged the "typical" or standard burglary as being committed by a repeat offender and having the following features: the theft of electrical goods such as a television or video; the theft of personal items such as jewellery; damage caused by the break-in itself; some turmoil in the house, such as drawers upturned or damage to some items; and no injury or violence, but some trauma to the victim. Those features identified in the panel's public opinion research were very similar to those identified by victims of burglary responding to the British Crime Survey in 1998. The panel therefore accepts that this kind of burglary is reasonably representative of cases coming regularly before the courts.

There is considerable authority from the courts of justice to consider domestic burglary a sufficiently serious offence to merit a custodial sentence. The result of our survey showed that public opinion strongly supported that view. For the standard burglary that I outlined, the sentence suggested by the public for a repeat offender was a three-year term of imprisonment. The survey respondents had little confidence in the effectiveness of community sentences, and did not in general see them as a sufficiently punitive response to an offence such as domestic burglary. The research findings also demonstrated that the public were not familiar with the full range of community sentences, especially those introduced recently through the Criminal Justice Act.

Public opinion research conducted by the Sentencing Advisory Panel on other common offences demonstrated similar findings to those from the survey of victims of burglary conducted by the British Crime Survey. Involving the public in issues of sentencing of offenders not only gives them a voice, but helps them to understand other forms of punishment. For example, curfew orders are particularly suitable for offenders such as burglars because they involve a significant loss of liberty and can be tailored to restrict an offender's movements at particular times of day.

Drug treatment and testing orders are specifically aimed at individuals whose offending is closely related to their serious drug misuse, and involve an intensive treatment and testing regime which is closely monitored by the sentencing court. The National Probation Service also operates a range of programmes specifically targeted at persistent offenders, including burglars, some of which include close monitoring and surveillance of an offender's behaviour in the community. Community punishment orders involve an element of reparation to the community, which can be particularly important in relation to burglary. All those can be given as sentences in their own right or in an appropriate combination. The public needs to know about those forms of punishment and rehabilitation programmes that are an improvement on imprisonment, if applied properly.

The other public survey commissioned by the Sentencing Advisory Panel was a qualitative study on the general public's perceptions of the crime of rape and the experience of victims. The overwhelming message is that rape is rape—the victim's sense of violation is just as great whatever her or his relationship to the offender. Although rape by a stranger was seen as a more frightening and potentially dangerous experience, the breach of trust involved in "relationship rape" or "acquaintance rape" made it equally serious.

Finally, wider public consultation on crimes that affect people promotes confidence in the criminal justice system which will not be swayed by media reports of anecdotal cases. I hope that the Government will do more to involve the general public on crime prevention, punishment and rehabilitation of offenders.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Linklater on the RCP report, and particularly welcome the recommendation that the Sentencing Guidelines Council should look at greater flexibility in sentencing of drug mules. It has always struck me as pointless to hand down seven-year sentences to poor women from the slums of Kingston, who themselves are victims of drug barons. That is a matter for attention that I have argued to no avail with successive prison Ministers over the years. Now that my noble friend and her distinguished committee have taken the matter up, perhaps the Home Office will sit up and listen.

I want to pursue the question raised by the right reverend Prelate of how far the Government are interested in investing in prevention of crime rather than picking up the pieces afterwards. I shall concentrate on one aspect of crime prevention, and urge the Government to do far more before the particular class of offenders that I shall discuss gets into the criminal justice system in the first place.

Since 1997, we have had an avalanche of criminal justice legislation and a huge expansion in the prison estate. If crime and disorder could have been reduced by more and longer prison sentences, or even by the provision of a variety of non-custodial sentences such as ASBOs, the Government would have been able to boast of a great record. But some kinds of offences, particularly those of violence against the person, as reported to the police, have risen inexorably year on year. Instead of concentrating almost entirely on the penalties and how society deals with offenders, we should have put greater emphasis on reducing the number of offences committed.

On the Government's own figures, the cost of alcohol-related crime and disorder is up to £7.9 billion, which is not accounted for entirely by the public disorder that occurs every Friday and Saturday night in just about every town and city of England; it covers also thousands of offences committed by problem drinkers. The damage done by alcohol is greater than that by all other drugs put together, yet it attracts far less attention, even in my noble friend's report, and only a fraction of the resources. But the mindless violence generated by concentrations of drinking factories is a cause of public concern. According to the Cabinet Office's interim analytical report, no fewer than 70 per cent of respondents said that it was a problem in their area. If communities were involved in policies relevant to crime prevention, as the Motion suggests, there is no doubt that they would demand action.

The survey came to some other significant conclusions: that drinking is more likely to be associated with violent offences than with acquisitive crimes, that it contributes to violent or aggressive behaviour, that violent incidents where alcohol is involved are more likely to result in more serious injuries and that almost half the victims of violent crime say that the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

Alcohol plays a role in a third of cases of violence between spouses, and the Government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy talks about developing "models of care" so that perpetrators and victims of domestic violence receive treatment and help. They want the producers and sellers of alcohol to help convey key messages about the unacceptability of domestic violence and to provide helpline numbers for victims to call. This is typical of the approach to all other kinds of alcohol-related harm as well. The Government will offer limited help in picking up the pieces after the damage has been done and blocking the immediate harm that aggressive drinkers may cause, for example by encouraging the use of toughened glass. But in the main they will rely on the industry, whose products have caused the problem in the first place, to mitigate its effects.

There is nothing in the Government's policies that is likely to have any measurable impact on the level of alcohol-related crime and disorder. They claim that the Licensing Act will have a beneficial effect, but senior police officers, in spite of their reluctance to challenge the Government's political agenda, are increasingly critical of 24-hour drinking and are fearful of what may happen next August when the Act comes into effect. Paul Evans, who has been imported from Boston to tell us how to reduce crime, says he is not sure that it can get much worse—not exactly a sign of confidence in government policy—while the Metropolitan Police says that there will be an increase in "disturbance" and warns that additional demands may be placed on it by having to deal with more intoxicated arrestees. Stephen Green, Chief Constable of Nottingham and lead ACPO spokesman on alcohol, told "Panorama" in June that next year's deregulation could indeed make things worse. He added that residents in other parts of our towns and cities are being deprived of policing, because the officers who should be there are being drained out by the needs of the centre. That is a side-effect of the night-time saturnalia which is bound to increase crime and has been totally ignored by government.

In fact, Ministers seem to be interested in preventing a thorough investigation of the effects on law and order of the Licensing Act, perhaps because they are nervous about what it would reveal. I have been suggesting for the past 18 months that we should be using three indices to measure the changes that occur next August when the Act comes into force: alcohol related attendances at A&E departments—on the lines of the survey by Professor Colin Drummond and others, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was submitted to the Government in September 2003—crimes of violence against the person and ambulance call-outs arising from incidents committed on or in the vicinity of licensed premises. Until recently I had not had a straight answer from Ministers to these proposals. On A&E statistics, the noble Lord, Lord Warner told me last May:

"We will certainly be examining ways in which we can continue to obtain this useful data".

Richard Caborn wrote to me on 17 March, stating that,

"we will be studying base-line data and making comparisons between the effect of current legislation and developing trends to ensure that the new licensing regime meets our expectations with regard to increased public safety and a reduction in crime and disorder. The full extent of our review has yet to be determined".

When I asked the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, when the Government would decide what base-line data were to be used and whether the time remaining before the Act came into force allowed for the collection of sufficient data, he said that he could not give me bland assurances, but now, after all this time, he has said that:

"There is already sufficient baseline data regarding alcohol-related crime and disorder available from the British Crime Survey to enable a thorough review of the impact of the 2003 Act to take place".

The BCS is an utterly useless yardstick, because it deals with the subjective experiences of crime of a random sample of 37,000 people at national level and, as the Home Office acknowledges,

"it cannot tell us what is happening in your local authority or neighbourhood".

Now we shall never be able to see whether crime and disorder increases after the second appointed day in the areas where licensed premises are concentrated, even though in the case of the police and ambulance services the statistics could be provided if the Government asked for them. The Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolis gave me figures for London which I passed on to Department for Culture, Media and Sport Ministers during the Report stage of the Licensing Bill and I have figures from the London Ambulance Service regarding drink and drug-related call-outs in central London from October 2004, which can be produced regularly from the London Ambulance Service computers, if required.

You do not have to be an economic genius to appreciate that if drink costs more, less will be consumed and there will be less crime. Most scientists, other than those funded by the drinks industry, have accepted this since Kettil Bruun's "purple book", Alcohol Control Policies in a Public Health Perspective was published in 1975; and the Government's analytical report acknowledges that,

"there is clear evidence of the links between price and availability and overall consumption, and hence harm".

In the US, there have been several recent studies on the price elasticity of beer, wine and spirits, which showed that for these types of drink, small increases in price led to some reduction in consumption. A survey of the research published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that,

"increases in the prices of alcoholic beverages lead to reductions in drinking and heavy drinking as well as in the consequences of alcohol use and abuse. This conclusion concurs with a fundamental law of economics".

Yet there has been a consistent attempt to play down this functional relationship. Several references to the links and to evidence from Finland, California and Western Australia were erased from the Government's draft analytical report and, in the final strategy, price and availability are said to,

"act in the context of a complex range of other factors that influence consumption (culture, advertising, setting and market innovation . . .)".

There are other factors involved, but there is no doubt that if the obvious levers of price and availability were applied, alcohol-related crime and disorder, as well as other kinds of harm, could be reduced. The illogicality and perversity of a strategy which deliberately jettisons the most powerful available weapon is breathtaking. It is as if a general were to say that air support, for instance, operated only in the context of operations by infantry, armour and logistics, and should therefore not be called upon at all.

In an Observer article last month, Downing Street was said to have made clear that anyone who opposed Home Office Bills on crime and disorder, or, indeed, ventured to say anything about them, would be painted as "soft on crime" in next year's election campaign. That tallies with our experience in recent by-elections. The Downing Street source told the newspaper,

"we will tell the Tories and Liberal Democrats, "Go on, make our day and oppose them"".

The answer to that is that the Government are soft on the drink lobby and that is one of the reasons why violent crime, as well as accidents and long-term health problems, impose huge burdens on society and hold back our potential.

Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on persuading her colleagues to hold this debate and on her excellent contribution. I, too, must declare an interest as a member of the supervisory board of the Rethinking Crime and Punishment Initiative and as an adviser to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

I support the points already made by noble Lords and would remind the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury that intermediate treatment went on to become a successful policy for juveniles. It kept most of them out of prison and was brought in by the Department of Health at a time when, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, was running a good regime there.

I express my appreciation that the debate is to be replied to by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is a Minister in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. According to the website, among other matters, he has responsibility for neighbourhood renewal, social exclusion and homelessness. I assume that means that he works for more neighbourhood renewal but for less homelessness and less social exclusion. All those issues are very relevant to crime, dealing with crime and public confidence that it will be dealt with effectively. It is possible that, under those responsibilities, he will find himself disagreeing with the Home Office occasionally. I hope that the noble Lord will not object if I take the liberty of addressing this subject with his particular responsibilities in mind.

