Prisons: Time out of Cell

– in the House of Lords at 2:43 pm on 7th July 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench 2:43 pm, 7th July 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the review Time out of Cell, published by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in June 2008.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, time out of cell is an essential component of an effective regime. We will keep the matters addressed in the report under close review. The development of a new collation system and improved guidance will address some of the main concerns raised in the report.

Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Does he accept that it is a serious situation when the Government's own chief inspector says that the prisons are reporting that they get prisoners out of their cells, on average, 10 hours a day on a weekday, and it is not true? In fact, the chief inspector says that one-third of prisoners in local prisons are locked up for 22 hours a day in an overcrowded cell? Does the Minister agree with me that the chances of prisons being a rehabilitative experience in these circumstances are nil and that basically there are just too many people in prison who do not need to be there?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

No, my Lords, I do not agree with all the points raised by the noble Baroness. Clearly, the high level of population in our prison estate at the moment presents considerable challenges to the Prison Service in relation to its programmes and in the activities that we wish prisoners to engage in, including employment. I agree with the noble Baroness that we must do more to make sure that the figures are as accurate as possible. However, she should not ignore the great progress that has also been made in investment in offender management and in employment programmes. The picture is not as bleak as the noble Baroness has suggested.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, the chief inspector reports that one in five young people in young offender institutions is out of their cell for less than two hours a day. What are the Government planning to do to address this situation in order to improve the lot of these young offenders?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, the priority in young offender institutions is the educational and work activities because of the impact that those can have in reducing reoffending in the future. That can sometimes have a knock-on impact on other activities. However, it is worth making the point that in terms of the investment in offender learning and skills, the average number of hours delivered per young person per week in YOIs has risen from seven hours in 2000 to 26.2 hours in 2006-07 in secure children's homes, with similar additions in secure training centres.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords (Communities), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, raises an important question about curtailment within the prison regime. Who monitors the impact of such a policy? What is its effect on the rehabilitation of offenders, which is the primary objective of the Prison Service, and what is its effect on prisoners who suffer from poor mental health?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, we are indebted to Her Majesty's chief inspector for her independent reports, which are an important tool to enable us to judge performance in the Prison Service. It is the responsibility of the Prison Service itself to look at the figures and make sure that they are being developed correctly. The new approach to that starting this April lays emphasis on audit by the area managers. On the general question, despite the challenges that that presents, in the past few years we have seen considerable additional investment in the kind of programmes referred to by the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the general public's concern is not so much for the welfare of prisoners, who are, after all, volunteers in the justice system, but for the welfare of victims who are often thrust into the justice system through no fault of their own?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I well understand the public's concern to get the balance right, and we are getting that balance right within our prison establishment. Prison clearly needs to be used effectively for those offenders who need to be there, but while they are in prison it is important to ensure that activities, offender programmes and training are available in order to prevent reoffending in the future.

Photo of The Bishop of Leicester The Bishop of Leicester Bishop

My Lords, given the dangers of time in cell for prisoners with poor mental health and those at risk of self harm, will the Government accept the recommendation of the chief inspector not only to increase time out of cell but to offer in-cell activities to provide mental stimulation and positive purpose?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right to draw attention to the chief inspector's report in relation to in-cell activities. I understand that each prison governor carries out a risk assessment to determine the type of facilities that ought to be within the possession of a prisoner. Most prisoners are allowed educational material, books, magazines, newspapers and material related to in-cell hobbies. As for the mental health issue, the right reverend Prelate will know that my noble friend Lord Bradley is conducting a review of the impact on mental health of diversion, which is clearly critical to the point that he has just raised.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, two weeks ago, we debated the need for some outside scrutiny of the management of the prison system. Also some two weeks ago, the prisons and probation ombudsman resigned from a public inquiry into the treatment of a 17 year-old girl in prison because of undue interference from Prison Service headquarters. Is the Minister satisfied that Prison Service headquarters should so interfere with a public inquiry, which is, after all, a government remit?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to respond to the specific point on that specific inquiry. However, I would say that we have mechanisms in place, including the post holder to whom the noble Lord referred and Her Majesty's inspector, both of which are very effective external mechanisms. In addition, we expect the Prison Service to have an effective monitoring service as well. I would also mention the independent monitoring boards which exist for each establishment and embrace volunteers from the local community, who have a very positive impact in ensuring that an outside light is shone within those establishments.

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It is a bit rich of Lord Hunt to make references to the IMB when it is quite apparant that the majority of what the IMB comment on or complain about are patently ignored or dismissed ! I say this as an IMB Chairman who has been in many a meeting of co-Chairs where we are exasperated with the sitting-on-hands approach of the M of J

Submitted by Adam Hodge

Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Shadow Minister, Cabinet Office

My Lords, does the Minister accept that drugs are a serious problem in our prisons and that the problems identified in this report will do nothing to help? What are the Government doing to tackle the drugs problem?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, the noble Lord may well know that the Blakey review has just come out with important recommendations. Prison establishments have clearly done much in recent years, including mandatory testing and discovering and looking at all the areas where drugs can be introduced into prisons. We understand that this is an important priority alongside the rehabilitative programmes, and we shall redouble our efforts in this area.