I want to talk about rebalancing. We have heard much from the Government about rebalancing the criminal justice system—often, it is claimed, from the offender to the victim but probably, as many people say, from the individual to the state. I want to address three possible and rather different rebalancing scenarios from the ones usually addressed by the Government.

The first is to tip the balance more towards creating social inclusion than towards increasing social exclusion. The criminal justice process cannot help being about social exclusion. It is the use of the law to show society's disapproval and protect society. So people are taken away and locked up in prisons; they get a prison record, which is very exclusionary; they find it difficult to get a job afterwards; their housing prospects get worse; and their family ties are weakened.

Even the non-custodial penalties are severe deprivations of liberty, and the emphasis on them has moved further away from social reintegration—for example, getting housing, a job, self-confidence and a group of non-criminal friends—and towards risk assessment and containment.

But this social exclusionary part of society's arrangements is growing. That is where the action is: it involves more money, more powers, and more and more people. It is a growth area—so much so that some services that should be provided to citizens generally are provided more amply to those who have entered the criminal justice system. The Rethinking Crime and Punishment report quotes an incident where the local authority in Liverpool was driven to ask Liverpool prison whether some places on its prison drug treatment programme could be allocated to non-convicted Liverpool residents in need of drug treatment.

It is not only prison where we see criminal justice growing and controlling access to much-needed social services. The whole business of anti-social behaviour orders has the same characteristics. By now, many noble Lords should have heard of Aneeze. He is famous as, I believe, the youngest recipient of an anti-social behaviour order. Aneeze is aged 11. A Times journalist called him "the youngest social outcast". Noble Lords are not the only people to have heard of him; he is so famous that, according to press reports, his mother receives hate mail from all over the country. It is wasted on Aneeze because he cannot read, but other members of his family can.

It is often suggested, sometimes by noble Lords on the government side, that those like myself who are often horrified and sometimes ashamed by this licence for scapegoating and for creating a band of social outlaws have never ourselves suffered from noisy neighbours, destructive local children, broken car windows, abuse and stone throwing because, if we had, we would surely applaud these measures. That seems to be the conclusion of the Liberal Democrat spokesman on home affairs, who has, I am very sad to say, joined the chorus of those who say in relation to this policy that the means justify the ends.

It is an untenable argument to say that those who oppose the measures have never suffered from such behaviour. It is more likely that those who have lived in places where they suffer harassment and disorder know exactly how uncomfortable it is to live in a divided community where permission has been given to stigmatise and hound some of its most disadvantaged and needy members. This is not the kind of community involvement that leads to greater social inclusion and to less crime.

I return to the fate of Aneeze, whose story continues to appear in national newspapers. He clearly has a huge set of problems. From his early years, he needed special help and social support. From the age of six, he was setting fire to things. According to the reports, he received no help, but now, because of the publicity, there is talk that he may be found a place in a residential school in Cumbria. That should have been considered for him years ago.

Therefore, I want to suggest a rebalancing of the system so that disturbed and needy children and others receive the services and help that they need without having to be taken to court, judged to be anti-social and pilloried in public because of what they need. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's views on how far attempts are made to solve the problem, especially in relation to children, before an anti-social behaviour order is applied for.

I move on to my second rebalancing—

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Shadow Minister, Transport

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that, in fact, the whole thrust of community partnerships and of the police service is to keep people out of court? Institutions such as Restorative Justice and the work being carried out actively in communities to deal with young offenders are very positive developments. Much work is done before—I think that I paraphrase what the noble Baroness said—the heavy hand of the law is brought to bear on people.

Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention, and I look forward to hearing whether the Minister agrees with him. I am afraid that I think that there is an enormous gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

I move on to the second element of rebalancing, which is to rebalance the system much more to the local rather than the national, governmental level. Most crime occurs locally and its effects are felt locally. Yet, once the police work is over, local authorities and local organisations normally have no involvement in what happens afterwards, with the noteworthy exception of the very successful youth offending teams.

In 2001, the Probation Service lost its local character. It lost its structural relationship with local authorities and local magistrates and it was absorbed by the Home Office, although the Home Office works through probation boards, which are Home Office appointed. Then, in January this year, the Home Office decided to sever the local connections altogether and to bring the whole lot into Home Office management. We expect legislation about that this Session.

In Scotland—here I declare an interest as Convenor of the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice—a similar idea occurred to the Government. They said, "Let's bring together the prison and the probation functions", which in Scotland are carried out by local authorities. They consulted widely and 95 per cent of those consulted said that it was a bad idea to centralise these activities.

On Monday, the Minister for Justice in Scotland announced her decision to proceed in exactly the opposite way to the choice made in England and Wales. The prison and probation functions would not be brought under central control. Instead, the prisons would be put under a statutory obligation to work with local authorities, and the emphasis would be on local working and local accountability.

Yesterday, the Local Government Association in England and Wales issued a statement supporting the view that,

"the successful youth offending team model", should be extended to the adult part of the system. It also called for local councils to have a properly funded leadership role,

"to co-ordinate and lead the work of these relevant local agencies . . . to reduce re-offending in their communities".

I should like to hear the Minister's views on a greater role for local government and other local agencies.

My third rebalancing act is to shift as much as possible of criminal justice expenditure, once the requirements of public protection and proper punishment have been met, away from negative expenditure that punishes and contains and towards positive expenditure that invests in the communities which suffer most from crime.

Punishment is very expensive. The annual average cost of imprisonment is £37,305. Much of this money, more than ever before, is being spent on small-time low risk people—people who are addicted and people who are mentally ill. The mentally ill people get worse; the addicted continue to be addicted; and the small-time thieves and other petty law breakers get nothing that deals with their messed-up lives. There is nothing to show for the expenditure.

If, however, there was a choice about how to spend that money, how many communities would buy prison places, knowing that the sentences will be short and that the people will soon be back? If they could have instead, for example, a day centre for people with mental health problems, a state-of-the-art rehabilitation centre for drug addicted women, training programmes—not just for convicted people but for everybody's children—or facilities that renew their neighbourhood, I suggest that few would buy prison places for many of the people from their neighbourhood.

The research by Rethinking Crime and Punishment shows clearly that the public can see the merits of prevention and would like their money to be spent in that way. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell me whether he sees any merit in my third suggestion also.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Shadow Minister, Welsh Affairs, Chair, Draft Mental Health Bill (Joint Committee)

My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend on the excellent way she opened the debate and on the work that she and others have done outside this place in trying to improve particularly the effectiveness of the criminal justice system for young offenders, the group on which I propose to concentrate. Perhaps I may also say what a privilege it is to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, with her profound knowledge of all these issues.

Looking back to, say, 1970, if one were to judge the youth sentencing system by corporate standards I would come to this sort of conclusion: what one might call "Youth Sentencing System Plc" would have gone into administration years ago; the various prospectuses produced by its directors—and notably in political manifestos—would be held up as paradigms of fraud; the directors of the company, by and large, would be serving time for making reckless statements; and we would have started by either selling the system to the French or starting with a new sheet of paper to devise some kind of business that actually produced the product we needed, because it is not.

If I look back at my experience of observing the criminal justice system for young offenders, both as a lawyer and as a politician over those years, I reflect that in the 1970s alarm was being expressed about a prison population of 40,000; in the 1980s about a prison population of 50,000; in the 1990s about a prison population of 60,000; and past the turn of century about a prison population of 70,000. So it has got us absolutely nowhere.

What we have had over those years is mantra after mantra. "Prison works"—rubbish; "We'll cut crime by cutting the causes of crime"—has not happened; and, "The Liberals are soft on crime"—is actually not true at all. If I were to devise a mantra, it would be something like "Cut crime with courage", but I am against mantras because I think they reach utterly nowhere. One decent policy would be worth 1,000 mantras if we could find it.

We all know that—the Audit Commission did some very good work in the mid-1990s that proved it—just as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said, prison is very expensive. It is a waste of resources. What is the use of writing a CV on a computer in prison at a cost of £37,305 per year per prisoner if, by spending one-third of that money to prevent that person going into prison, it could have been written at the local further education college? How much better off we would be. What if that person had been on the labour market and not rotting away in a stinking prison cell in one of our appalling young offenders' institutions, so heavily criticised by the Chief Inspector of Prisons—and rightly so?

I should like to suggest one policy which is analogous to the correct policies which, in my view, the Government are following on education. If a school is doing so badly that its managers cannot manage it, it cannot deliver basic education and it cannot produce the social needs which education requires for its area, what do they do? They either close it down or they send in someone else who can manage it. The principle is that no child should be sent to a school which is not going to educate that child. Why on earth are we sending young offenders to young offenders' institutions which are not going to improve them in any material way whatever, but are simply going to send them on to another young offenders' institution a few months later?

I suggest to the Government that it is time that the highest standards were imposed on those institutions so that nobody was ever sent to a place in them unless there was a suitable place for them to be sent to. That would be, at least, a start.

But we should be able to deal with these problems—as the Audit Commission said in 1996—well before young people are ever sent to prison. The evidence is that for every pound spent on preventing crime we save £6 or £7 later on. So why do we not give the public value for money in this area? Why is education in this country so impoverished in its approach to crime? Why are more children not taught in school how horrible prisons and young offenders' institutions are and what happens to them in the zoos that those places can be? Why are they not told more rigorously that the refuge from parenting is not to commit crime and be locked up in a YOI, but to become a better parent and to enjoy the pleasures of being a parent?

Why do we not teach young people more before they leave school about how to approach work? Why do we not teach them about the advantages of creature comforts? My observation of offenders in young offenders' institutions is that often it is the only secure place they have had to sleep for years; that many of them have had no opportunity to enjoy creature comforts; and that they do not have parents who offer them creature comforts. These are all issues that should be addressed in our education system. Above all, why do we not teach them the husbandry of their own money, which surely is one of the fundamental qualities of leading a useful and non-criminal life?

I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Avebury when he talked about alcohol. Last week I saw the newspapers indulging in a joke of a well known young public figure having what was quoted as "Sex on the beach". "Sex", apparently, is the name of an alcopop drink. What on earth do the alcohol companies think they are doing in diminishing and diluting the sense of social responsibility of young people by giving their drinks names like that?

There is a great campaign by the Government against smoking at the moment, which I applaud, despite my instinct against the tendency to ban everything these days, so beloved of all governments, including this one, although I suspect it is less loved by the Minister than by some of his colleagues. But why do they not give the same attention to cannabis that they give to smoking cigarettes? Go and ask anyone working in a mental health ward for young people, a police officer in a police station on a Saturday night, a general practitioner or anyone in a young offenders' institution about the effects of cannabis. I am with the Government on the question of what the police should do about the possession of cannabis. One must be practical. But why do we not have a campaign that points out what all health professionals know to be the truth about cannabis; that it is capable in many vulnerable young people, particularly young men, of causing severe psychotic episodes that lead to criminal behaviour? It far exceeds in dangerousness the repeated use of cigarettes, is more difficult to give up and potentially has just as bad long-term effects.

That is an example that could be used as a real value-for-money exercise in cutting youth crime.

Why do we not try to ensure that mental healthcare is delivered when it is needed? One would be lucky to find a school nurse in every school even now, despite knowledge of their utility, and very lucky to find a school nurse who is able, however good he or she is, to call on high-quality mental health services. In young offenders' institutions, the accepted statistic is that 90 per cent of the inmates are suffering from some current mental or psychiatric issue, call it what one will. That should be dealt with from schools long before they go into young offenders' institutions; and addressed there through community provision.

Why do we not have more experiments like the few so far of putting small police stations in schools, so that kids who want to talk to the police informally about the issues that worry them are able to do so? Where it has been done—including in one school that I know in rural Wales, incidentally, which is a pretty unlikely candidate for that kind of activity—it has worked well and improved relations between youngsters and the police enormously. In that setting, familiarity does not breed contempt, it breeds knowledge, partnership and working together.

So overall, I urge the Minister to accept that complacency on those issues is totally misplaced. We have failed generation after generation of young offenders, because we have allowed them to go in increasing numbers to young offenders' institutions. Let us try to use community initiatives and other imaginative conceptual ideas to try to reduce youth offending, and let us please do it with policies rather than mantras.

Photo of Lord Fellowes Lord Fellowes Crossbench

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for initiating this debate on a subject that I approach as a relative newcomer but on which she is an acknowledged and respected authority, not least because of the admirable report produced under her chairmanship, Rethinking Crime & Punishment. It is also a privilege to follow the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew.

The debate comes at a time when the prison population is at an all-time peak in England and Wales. It comes at a time when public concern about crime is matched but not assuaged by the determination of the majority of politicians of various hues not to be seen as "soft on crime". It comes at a time when the cost of imprisonment is between £35,000 and £40,000 a year per prisoner, including the substantial percentage of prisoners held on remand, all too often in worse conditions than those who have been tried and sentenced.

It also comes at a time when figures and percentages are used in profusion by the various protagonists on the subject of crime and punishment to make their case. We know that statistics can be used and misused so easily but I shall try to eschew more than the bare minimum as I venture to reflect—here I declare an interest, having chaired the Prison Reform Trust for a brief three years or so—on whether we can improve what is patently an unsatisfactory state of affairs in our prisons. More than unsatisfactory, it is frequently not decent nor humane and, in the case of remand prisoners, it is unjust.

I took over the chair of the Prison Reform Trust from the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, now our president. It was during his time as Home Secretary that a Green Paper was published entitled, Punishment, Custody and the Community. It contained the following passage:

"Custody is, therefore, a continuum from close restriction to relative freedom. The more severe the restrictions, the more they produce conditions which are different from life outside. They limit the offender's personal responsibility for taking decisions on everyday matters. Imprisonment of any kind restricts individual initiative and freedom of choice. Imprisonment is likely to diminish the offender's sense of responsibility and self-reliance".

It is surely difficult to disagree with those statements.

The central conundrum is this: longer sentences mean more people being incarcerated for longer, with the commensurate cost in the wreckage of family and prisoners' lives, the resulting damage to society and the cost to the taxpayer; shorter sentences are worthless for the offender and the Prison Service because there is no time for rehabilitation, thus aiding and abetting our horrific reoffending rate, especially by young people. Meanwhile, the route to the imaginative and constructive approaches to sentencing, such as restorative justice, to name one example, is closed off to governments by the fear to which I referred earlier of being seen to be soft.

What can be done about it? I said that I would eschew all but the bare minimum of statistics, but I should like to make one evidence-based statement. There is no correlation between a severe sentencing regime and low recidivism—rather the reverse. In Canada and the Scandinavian countries for instance, where the use of community sentences flourishes, the prison population and the reoffending rates are relatively low. I know that it is hard to prove anything when talking of different countries and cultures, but, none the less, I think that that statement merits careful reflection.

Is it too much to hope that an innovative, thoughtful and humane government here might soon come to the conclusion that the political points to be won by being seen to be tough are dross compared to the long-term benefit for our country of a real, wholehearted attempts to rethink our system of sentencing and imprisonment? It should go without saying that I believe in the protection of society from individuals who pose a constant, or even intermittent, physical threat to their fellow human beings. However, all too often, those prisoners are sufferers from mental illness who, if they had been properly assessed, would be securely held while being given proper medical treatment unavailable in prison. To that extent, I welcome the recent adoption of responsibility for prison health by the National Health Service and wish for more power and the necessary money to the NHS elbow.

Beyond that, I believe that there is room for a considerable shift in thinking in government and in the country at large towards the efficient and enthusiastic use of community sentencing. Prison sentences should be the last, not the first resort of the sentencer. The sufferers from the present state of affairs are, in no particular order, the taxpayer, the victims of crime, the prison and probation services, always stretched to the limit and strapped for cash, and the prisoners themselves, especially those on remand or who are mentally ill, women, children and young offenders and, of course, all their families.

However, such a shift requires an equally significant increase in government, judicial and public confidence in the efficacy of community sentences. Given the cynicism about them which abounds and which, I must say, has in the past on occasion been justified, that will not be easy to achieve, but I believe that it can be achieved with the right blend of commitment and leadership.

Much lip-service is paid in this country to such things as inclusivity and family values. I can think of nothing more excluding or destructive of family values than the current way that we administer punishment for crime. This country, with its tradition of justice and decency to all our fellow human beings, deserves better and I think that it would judge fairly and well a government who were brave enough to try to deliver what the country deserves.

Photo of Lord Rea Lord Rea Labour

My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I speak in this debate, because I know very little about the workings and enforcement of the law. However, the speeches made by noble Lords so far have greatly helped to speed up my learning curve. My name is on the speakers' list because I succumbed to the charms of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater; I am sure that I am not the only one.

On reflection, the Motion allows me to look at some health aspects of crime and punishment, where I feel more at home. I wish to concentrate on the mental health of prisoners and the effect of drug use or abuse on the criminal justice system. Mental illness and drug abuse often came my way when I was in practice. For my sins, I am treasurer of the All-Party Group on Drugs Misuse, which is not an arduous task, as we have no money.

Many noble Lords will have seen the series of dramatic articles by Nick Davies in the Guardian this week on mental illness in prison. He quoted a figure from a recent report by the Office for National Statistics: 14 per cent of the prison population suffer from a psychotic illness. That is to say, if you take 75,000 as the prison population, 10,000 have such an illness. I found that figure surprisingly high. I would like to know what diagnostic criteria were used.

Whatever the figures, the numbers are much too high. Such people should not be in prison; they should be in a secure psychiatric hospital. The bonus of that would be that prisons would be less crowded and the work of prison officers would be much easier if they did not have to look after people with a psychotic illness. That is not to say that most mentally disordered people are sent to prison, but many prisoners have a mental disorder, quite apart from the fact that many have a low IQ and literacy level. Nor does it mean that they have not committed offences; of course they have—sometimes very severe offences, including violence and murder. They are particularly dangerous because of their unpredictable behaviour. However, the treatment that they receive in prison is often inadequate due to the inappropriate physical setting, the coercive atmosphere, the lack of training of prison staff and a scarcity of health staff, especially those with a psychiatric qualification.

Severely mentally ill offenders land up in prison for two main reasons. First, they cannot now be properly contained by community mental health services. When there was a network of long-stay mental institutions or asylums, the needs of severely disturbed patients were better catered for. The old mental hospitals really did provide asylum for many such patients.

Secondly, there is a dearth of high-level secure units, such as Rampton, in which to treat such people, with resultant difficulties and delays in transferring them from regular prisons. The Government are responding sensibly to the dearth of secure units, but not as fast as many would like. Initially, they used private sector psychiatric units—they still do—not always giving the very best care, but more recently they have been expanding medium-level secure units, often attached to NHS psychiatric units, to which high-level secure units can decant their less disturbed patients or those who responded to treatment.

As the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, pointed out, prisons now buy in psychiatric staff from NHS hospitals on what is called the in-reach process. Expanding the number of trained staff is the chief difficulty in speeding up the process. It takes a long time to train a psychiatrist or a psychiatric nurse. In those pressurised circumstances, holding existing staff may not be easy. My noble friend's comments on this difficult situation will be very welcome.

Having so many mentally ill people in prison reminds me of the state of affairs in Erewhon, Samuel Butler's imaginary topsy-turvy country, in which sick people were punished and criminals treated in hospital. "Erewhon" is "nowhere" spelt backwards—perhaps the direction in which our prison system is heading, with its relentlessly increasing population.

Mental ill health has its roots in early life experiences. There is little doubt, and it has now been shown by several studies, that high-quality early education pays high dividends for future employability, social well-being and responsibility, and reduces the likelihood of mental ill health and criminal behaviour. The creation and expansion of the Sure Start programme throughout the country is one of the wisest steps that the Government have taken. But even more could be done to help parents with children showing early signs of behavioural disorder, picked up perhaps by teachers at school. However, that is a topic for another day.

My second main theme is the part played by prohibited drugs in swelling the prison population. At any one time about 16 per cent of the prison population are there because of drug-related offences—possession, supplying, trafficking or manufacturing drugs. That percentage is much higher than it was 10 years ago when the prison population was much lower. In fact, the number in prison for drug offences is 10 times as high as it was 10 or 12 years ago.

More significant is the proportion of those in prison as a result of property theft to raise money to finance an expensive drug habit. A heroin user, for example, has to find £400 every week. There are no hard figures for the proportion of the prison population in that category, but it is very substantial. In 1999, when Jack Straw was Home Secretary, he estimated that a third of the whole prison population were there because of acquisitive crime to finance a drug habit. Anecdotal evidence now suggests that over 50 per cent of prisoners may be in for that reason. When we had a robbery recently, I asked the police officer dealing with the case what proportion of the thefts with which he dealt did he think were carried out to finance a drug habit. He said that about 90 per cent of thefts were for that reason. That was just his local experience in that area, and it may have been an exaggeration, but it accounts for a huge proportion.

So what is to be done? The introduction of drug treatment and testing orders (DTTOs) was widely welcomed on the basis that "treatment works", but their operation has not been without problems. The National Audit Office and the Home Office have both evaluated the early experience with the DTTOs. Of the 174 DTTO offenders studied by the Home Office, only 30 per cent successfully completed the course. Their reconviction rate was 53 per cent compared with 91 per cent of those who failed to complete their order. Overall, 80 per cent of the 174 offenders were reconvicted within two years. It has not been a signal success. Perhaps my noble friend will comment.

"Treatment works" is a slogan often used, but it is true only if the nature of drug dependency, particularly its relapsing nature, is understood. Many attempts may have to be made, just like giving up smoking. Insisting on abstinence rather than providing maintenance drugs in therapy has very disappointing results. Coercion is not likely to lead to the best possible success rates—a DTTO is a coercive mode of action. There is some evidence that those on DTTOs do not receive the best treatment, such as counselling and social support, that needs to be part of any successful package.

To make a serious impact on the increasing role that prohibited drugs play in swelling our prison population, a more radical drugs policy is required. The problem is not going away; in fact it is growing, despite the £1 billion-plus spent on enforcement of our drug laws.

I echo the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in hoping that custodial sentences for cannabis offences will become a thing of the past. It is often said that decriminalising all drug use would lead to an increase in consumption. That is not necessarily so. It is possible to regulate the supply of legal substances—tobacco and alcohol come to mind—and legalised drugs could be more heavily controlled than those two substances, which are, incidentally, much more harmful than drugs. There should be no advertising; it should be banned from the outset.

This is not the occasion on which to discuss the details of a licensed regulated drugs policy, but the advances of such a regime, were it to be successfully instituted, must be considered. There would be a dramatic decrease in crime at all levels; there would be relief for the criminal justice system and a steady reduction in the prison population; and billions of pounds of expenditure on the ineffective enforcement of drug prohibition could be saved. There would be an opportunity to tax the drug market, and there would be improved public health and a reduction of the harm caused by drug use, particularly the use of the impure drugs supplied by the criminal fraternity. HIV and hepatitis, spread through the use of shared needles, would become much less common. Lifting the threat of criminalisation would restore human rights and dignity to the marginalised and disadvantaged. The restabilisation of drug producer and transit countries is another important gain that might be achieved. The Economist said in an editorial that legally regulated drug markets were a pre-condition of any hope of a return to stability in those regions—countries such as Colombia, Afghanistan, Burma and Jamaica.

The new policy would have to be brought in gradually. In order for it to be effective, international moves would have to be taken. The United Nations drugs policy, which is staunchly prohibitionist, would need to be revised. All that will take time, but I predict that, in 20 years or so, it will be seen as the only logical way forward. The war on drugs, as fought at present, has been comprehensively lost. It is playing havoc with criminal justice systems throughout the world, something that can be seen not least in our bulging prison population.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I count it a privilege to be able to contribute in a small way to the debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Linklater of Butterstone on initiating the debate. One is always amazed at the width of experience and expertise to be seen in the Chamber. Mine will be just a tiny contribution to the debate.

As part of my study for the debate, I went into the crime statistics for England and Wales. I realised that the police authority that had fewer crimes than any other in England and Wales was Dyfed-Powys. I wondered why. Was it because we have two Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament there? Possibly. Or was it because we have there smaller, closely knit rural communities? Is it not part of the answer to the problem that we should have communities in which people know one another and people belong to one another? Sometimes, the people know too much about one another, but there is a sense of belonging in such communities. Many people in such communities are related by marriage, and others are in-comers who are welcomed into the communities because we want to keep the rural communities alive. The great challenge is—somehow or other—to re-establish community life. Perhaps, the communities in our cities will be different from those that we have known, but people can form communities. There will be streets and parts of neighbourhoods in which people learn to respect one another and welcome one another.

I was in Canada for a few months before becoming a Member of the House. I realised that new people coming to Canada were not just tolerated but welcomed. That is the big difference. Wherever they came from, they received a welcome, and people were glad to see them. We must offer such a welcome in our communities.

Part of the welcome can be the local constable. We speak a lot of "the bobby on the beat". It is a fair phrase, but would it not be better to have a constable in the community, someone who knows the community and will be there for a long time? Such a person could share in the proceedings of the local council or other organisations and get to know the people. The secret is in personal knowledge of the community and of the people among whom you find yourself.

There is a story—I am sure that it is not true—about a village in Wales in which electricity had just arrived. The electric milking machine was introduced. On one farm, two cows were talking to each other, after their first experience of the electric milking machine. One asked the other, "Well, what do you think of it?". "Oh", said the other, "I miss the personal touch". Many people miss the personal touch in policing today.

I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Hooson for bringing to my attention an incident that happened some years ago. A chief constable was outlining his plans to revolutionise policing in his area. He said, "We will reduce the number of police officers. We will cover more ground by putting them all into panda cars". A wiser colleague asked, "What about the gossip?". In a panda car, the policeman is not in touch with the people: what about the gossip? The policeman's relationship is not just with a geographical area but with the people of a neighbourhood. What about knowledge of the people and the relationship with them?

We cannot make people good by Act of Parliament. I remember how an old schoolmaster always insisted on that in his history lessons. However, Acts of Parliament can provide guidelines and safeguards. My noble friend Lord Avebury brought up the question of alcohol. I am an old-fashioned Methodist minister, and I would like to ask the Government to think again and again. Are they really convinced that 24-hour pub opening will lead to a reduction in drinking and drunkenness?

Then, there is the recent proposal to encourage Las Vegas-style mega-casinos to come to this country. Are such casinos really there for the benefit of the community and for the regeneration of the community, or are they there just to make massive profits—mega-profits—for those who come to this country to set them up? Many people, especially the vulnerable, will rue the day that the legislation was enacted.

The community in which we live is not only a local community; it is a global community. The drug barons of south America ruin the lives of people in Conwy, Ebbw Vale, Cardiff and even in England. It is a world community, and they make their money by selling drugs in our communities. We cannot think that Hadrian's Wall or Offa's Dyke offer protection any longer. The Atlantic itself is known by many people as "the pond" and is easily crossed. The influences go easily from place to the other. Only last week, we were talking about trafficking in people. It is estimated that 700,000 people are trafficked every year. They land in our country. We are part of the global, international situation.

Some people say that we should distance ourselves from Europe or from other international obligations or organisations. That is the language of bygone days—it is rebuilding Hadrian's Wall and redigging Offa's Dyke. That cannot be done. In our villages and cities and in the world community, we must work in partnership locally and internationally or we face total defeat in the struggle for a more civilised, more law-abiding future.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on securing and introducing this full-length debate. She and others have worked very hard to bring the project on Rethinking Crime and Punishment to fruition at an opportune moment. They and their associated organisations deserve our thanks.

I would like to concentrate on just one aspect of this vast subject; namely, restorative justice. I notice that it has only just been touched on. I do so, because I have had personal experience of it at several levels. In Northern Ireland, NIACRO, the organisation working with offenders and their families and for crime prevention, and of which I have the honour to be the president, facilitated the development of local community restorative justice. In Belfast, where that functions, young people are much less likely to suffer beating or shooting at the hands of self-appointed paramilitaries. There is a good chance that anti-social offenders will be reconciled with those whom they have annoyed, or that they will be helped to make some tangible restitution to the community in which they live. Young people are being removed from paths which can lead to the courts and to a lifetime of crime.

At a much more serious level of offending, I have witnessed Crown Court offenders in north London being brought together with their victims in a safe, structured and facilitated way. The outcomes for both sides seemed to me, as an observer in the same room, to be highly satisfactory, and to justify the time and effort involved in enabling face-to-face encounters to take place. In this case, the offenders had usually served a prison sentence, but yet had been willing to meet with victims.

At local level in England, it is well known that some police services, notably in the Thames Valley ever since 1997, have been using restorative cautioning. This applies to young people, who admit their offences and are then not charged, provided that they apologise to those affected, or that they undertake other kinds of restitution or reparation.

The criminal statistics for 2003 show that some 242,000 people are cautioned each year, including 91,000 juveniles. Thus a large number of 18 to 21 year-olds receive cautions, and, as your Lordships probably know, that is the peak age for male offending. In addition, cautions are applied to many people over 21. Therefore, I would ask the Government the extent to which in England and Wales cautions, final warnings and reprimands are accompanied by restorative conditions such as apology and restitution. Would it not be very helpful if the methods successfully applied to the under-18s were gradually extended up the age range? Modifications of method will probably be needed for older people, but I suggest that there is great potential for crime prevention and for reducing the amount of custodial sentences.

What I have said so far may not have convinced your Lordships of the value and importance of restorative justice. Therefore, let us look at the concept in more detail. It is based on the notion that crime destroys harmony in society. This is obvious in the case of murder, which permanently robs families of beloved parents, spouses, children or relations. It is less obvious but none the less real, I suggest, in crimes such as defrauding the social security system or the Inland Revenue.

Restorative justice then goes on to argue that punishment is important, but it is even more important still to repair the damage done, first, to individuals, secondly, to the local community and, ultimately, to society at large. Offences have a ripple effect, widening from the individual to the whole collective, if only through the fears and anxieties that they create.

Restorative justice uses dialogue and negotiation in order to repair the harm done and to make the offender accountable and responsible for his actions. Therefore, it is based on the needs of all concerned: offender, the victims and the wider society, local and national. It usually adopts a problem-solving approach; for example, in youth or family group conferencing. It mediates between victim and offender. I understand that this process has been successful in the United States, even among prisoners awaiting execution and among the bereaved relatives of murdered people. One aim is to engender in the offender feelings of empathy for his or her victims. This may lead to some sense of shame and to some development of conscience. When such progress happens it is a powerful means to reduce reoffending. The benefits for victims can be equally important, giving a sense of closure and the ability to move on in life.

Critics of restorative justice will say that some victims will never agree to meet with offenders. This is partly true, but it is not the whole story. The offender, as I have tried to indicate, has also done harm to society generally. If he is willing to repair the damage and to make collective restitution, he shows a change of attitude and an acceptance of responsibility, which, in turn, should cut down reoffending, whereas punishment alone often does not. We have to remember also that many crimes have no identifiable personal victims. Even in such cases, change of attitude is still possible and efforts should be made to rectify the wrong done. Surely this is much better than punishment only, which may leave the offender sullen and disgruntled, or only anxious to offend more cleverly the next time.

Others may object that restorative justice is very labour intensive, taking up the time of police, courts and other professionals. This again has some truth in it, but I argue that the restorative approach is a good investment of resources, which will yield a high return by reducing reoffending and by lessening the need for long custodial sentences. We all know that recidivism and prisons are vastly expensive, and may compound each other.

Restorative justice has by now been tried and developed in New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Norway, Austria, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and to a lesser extent in England and Wales. It is an idea whose time has come. I, therefore, welcome the Government's strategy on this subject, published in July 2003, together with the relevant parts of the Auld report for England and Wales, and the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clyde, for Northern Ireland. There is also the EU framework decision on restorative justice.

I must, however, ask what has been the impact of and response to the Government's strategy document? Will resources be made available to develop and to extend restorative justice, both within and outside prisons? Is it gaining acceptance in all the component parts of the criminal justice system? I believe it should become the golden thread running through the whole system. I am glad that youth courts already have power to make action plans for offenders, to impose reparation, referral and compensation orders, together with deferred sentences. Will the Government extend these provisions into higher age ranges of offenders? To do so, would indicate their positive support for this dynamic concept, which, I suggest, can do so much to heal the wounds caused by crime and anti-social behaviour.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing this debate and also for challenging this individual to think about it and to see whether he has anything to say. We shall find out.

When I read reports of violent crime, when I see around me vandalism in our towns—for example, in the railway carriage that brought me here—when I reflect on my years as chairman of the Post Office Corporation where we had a robbery every single day at one post office or another, I confess that my immediate reaction is one of anger and a wish to see retribution and protection from those people.

But anyone who sat through or read the debate in this House not many days ago on women in prison begins to substitute those instincts with compassion for the circumstances in which those women find themselves, concern that we have not found ways to help them before they find themselves in prison, and sorrow that we do not have a better answer than prison for them.

Similarly, I reflect on the damage suffered by children who fail, or who we fail in education to lift to a reasonable standard. As a result, they cannot relate effectively to lessons in class. The natural reaction is for them to distance themselves from what is going on, in which they cannot participate. They may show frustration or dysfunctional behaviour, be absent or truant as an escape, be excluded, or turn to petty or more serious crime. I cannot help thinking that I and we have some responsibility for the circumstances in which that child, that young nascent adult, finds him or herself. To a degree, we have to accept responsibility for the situation and for the result of it.

Of course, I have taken some interest in the Government's five-year strategy for education. It gave me great pleasure to read about the emphasis on addressing the circumstances and the education of those who are born into disadvantage. Later, I shall outline half a dozen proposals which derive from the White Paper.

But I share in the general unease about prison as the answer to criminality. The figure of £37,000 a year has been mentioned as the cost of keeping someone in prison. For a young person between the age of 14 and 17, I hear that the figure is much higher—somewhere between £50,000 to £185,000 a year. What good is that when one of the main objectives of dealing with crime is to get people out of crime? But we read that 50 per cent of offenders are found guilty of another crime within two years; for young people that figure is 80 per cent. That is not a good deal. Therefore, I am very much attracted to what other noble Lords have said about alternatives.

My suggestions relate to what has also concerned many noble Lords; that is, dealing with the circumstances which often lead to criminality. My suggestions to the Minister are the following. First, the Government's intention to extend the school day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. gives a wonderful opportunity for a parent with a child at school to go into the school in the early evening to engage in discussion groups about parenting, to learn from each other and to accept guidance from a discussion leader.

That would be a great accidental opportunity to deal with the major problem of parenting in an unstructured home life, which can so disadvantage those children. Incidentally, by getting an adult into school there is a chance that we shall get those who have failed at school back into learning themselves. There is ample evidence that if the parent is able to teach the child or is interested in re-engagement in learning, it helps the education of the child. That is my first suggestion.

My second suggestion is something that I have been on about for some years. We should increasingly see our schools as the natural centres of the community. There is a great opportunity, especially in primary schools, because the mothers nowadays take the children to school. They meet at the school gate: it is not difficult to get them past the gate into the school. My first centre of the community would engage people in lifelong learning, which, particularly in disadvantaged communities, has to be very near and not frightening, but inviting.

Secondly, they can—I suggest, should—be centres for the provision of social and medical services, so that there is a holistic approach to the needs of the child through creation of and identifying schools as centres of the community. Perhaps I may say that the Government's intention to engage in a major school rebuilding and replacement programme gives an opportunity to build that facility into those plans.

Thirdly, I want to pick up on a suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who, unfortunately, could not be with us, although I may have to modify it in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, said. There needs to be someone—the noble Baroness and I call him or her a counsellor—who is available to a big school or a number of small schools in order to engage with children who show all the identifiable signs of getting into trouble.

I read that four out of five prisoners have been subject to temporary or permanent exclusion from school. That is a clear sign. I read in one limited study that 61 per cent of sons with convictions are the sons of criminals. All the signs are there. If a counsellor is available early, there can be action. If the school is the centre of the community, the services that I have indicated can be pulled together in order to respond.

Again I am learning from the noble Lord, Lord Roberts—I wish that I had an equally good story to that of the two cows—which leads me to my fourth point. We tend to think that the best secondary school is a big school so that it can offer a whole range of vocational and academic learning opportunities. That is a great advantage. But, going back to my post office days, I learnt about the advantage of the personal touch.

The post offices of the world saw immense technological advances in employing machinery in the sorting of letters. Throughout the world, small post offices—with a relatively small number of people who knew each other—became great sorting factories. Whether in Australia, Canada or Great Britain, we had all the industrial problems that flowed from that.

Similarly, in our schools, the personal touch produces milk rather than bile, which is what we can get in areas where there is real social deprivation. I know such schools where criminality is rife in the surrounding area. There may be a countervailing advantage in terms of personal identification; that is, the head knows every pupil, all of whom relate to the head of the school. I believe that in the United States there has been a movement in that area. I suggest that it is worth thinking about.

My next suggestion relates to the important and difficult transition at the age of 11 from primary to secondary school, which is where we often lose pupils. Some are way behind in their reading, writing and arithmetic at that stage, but at least they had a chance with their good shepherd, the class teacher. However, they go to the large school, without the good shepherd. It is full of strangers; they are lost, and we lose them for good.

We must think very much harder about the effectiveness of that transition for a lot of our youngsters. Perhaps I may rattle off two suggestions. First, what about an extra year in primary school, if the parents and the child see an advantage in that? It happens in other countries. Secondly, large sixth-form entry schools could have for children who are way behind a small class of, say, a dozen kids, so that they can be given a lot of personal attention. I think they desperately need it.

My time has nearly run out and the Minister has had a note of my little ideas. I believe in giving him no excuse. In our schools, we must take very seriously the problems faced by children. The Government's White Paper, Every Child Matters, bears directly on this. We must say, "Yes, it is great to give time to higher education and our most able pupils, but we must be no less concerned about those who are struggling". Their lives and our society will be enriched if we put more resources into their education at the early stages. They will then not go on to a life of trouble, with a high risk of unemployment, ill health and so forth.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for stirring me up on this subject. For me, this is an issue that we need to approach with passion—and with sorrow that we have not done more in the past to help young people overcome the disadvantages with which circumstance has burdened them.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Linklater for giving us the opportunity to reflect on some of the very important issues arising in this debate. Debates like this are occasions when specialist expertise comes to the fore, and thus a non-expert has to speak with some humility when following such a distinguished list of speakers. We have heard many depressing statistics on crime and punishment, and we have heard eloquently about the many potential methods for ameliorating or resolving the more intractable problems.

I shall concentrate on just one aspect of these problems; that of the plight of foreign nationals in our prisons today. On the whole, foreign nationals are a small group of people in prison, making up 12 per cent of the prison population. But the percentage is rising, with an increase of 152 per cent over the past decade, compared with a 55 per cent increase in the British prison population. The indications are that this is a growing problem.

Such prisoners come from a range of countries, 168 in total. Around half are from the Commonwealth, Ireland and Turkey. Some 60 per cent are incarcerated for drug offences, mainly trafficking, while around the same percentage are serving sentences of more than four years. Within this group, the picture for women is of significant concern. Twenty per cent of women in prison are foreign nationals, 80 per cent of whom are there because they have been involved in drug offences. Significant numbers of foreign national children are also held in custody. A Home Office response to a Commons parliamentary Question showed that on 30 April last year, 126 foreign nationals under the age of 18 were being held in custody.

The problems encountered by these groups are predictable yet prevalent. There is the problem of language and the inability to communicate. While prisons with a large number of foreign nationals have official documents in a variety of translations, they are poorly publicised. A number of these prisoners also suffer from low levels of literacy. Thus access, even where available, would not solve the issue of understanding rights or accessing facilities.

According to the Prison Reform Trust, the main problems to do with communication revolve around basic, everyday needs. This can be frustrating for both the prisoner and prison staff. A recent survey showed that staff felt that the language barrier was the main obstacle to working with foreign national prisoners. The inability to communicate can also mean that incarceration over years without regular visitors, as is the case for foreign national prisoners when their families are far from the UK, means that the sole interaction is with other prisoners of their own nationality. That leads to power relationships and leveraging.

The isolation created by the language barrier is compounded by a lack of family contact. In the case of women, where nearly three-quarters of the group are mothers, few facilities are available to maintain links with children. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, eloquently described the effect that parent-child contact has on both reoffending rates for prisoners as well as on the well-being of children. While we welcome the efforts of the Prison Service to negotiate contracts for reduced-price telephone calls for these prisoners, it is not provided automatically and, to date, there has been little take-up of the facility.

Isolation can also compound mental health problems. We know little of the effects of this on foreign nationals as the statistics are neither accurate nor across the board. We do know that of a total of 94 suicides last year, eight were from within the group of foreign nationals. That is almost 9 per cent.

Cultural and religious issues also have a bearing on the alienation experienced by these prisoners. The Chief Inspector of Prisons noted in her report of a prison where foreign nationals make up one-quarter of the inmate population that this group felt that there was a,

"lack of empathy for them and, occasionally, significant aggressive behaviour towards them".

So what is to be done? We know that the Prison Service is committed to ensuring that all prisoners are treated with respect and decency, but the evidence does not always bear that out. We need a clearer understanding of the scale of the problem of foreign nationals in our prisons. At the moment the statistical information is patchy, there is a lack of standardisation of needs or of minimum provision, little staff training, and accountability is variable.

This may be the time for us to formulate a Prison Service policy to deal specifically with a needs-based strategy for foreign national prisoners rather than relying on a range of race relation policies, which to date has been the norm. Such a strategy should establish minimum standards and consistent working practices against a backdrop of the improved training of staff working with these groups.

On the subject of education and training, and given what we know of the language gap for these prisoners, one area where community involvement could be significantly enhanced is that of assistance in English language training. At a minimum, we could provide for the acquisition of life skills on release, which would lead to greater economic emancipation.

We welcome the Home Office Early Removal Scheme which allows foreign nationals serving fixed-term sentences to be eligible for deportation up to four and a half months early, but by itself that is not enough. We need more imaginative solutions, such as detention in the home country, community sentences in the home country, and enhanced family contact. That really should be a priority.

This is a particular group of people who, if one were to go by public attitudes as described in parts of our media, should be deservedly forgotten. After all, one might see in parts of our press questions as to why we should spend public resources on those who come into the country wilfully to do harm. The answer of course is that it is a measure of our attitude to crime and punishment. It must be our acceptance of responsibility, our respect for human rights and, above all, our compassion which guides good practice towards these people.

Even if their experience of our country is to be one of imprisonment, let it be one that is laudable.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness on introducing this very important subject.

Perhaps I may enter into a short personal debate and cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, on the subject of giant schools being open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. I believe that these would cut out parents and families. The 10.5 million children in this country cannot be brought up entirely by the state and we must continue to work to empower, encourage and enable parents and families. I hope the noble Lord will consider building that thought into his plans for the future.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

My Lords, as I saw it, it was an option rather than a requirement.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I start my contribution to the debate by asking the Government what they think prison is for. Perhaps I can focus the question a little more and ask them to what extent they think it is for retribution, deterrence and protection of the public, and to what extent they think it is for the rehabilitation of offenders with a view to reducing reoffending. I believe that the latter objective is by far the most important. It has been the objective to which most speakers today have addressed their remarks.

I shall restrict my short contribution to two aspects of the matter. The first aspect concerns the whole process of release—both preparation for release and on-going through care after release—and, as some of your Lordships will not be entirely surprised to hear, the second aspect relates to the importance of parenting in this context.

As to the question of release, research funded by the Prison Release Trust and carried out by Joanne Sherlock draws attention to the problem of prisoners who are parents—and, of course, a large number of young offenders in prison are parents—and suggests that until at least 2002 the arrangements for dealing with, helping and supporting prisoners to prepare for release and reintegration with their families could have been kindly described as a "shambles". Since then, the Government published a report in July this year on the issue of support for prisoners as they go out into the world. It is to be hoped that the report will be taken very seriously.

I should particularly like to discuss the idea originated by David Ramsbotham that every prisoner should have a portable personal plan rather like the one that children are now supposed to have in school. This would be compiled on the basis of a prisoner's health history and personal history and, much more importantly, on the basis of his discussions with appropriately trained counsellors. Such counsellors would need to identify a prisoner's problems, ambitions, abilities and prospects because unless they and the prisoner know where they are trying to go and whether the plan is realistic, it will not be possible to train prisoners in any meaningful way for what is going to happen in their lives when they come out of prison.

If the plan is totally unreasonable—for instance, a prisoner may wish to become a fighter pilot or something like that; and I have had a child tell me that, and a most improbable one it was—then there must be a role for such counsellors as are available to try to persuade the prisoner and guide him towards a plan that is likely to succeed. If the plan pursued is unachievable, a prisoner will fail to achieve it and revert to crime.

Research shows that the next stage, which is mentoring as the prisoner reintegrates into society—or, as it is sometimes now called, through care—is hugely important. About three or four years ago I studied a project on Exmoor where prisoners volunteered to be exposed to outdoor activity of a strenuous kind for an intensive period of about six weeks. There was a great deal of argument about whether or not it was doing any good and so the Probation Service put in hand a survey, which took into account not only that project but three or four others as well. It was found quite clearly that the prisoners who went through the activity programme and received through care, mentoring, when they went back into the community were successful, and those who did not go through it were not successful.

If we want a Prison Service which will prevent prisoners from reoffending we will have to make the relatively small investment of ensuring that their exit from prison is planned, realistic and mentored, and that they receive for a certain period of time the support they need.

I move on now, briefly, to the role of parenting. Some of your Lordships will know that this is not the first time I have thought about this particular subject. I am extremely braced to hear that the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation research shows that, as reported in the paper, 57 per cent of parents think that better parenting would reduce the number of people in prison in this country today. I am absolutely convinced that they are right.

Further research by a man named Deforges has recently been published. It has revealed an absolutely clear picture that the quality of parenting in the home has a major influence on a child's success in school, and that at the primary level the quality of parenting in the home is more important for the child's outcomes even than the quality of the school itself. So the quality of parenting, enabling children to acquire the literacy to which the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, referred, is a major issue. It is the key to employability and keeping them out of crime.

The issue of parenting hits this subject in two ways. First, we should be thinking about helping prisoners' families—that is, the prisoner who has a child and the partner or the mother of the child—to understand the parenting and relationship problems which arise for both the man in prison and the family outside the prison. Both their lives have changed and they have got to acquire not only ordinary parenting skills but the skills to cope with reintegration. I am told that very often reintegration is the moment at which the relationship breaks down.

It does not need to be so. We can teach and learn relationships today; we can learn how to communicate today much better than we knew how to in the past; and we can teach parenting. We can help those who want to learn to acquire the skills and the knowledge that they need to become good parents.

The other aspect of parenting is the longer-term issue of getting fewer people in prison and overall, fewer criminals, the issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred. There is no doubt that better parenting will lead to more children who have more success in school, more ability to integrate, more ability to control anger and more of all the things that make them more likely to be good citizens and more likely to be employable when they grow up. Of course, that is a long-term investment and I know that governments do not like long-term investments, but if we do not do something, we will be in trouble and the price keeps going up.

I urge the Government to look seriously at providing universal parenting education and support, and universal and effective teaching of relationships in school by teachers who are well trained to do the job.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to speak for the four minutes permitted in the break. I am deeply disappointed that I appear to have omitted to put my name on the list; I thought that I had done so last week. Clearly, I am taking too much on at the moment.

I feel very angry with myself because I feel passionately about the issues which the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, is addressing, and about the value of her work and of Rethinking Crime & Punishment. I welcome the process that that report has set in motion. I also praise the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation trustees for making the decision to invest £3 million over four years to stimulate debate among the public, particularly in the groups that are most affected by crime and punishment, to make them think about effective approaches to dealing with crime.

Yesterday I listened with great interest to the leader of that project when he spoke to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Penal Affairs. In particular, I noted what he said about parenting—to which my noble friend Lord Northbourne has referred. Parenting support for the transition from primary school to secondary school seems to be somewhat overlooked. The leader of the project said that that issue needs more consideration because children are getting lost at that point. He also made the point that if we do not wish children to be kept in custody or the mentally ill in prison, and if we wish drug-users to be treated outside prison, we will need somewhere to do that work. Sometimes that will require not a prison place but some form of residential setting. I may be able to return briefly to that point at the end of my speech.

A documentary was recently broadcast on the Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme entitled, "Profiting from kids in care". It was an example—a case history or microcosm—of what may be happening on a larger scale. The undercover journalist observed one of the workers saying, "That girl deserves a good smack in the gob". If I remember correctly, she also called her an "ugly bitch". But that girl had called the worker a bitch and had been very difficult to manage.

The next scene took us to a room upstairs where the girl was being very violently, but verbally, attacked by a boy in the children's home. There was no intervention for a couple of minutes, but then one of the workers went towards the two children and the attack ended. The worker said that the next time it happened, she would not intervene, and that if the girl were attacked again, she would not protect her. The childcare expert commenting on the programme said that the worker should have intervened.

It is easy to judge people working in those difficult circumstances, but when one thinks how poorly trained and supported they are, one understands to some extent why they respond in such a way. As I have said before, it is, as the Government recognise, essential to train and support these frontline staff in their daily work with these troubled individuals.

This report is to some extent achieving a similar function, by helping to inform debate and helping us to think more carefully about how to respond to those who sometimes behave very provocatively. In the case of the girl in the children's home, I understand that an alternative approach might have been to have her take part in a group with other children in the home, to ask her about the meaning of her behaviour and to seek to understand the background. We know that 60 per cent of children who go into care have been abused. Ten per cent go into care because their families have broken down; 68 per cent are suffering from mental disorders; and 63 per cent are suffering from conduct disorders.

My time is up. We need to respond in a thoughtful and considered way. This report has aided the whole of society to take a more considered approach to this provocative behaviour.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

My Lords, a few weeks ago we had a debate about women and prisons. The Minister was so impressed by the contribution of your Lordships' House that he said that he would like to lock all the Home Office Ministers in a room and make them read that debate. If he has not already done so, will he add this debate to that exercise and, using the prison jargon, throw the key away until the Ministers come out screaming, with some fresh thinking on this important subject?

I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Linklater for introducing this important debate. She is a trustee of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and has done much to raise the level of debate about prison and alternatives across the United Kingdom. This is timely because much of the discussion of such matters has been hijacked by those who see only tough custodial sentencing as a means of reducing crime and criminality.

Today's debate has demonstrated that there are no easy solutions to the complex social problems that contribute to our criminal justice system. But one thread is common among the contributions that we have heard from so many distinguished noble Lords. It confirms that social exclusion, reflected by factors such as unemployment, discrimination, poor skills, poor education, poor housing, family breakdown and poor mental and physical health, contributes to criminality.

I am aware that previous debates have reflected the wider background of the role of the criminal justice system. This is not surprising because the slogan, "Tough on crime", reflected among the tabloids and politicians, has singularly failed to address the issue of wider community involvement in determining policies relevant to crime prevention. We need to raise the profile of alternatives to prison and how they can assist the rehabilitation of offenders. Public confidence is, and will be, shaped by the leadership that the Government provide on this issue. We need to talk up, not down, how such alternatives can help. Today's debate has helped us all in that exercise. The report, Rethinking Crime & Punishment, has confirmed that much of the public and political mood on criminal policies continues to be conditioned more by gut feeling than by the results of effective research. The Home Office should take serious note of this evidence-based report for tackling crime.

No one underestimates the effect of crime on our communities. There is a widespread public perception that society, particularly the younger element, is becoming increasingly lawless. That is not borne out by statistical information. There is a drop in a number of the categories of crime. We must therefore recognise that the relationship between perception and reality is far from simple. We can add to this the factor that not all crimes are reported. All the slogans, such as "Prison works" and "Tough on crime", have failed to stem the problem. Much of the problem that we are faced with arises from an over-reliance on prisons as a way of dealing with offenders, instead of assisting with reforms.

I have no doubt that prison reinforces criminal behaviour and destroys many of the supporting ties which may assist in a person's rehabilitation. How else can we explain that we have the largest prison population in western Europe, and that more than 60 per cent of them reoffend within two years?

Then there is another scenario. Let us consider some of the tabloids: we are repeatedly bombarded with stories about how our society has gone soft on crime and that we need tough measures, including much longer prison sentences. Is it not evident that the Government have swallowed this argument with increasing emphasis on tough new legislation? Again, how else can we explain the recently announced eighth annual programme of legislation? On every previous occasion, we were told that there would be effective measures to tackle crime, yet we keep getting more of the same every year.

I suspect that the ability of the criminal justice system to influence crime is fairly limited. For this reason, we must seriously look at far-reaching changes which should not ignore the economic and social benefits to our society.

It is true that lately there is a renewed emphasis on tackling crime which makes less use of courts and prisons. The Youth Justice Board is a good example. I also look forward to the Government's youth justice Bill, which will contain greater restrictions on the use of custody and measures to increase the credibility of community sentences for young offenders. The community response has been very encouraging. Crime prevention has become the focus for a more general effort to reduce the opportunity for offending. We all welcome initiatives such as alcohol and drug awareness programmes, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Avebury, and improvements in safe and sustainable housing projects.

We must continue with the priority being given to crime prevention and the schemes for diverting as many young offenders as possible from the criminal justice system. There is nothing soft about this. More importantly, after all these years, it is also a realistic appraisal of the very limited contribution which the courts and prisons can make in reducing crime.

We must build a strategy on what works. The main aim must be to reduce our prison population to a level where it is possible for rehabilitation programmes to work effectively.

I am puzzled that alternatives to custody are seen as a soft option. That is what the Government said about my party in recent by-elections. I have no doubt that they will regret this approach. The alternative to a custodial sentence is not a soft option. It is a tough but effective way in which we can address issues confronting local communities. Let us take ASBOs as an example. We are all sympathetic to people whose lives are blighted by anti-social behaviour, but the question we ask is simply this: would the widespread use of ASBOs address the problem satisfactorily? Such orders can be an entirely negative response to local concerns because they do nothing to change the behaviour that causes distress and offence. They will have the desired effect only if they are used in conjunction with more constructive measures for dealing with nuisance behaviour.

How do we tackle the behaviour of a young person if the parents are unable or unwilling to take responsibility? ASBOs can act as a sanction, but we must also address issues behind such behaviour. If it is drugs, then drug treatment services need to be involved.

For every £1 invested in tackling drug-taking in the first instance, we save up to £5 in the criminal justice system later on. That makes sense, because legislation at its best is only a limited instrument with which to seek greater social justice. It must be accompanied by other measures that help address the offending behaviour. But I fear that ASBOs, if not properly monitored, could adversely affect some groups in our community more than others.

When we look around us, what do we see? We see the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, those who have never worked, those who are stopped and searched, those who have left penal institutions, the under-achievers, the truants from schools. I suspect that these young people will feature prominently when we take stock of ASBOs.

In a few years' time, we will wonder how we created this anomaly, where society punishes those who need the most help. It is not being soft; it is being tough, sensible and effective in dealing with such behaviour. When we have a record prison population, it is difficult to give much thought about resettling prisoners. There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate the importance of resettlement to those who are released from prison. A recent Home Office study demonstrated that offenders who underwent basic skills training offended at a third of the level of those who did not. Help with employment and training, accommodation and maintenance of family ties also make a very significant contribution.

The Government do not have the capacity to deliver on this point. This is where volunteers and voluntary organisations play a crucial role, but they are starved of resources. We must ensure that voluntary organisations receive adequate recognition and funding.

I declare an interest: I am president of NACRO, and year after year I have seen such organisations working with limited funds but delivering far more than what the Government can achieve on their own. Volunteers play a crucial role in strengthening our communities. We cannot and should not keep them out of discussions about their involvement in tackling criminal behaviour.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to a project in the West Midlands. It was designed to mentor those who were cast aside by society as failures. When I left that project, a number of youngsters who had been considered failures received a piece of paper admiring their contribution to the project and what they had achieved. They had never had any success in their lives before, and there were tears in their families' eyes.

When we carried out a survey of NACRO's volunteers, we found that they are not middle-aged, middle-class or middle-minded. More than half are under 26; a fifth are black or Asian; eight per cent consider themselves to have a disability; nearly a tenth are ex-offenders; and nearly a fifth are parents. That is a tremendous recognition of their contribution. Our conclusion is simple: there is no such thing as a stereotypical volunteer. They represent the community in which they live. They do not wish their lives to be blighted by the disadvantages which their communities suffer.

It is time we recognised this; it is time to ensure that they have an ownership of and involvement in project work. More importantly, they must be involved in how crime is being tackled in their area. That must include spending plans as well.

In recent years, the problem of prison overcrowding has been getting worse rather than better. That is because more people are being convicted in the courts, and a higher proportion of them are being sent to prison than hitherto, and partly because prison sentences are, on average, longer. We have a dilemma. Calls for stiff punishments for serious crime are not necessarily in conflict with a wish to see fewer offenders in prison.

During his time as Secretary of State at the Home Office, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, probably achieved the right balance. But the often exaggerated language tends to create a climate in which it is more difficult for the restrained message to be heard.

The report Rethinking Crime & Punishment, published last week, confirms that the public attitude is not as punitive as we assumed. Prisons must be for those whose offending makes any other course unacceptable and if all other avenues have failed. Even then, it is important that those who are sentenced to custody should not be in prison longer than is absolutely necessary.

The alternatives to custody have been spelt out in today's debate, for which I again thank my noble friend Lady Linklater.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Deputy Chief Whip, Parliament, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, for securing this important debate. It seems to recur with some frequency, both in this House and in a wider context. That is not to say that I do not welcome this opportunity to speak on this topic—far from it. But it seems clear that each time we talk about prisons, crime prevention and rehabilitation, nothing much has changed and there are still huge problems with the current system.

I must admit that when I first looked at this question, I was not sure what the noble Baroness had in mind when she called for wider community involvement in determining crime prevention policies. However, all this became much clearer upon reading the newspapers this morning. It seems that David Blunkett is today making a speech at the Clore conference centre at the British Museum on this very topic.

We all know that community policing restores public confidence and that seeing police on the beat does wonders for those neighbourhoods where people may no longer feel safe. Unfortunately, seeing a local bobby on the beat is rather a rare occurrence in many places these days and, sadly, faith in the police is at an all time low.

Other community initiatives such as victim offender mediation or victim offender meeting seem to work. A scheme such as this allows the offender to acknowledge the harm done to the victim and gives the victims, if they so wish—and that is vital—a chance to express the feelings that the offender has caused both to themselves and to the community. Such meetings are also a good way to educate victims about the justice system and allow them to take an informed decision regarding their involvement in this process.

The Home Secretary has launched a new action plan called "Together We Can" and a "guide to neighbourhoods" programme at a cost of some £4.3 million which, it is claimed,

"will enable community organisations to learn from each other about the best ways to engage with local and central Government and get their view heard".

I look forward to hearing the results of those initiatives and the pilot scheme.

However, I fear that I am drifting from the point of the debate and return to the question as posed by the noble Baroness. As I have said, more police on the beat and restorative justice are to be welcomed, but we feel that that may be where community involvement in such matters is most useful. We on these Benches still feel that the best way to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system is to ensure that if judges and magistrates feel that a prison sentence is the appropriate punishment to fit the crime, that is what must be given. Conversely, we also want judges and magistrates to impose a community sentence if, when looking at all the circumstances, that is what they feel is right.

I can draw on my own experience of over 30 years on the Bench. My colleagues and I spent much time considering all the options outside prison before imposing a custodial sentence. We were only too mindful of the havoc that a period in prison can cause for the dependant families left to cope. I can tell your Lordships that whenever as chairman of the Bench I had to explain to a defendant that the sentence was to be one of imprisonment, I could always feel my heart beating faster, and I went home saddened by imposing what we felt was the right and necessary decision.

We have always acknowledged the importance of having custodial sentences available when appropriate, and for the protection of the public. We continue to do so. With regard to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Chan, my personal view is that burglary is a form of assault. We must never forget that some people never get over burglars entering their home. The problem at the moment is that the Prison Service is under such strain because of overcrowding that it is increasingly unable to provide the structure for rehabilitation within a custodial sentence that we would all wish to see. The Government's answer is to extend the early release scheme further and further rather than address the very real challenges faced by those who manage our prison estate.

What do the Government's own statistics tell us about the overcrowding in our prisons? It was reported by the BBC in February this year that our prison population had reached a new high. It then stood at 74,543, which was near to capacity. The Prison Service at that point was facing a situation in which there were only 600 gaol places left and was considering the possibility of keeping extra prisoners in police cells. At this point, the Prison Reform Trust stated,

"the news that prisons were on the brink of safe overcrowded capacity should set alarm bells ringing for the government".

Yet on 19 November, the prison population stood at 75,145, so clearly the problem is getting worse—and it seems that the Government are doing nothing to help the situation.

Let me continue with more statistics. The number of prisoners in England and Wales has increased by more than 25,000 in the past 10 years; the number of women in prisons has more than doubled in the past decade; and the records show that on 19 November this year there were 10,838 under-21 year-olds in prison.

So what does all that overcrowding mean? On a practical level it means that over the past year more than half of all prisons have been overcrowded and that at the end of May 17,000 prisoners were doubling up in cells designed for one. On a financial level, the statistics are also illuminating for the period 2003–04. As many noble Lords have said, the average cost is £37,305 to keep just one person in prison.

To summarise the situation, our prisons are overcrowded, the number of women and young people in prison is going up dramatically and it costs huge sums of money to keep the system going, without actually making any improvements. Prisoners are just shuffled around the system to make room. They cannot settle into a routine, finish a retraining course, complete an education course or seek proper help for addiction to drugs. My noble friend Lady Trumpington vividly described the importance of literacy. I do so agree, as I was always horrified by the number of defendants who were unable to read the oath.

It is little wonder then that the statistics for reoffending are so high. Prison is currently not getting a chance to work. Current research by the Prison Reform Trust shows that around 59 per cent of prisoners are reconvicted within two years of being released. Clearly, this vicious cycle of reoffending must be broken. However, we on these Benches do not feel that the way to do that is simply to go along with the Government's early release scheme. That is not the answer to overcrowding in prisons. It is a temporary measure which ensures that criminals are back out on the street without the care that they should have had in prison and without the time for rehabilitation, as the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, said.

In conclusion, we feel that community involvement has an important place in the criminal justice system. However, there are other and better ways to increase public confidence in the system as a whole. Alternatives to prison may well be appropriate for offenders who are women with young families or those involved in petty or non-violent crime. However, for other offenders, prison may be the only answer. Half of all crimes in Britain are committed by the same 100,000 persistent criminals. Prison is an effective and appropriate disposal if it is given a chance to work.

Clearly it is essential to increase the proportion of the prison budget that is spent on education and rehabilitation, and to make certain that there are sufficient, suitable and humane places within the prison estate to ensure that the judiciary is able to exercise its sentencing role without feeling inhibited by the lack of custodial places available.

This has been a fascinating debate, and I have much enjoyed all the well-informed and caring contributions from round the House. Now, like other noble Lords, I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

My Lords, I shall make my initial response to a point that the noble Baroness has just made, before I come on to the formalities. I certainly hope that when she was on the Bench she was not sending people to prison for short periods of time. That is waste of time, provides no work or rehabilitation whatever and gums up the system completely—and everyone thinks that they have done a good job because they have sent someone to prison. It is an absolute waste of time, so I certainly hope that she was not guilty of that when she was on the Bench. She may have experience that I do not have—but I cannot resist making that point, because it saves me from making it later on in answer to the debate.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, the Minister must excuse me for interrupting, but is he aware that a magistrate is unable to send a person to prison for more than six months?

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Regeneration and Regional Development)

My Lords, hang on. One of the issues is that short sentences are an abject and complete waste of time. They do not do any good at all for the system or the people concerned. Let us get that clear.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on securing the debate. I shall try to address the terms of the debate as printed on the Order Paper as our discussion has gone very wide of them. I thank the noble Baroness and recognise on behalf of the Government the work of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. We also appreciate the work of the independent inquiry commissioned by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation chaired by Lord Coulsfield. I have certainly looked at that and read the executive summaries of both reports. The messages are very similar and are certainly ones that we want to take on board.

I freely admit that I shall not be able to do justice to all the issues raised in the debate. As I say, I shall try to stick closely to the relevant issues: community involvement in determining policies relevant to crime prevention, alternatives to prison and the rehabilitation of offenders. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, referred to education and her work with Crimestoppers. She was quite right to read out the relevant phone number. My noble friend Lord Williams referred to family contact. I shall try to comment on that. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury mentioned the use of language. That is a very important matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern—I agree with much of what she said in this regard—referred to tipping the balance towards social inclusion rather than exclusion. I support the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who referred to working with children before anti-social behaviour orders were imposed.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, made an incredibly powerful speech. That speech, along will all the others, is worth reading. He spoke in a positive, challenging fashion. The noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, said that we needed to ensure more public confidence in community sentences. That is a fair point to which I hope to return in a moment. Getting the message across in that regard is a key element in winning public confidence. I shall disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. If anyone thinks I shall suggest that 24-hour drinking and casinos are the answer, they have the wrong Minister.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to Restorative Justice. I shall address aspects of that matter. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, indicated that as he had kindly provided me with his speech earlier in the day, I must answer the five points that he made. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, stumped us in that foreign nationals are not mentioned on the Order Paper. However, I shall ensure—I do not normally do this but I must do so on this occasion, as I did some three years ago when I replied to a long debate on prisons as a Minister at the Home Office—that a compendium letter is sent out to noble Lords covering all the points that I do not cover today. I have separated all the notes that I have received in the past three hours into a pile on which I can comment and a pile that I shall not get anywhere near using. However, I shall do my best.

First, I want to make some general points about the work of the Home Office. The two reports I mentioned will certainly assist our work. I make that absolutely clear. We will use the reports. They will assist us to increase public confidence. The general public know very little about the criminal justice system. They do not come into contact with it and therefore it is a mystery. There is no question that they gain false perspectives from the tabloids. We hope that the public will gain confidence in community penalties.

We must better promote what is already taking place. An enormous amount of work is taking place and as I realised in preparing for the debate—one can get out of touch when not dealing with issues on a daily basis—we are not telling people about it. We must do much more work in that regard. I refer to our work to rehabilitate offenders, to tackle drug problems, to assist offenders to obtain employment and to the robust nature of community sentences for both young and adult offenders. I want to highlight the encouraging progress we are making in reducing reoffending as shown in the latest reconviction rates published last week.

We have a large reform agenda underway that will take us further in our drive to prevent crime and reduce reoffending. This includes the implementation of the new National Offender Management Service and the introduction of the Generic Community Order and Custody Minus. There will, of course, be many legislative opportunities to discuss these issues in the long parliamentary Session that we are entering.

I want to stress the Government's commitment to dialogue, consultation and the involvement of local people in the work of the criminal justice system. That is why, as I say, the reports are doubly helpful. The Home Secretary has described civil renewal and community engagement as a partnership approach to delivering public services, and this includes criminal justice reform. We do not see community engagement as an optional extra: it must be a thread that runs through all we do in explaining and running the criminal justice system to make it more civilised. We certainly cannot claim that we have a success on our hands and that we can export our prison system to the rest of Europe as we have the worst record in that regard—I make no bones about that. For many people civil renewal is not significant new work as much is already happening, but we know that this needs to be shared. That is the point of explaining what is going on. It needs to be promoted and developed across the country so that we get a positive focus for the criminal justice system and people understand that it is a seamless system from beginning to end, and one that they can trust.

Good examples of recent community engagement initiatives include the involvement of volunteers in the Circles of Support and Accountability projects where local people both support and monitor sex offenders. That is a somewhat different headline from the normal headline, which I experienced when I was in the other place, of "local people shun paedophile". That is the normal headline. I refer to the establishment of a community liaison group in Reading, a joint prison and probation project, working with partners and engaging local people in dialogue as offenders renovated a local park. That was a real bonus as people saw what was happening as regards alternative approaches to offenders.

We are building on firm foundations here. A great deal of good work is being undertaken around the country. There is a tradition of local involvement in the work of the correctional services that we are learning from and developing. Youth offending teams have more than 10,000 volunteers working on referral order panels and with young offenders. There are 1,800 members of independent monitoring boards involved in the scrutiny of the work of prisons and more than 600 members of local probation boards. We have an impressive range of activities by volunteers and mentors working alongside offenders in prisons and the community, supporting and monitoring their activities and making a significant contribution to our work to reduce re-offending. We value and appreciate the commitment and the enthusiasm of these volunteers who bring a different perspective. They provide offenders with a different kind of relationship and make a significant contribution to the work of the state and the statutory sector.

We also have more than 5 million hours of unpaid work undertaken by offenders subject to community sentences as well as reparation work by prisoners benefiting a whole range of local communities. In addition to the Home Secretary's comments, today the Prime Minister announced a clean-up campaign to start in February and March so that more local people from a range of communities can have a say in the kind of work they want to see offenders doing.

Work with victims is important: we want to increase their satisfaction. A recent survey by MORI showed that 85 per cent of victims surveyed who were seen by probation victim contact officers were very or fairly satisfied with the work of those staff. That is a fairly high percentage. Early findings from Restorative Justice approaches that bring together victims and offenders—we have heard much about that—indicate high satisfaction levels. We see this as an important area for further development that should contribute to an increase in public confidence.

Our success in encouraging community engagement has also received international recognition. I am not familiar with the project I am about to mention, but a UK project, the Birmingham Neighbourhood Safety Project, was awarded this year's European Crime Prevention Award at a ceremony earlier this week. An independent evaluation found that the project contributed to an overall fall in crime of 14 per cent in the communities concerned, with youth crime falling by 29 per cent.

As I have said, we need to build on all this good work that is going on around the country. The criminal justice programme of reform builds in community engagement in our work to prevent crime, on police reform, in the work we are doing to increase the diversity of the judiciary and the work of local criminal justice boards to increase public confidence in our work.

I say "in our work"; it is a sign of immaturity and lack of confidence in what someone is doing when, because they might not agree with what their opponents are doing, they have to use the shorthand of accusing them of being soft on crime. When I talk about "our work", it is the work of Parliament. We are all one society here, representative or not. This House is certainly far more representative of society in this debate than the other place; those who have been in the other place know that to be the truth.

The establishment of the National Offender Management Service also offers a new opportunity to consider how we engage with our criminal justice partners, the sentencers and local communities. High on the agenda is work with sentencers; that is very important. The kind of speeches that Ministers and others who are leaders make are important, so that sentencers get the right message. Anyone who wants to track speeches and comments and then have a look at what has happened to the prison population in recent years will sometimes see a correlation that we wish was not there. It makes sense for us to work towards more local people being aware of the work of the criminal justice system and the contribution of prisons, probation and the youth offending teams. In relation to sentencers and community involvement, a lot of good practice and innovation is already around across the country. We have to share that.

I am never going to manage all the points now, but I shall do in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, asked about visitor and family centres. Some 112 prisons have access to a visitor centre at present. The running cost for each centre remains a matter for each establishment. There is no doubt that they are an enormous benefit to the prisons concerned. There may be good reasons why those prisons that have not got them do not do so, but 112 is about three-quarters of the 130-odd prisons.

The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, asked about literacy and offending. There is significant research into the links between low literacy and numeracy and youth crime. That is a key issue. The Youth Justice Board has spent £40 million in the past three years introducing and enhancing basic skills within the young offender institutions. There is a roll-out of the "national plus" scheme for improving reading and writing among young people in custody. Work is under way; it has to be evidence-based, of course.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury asked about investing in prevention of youth crime. In addition to what I have just said, the Youth Justice Board has a £10 million investment in prevention programmes, through the youth inclusion programmes, to catch young people early—"catch" in the sense of doing something with them. Recent spending review settlement will increase the youth inclusion programmes to the most needy estates across the country.

The right reverend Prelate raised issues about restorative justice programmes. Work is undertaken, even at an early age. Someone else asked about this. My answer ties up with the ASBOs. We do not automatically issue the ASBO, but get some work done first. That is also the case prior to cautions and final warnings. Work is to be done of a positive nature, because we see its benefit. Restorative justice came on to my radar only about four or five years ago. A friend of mine who was a magistrate in the south-east listened to the former chief constable of Thames Valley at a large conference and was seized by the idea. I have shared a platform with him since, and know how people feel; I felt the same on that occasion. That massive contribution needs explanation and information, so that it builds people's confidence. Nothing can be done without that.

I was asked about how prisons look after young people with serious mental health problems, and am conscious that I cannot do justice to any of the three articles that appeared in the Guardian. I read one case this morning, and knew what was going to happen before I got half way through. It was tragic the way that the service failed that young person. The failure beggars belief, but one could see the thread of what was happening. There has to be an answer to that.

The Youth Justice Board has secured agreement through the Children Act—it got Royal Assent just before the Queen's Speech in November—that prisons must be part of the local area child protection agreements, soon to be known as the local safeguarding children boards. The Youth Justice Board also promotes the need to see young people who are offenders as children first and offenders second. The priority one gives is important in making sure that the real issues are dealt with. Those issues are not always the crimes that have brought people to the attention of the authorities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, asked me about ASBOs in relation to young people. ASBOs on youth must be issued in conjunction with the youth offending team to ensure appropriate prevention interventions. The ASBO penalties have to be advised by the wider youth prevention schemes, or they will be breached. At the moment, about 50 per cent of ASBOs on youth end up being breached; there has been a significant rise in custody as a result. That is being analysed, as it is a serious issue, through the Youth Justice Board.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, asked about police in schools. The Youth Justice Board and the Department for Education and Skills have rolled out a safer schools initiative, in which police officers are based in schools. I do not know how far or how many, but it has obviously got beyond a pilot programme, which I hope is good news.

My noble friend Lord Rea asked several questions. I have some figures on one of them and will use them if he does not mind; I will address all the other issues in a letter. He asked about drug treatment and testing orders. In 2002–03, there were 6,000 orders. That doubled to 13,000 in 2004–05. The real issue is what happens afterwards. Research has indicated that the longer offenders remain in the treatment, the more likely they are to reduce their levels of offending and drug misuse. Evaluation of the three drug treatment and testing order pilots found that, on average, offenders committed 75 per cent fewer offences while on the order and reduced their spend on drugs by more than 90 per cent.

The two-year follow-up reconviction study—my noble friend asked about it—found that there was a significant reduction in the average number of convictions per year in the two years following the order in all three pilot sites. The study also found that offenders who completed their orders—it was only 30 per cent—had a reconviction rate of only 53 per cent, compared to 91 per cent for revokees. I emphasise that. The figure is significant; keeping them on the order is obviously the key element.

My noble friend asked me about mental health in prisons and on probation. In summary, in terms of all the figures that I have, National Health Service mental health investment is expected to reach £20 million a year by 2005–06. That means that, within the next three years, an in-reach type of service will be available in every prison in England and Wales. It will not happen tomorrow, but within three years.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about final warnings issued and accompanied by a restorative justice reparation. The Youth Justice Board sets targets for youth offending teams to provide a restorative justice intervention for all final warnings where appropriate. Current data suggest that, in most parts of the country, that target is met.

I am conscious of the fact that I have not even got to the summary of some of the responses that I wanted to make but, as I have said to everyone who has spoken, we will analyse the contributions. They have been incredibly useful. The debate has highlighted the important role of local communities, so its focus has widened. We could not have a narrow debate; in some ways, the subject goes with the debate that we had on women in prison the other week.

The Government's reform agenda includes working to get appropriate, consistent and well-targeted use of sentences, through the Sentencing Guidelines Council, and will provide sentences with credible alternatives to custody. I was conscious of the recommendations that magistrates and judges go to see what happens with community sentences and follow that up. I know that that happens, but it is highlighted in the reports. I want to stress that for some dangerous and serious offenders a prison sentence is the only option that will protect the public. In some ways, when you ask, "What's the purpose of prison?", that is the answer. It is a last resort, for those who have to be incarcerated for public safety. It must be a last resort. We believe that short sentences do little to reduce offending but that they disrupt ties with the community. You cannot do any work in prison to help someone who is there for a short time. The chances are that they will be moved anyway during that period.

We must have an effective criminal justice system. We must act and be seen to act on behalf of all the people whom it serves. In this case, in order to obtain wider public confidence on new alternatives to prison, I believe that the better way forward is to help those who have offended not to re-offend and to focus on community engagement, so that people have some knowledge and will feel that they have ownership of the system. Let us face it, the previous way forward has not exactly worked with blinding success, has it?

Photo of Baroness Linklater of Butterstone Baroness Linklater of Butterstone Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I sincerely thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this extraordinarily interesting and important debate. We have heard eloquence and expertise. There has been real knowledge in the breadth of subjects that we have covered. I am so grateful.

I am particularly delighted that both the noble Lords, Lord Rea and Lord Dearing, were prevailed upon—indeed "charmed", as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said. It showed how very important it was to widen the debate to those whose expertise is outside the box of criminal justice and that noble Lords were here and participated.

I should say to my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew that if the mantra is not enough, it is a good start to say, "Cut crime with courage". We should remember that. I was particularly glad to hear the Minister say that he would take on board the issues raised by the reports and thank him especially for that. That was music to my ears. I had a peculiar feeling that everything he said echoed what I had said. When I said that we should be pushing at an open door, I hoped that there would not be a black hole on the other side, but that the rhetoric would meet the reality. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.