My Lords, I asked for this debate because it seems to me that the statements being made and the policies being introduced by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, give more hope for advance in prison policy than anything I have heard for many years. My hope is that this debate, with the experience there is in this House, might contribute to that process.
Back in 1970, when I was first elected to the House of Commons, the editor of the Times, William Rees-Mogg, whom we all remember with affection, asked me to write a series of articles on prisons. Like Mr Gove, I had previously worked for the Times—you do not have to have done that, but it obviously helps in the course of penal reform. I went around the country visiting prisons. We called the series “The Prisons Crisis”, on the basis that for the first time the prison population had gone over the 40,000 mark. In those 1970 articles, which I have here, I wrote that already seriously overcrowded prisons were being stretched to bursting point, that there was no hope of replacing the string of 19th-century prisons that still remained in operation and that the pressure of numbers was placing in jeopardy the whole concept of training for many prisoners.
So obviously, when I came back to this area almost half a century later, I might have expected the kind of progress that there has been in almost all other areas of government policy, with overcrowding reduced and conditions transformed. Sadly, it has not been quite like that. On the position today, I quote not from the Howard League or the Prison Reform Trust, admirable bodies though they are, but from the Government’s own Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, the latest in a line of inspectors who have served this country very well. The chief inspector reports that the prison population today is not 40,000 but 85,000, with forecasts that, on present policies, that total will increase by the end of this Parliament to 90,000 or even more. He reports that the overcrowding that has resulted is,
“sometimes exacerbated by extremely poor environments and squalid conditions”— his words, not mine. He continues:
“At Wormwood Scrubs, staff urged me to look at the cells. ‘I wouldn’t keep a dog in there’, one told me”.
“Conditions in many cells were unacceptably poor. Many were filthy, covered in graffiti, some of which was offensive, and furniture was broken or missing. Toilets were filthy and inadequately screened. Windows were broken. We found cockroaches in cells on C wing”.
Inside prisons generally, he found increasing violence; assaults have risen to more than 16,000 per year, including 3,600 assaults on staff. He says clearly that overcrowding is not just a question of two prisoners sharing a cell; it means that prisons simply do not have the activity places to support rehabilitation programmes, work training and education.
Perhaps worst of all, the reconviction rates are, by any standards, shaming: 45% of adults are reconvicted within one year of release. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months, that increases to 58%, and for under-18s it is 68%. Yet the cost of a prison place is more than £36,000 per year, more than Eton. Is it cost-effective to spend that amount of money to produce such reconviction rates? Surely it would be better to see whether there are better alternatives that we could introduce.
I do not wish to exaggerate my description of the lamentable state of our prisons—which in any event, frankly, would be difficult—and I pay tribute to the advances that have been made in some areas, such as some of the policies regarding women’s prisons and with young people. It should be said that, were it not for the work of the prison staff, hard-pressed as they are, we would be in far more serious and public difficulty than we are. One of the better figures in the report was that 70% of prisoners feel that they are treated with respect by the staff.
Nevertheless, the position remains that much of our prison system is a disgrace to a civilised country. Prisoners should not be locked up in their cells for most of the night and day, yet about one-fifth of prisoners spend 22 hours out of 24 in their cells. We should be retraining and offering education to prisoners, but in all too many cases we are not doing that. We should not be keeping prisoners in cells where you would not keep your dog. This all spells out not years but decades of neglect and, frankly, public uninterest. If this were any other part of the public service, there would have been emergency debates in Parliament and demonstrations all the way down Whitehall.
For someone coming back to this area, the questions are not just about how we got to this position but, above all, what now needs to be done. It is against that background that I propose five actions that need to be taken and which I believe are in line with the Justice Secretary’s approach. I do this with a certain humility, because I am aware that there are far greater experts than me in this House. After writing on Home Office issues for the Times for four or five years, I could once claim some knowledge, which was treated in the way you would expect when I went into government: I was appointed to head the Department for Transport. Finally, in my last Front-Bench post, I was made shadow Home Secretary, a position without power, and at a time when we were being “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”. It occurred to me then that if we were half as good with policies as we were with slogans, we would be world-beaters. Sadly, we are not.
My proposals are as follows. First, we should continue to state clearly that the basis of policy is that the punishment of prison is the deprivation of liberty for the prisoner. The aim is not to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the prisoner, although we too often do this accidentally, but to retrain them so that they can become useful members of society and fulfil their own potential. There is no evidence whatever that deliberate discomfort is a policy that works; we should give rehabilitation a chance.
Secondly, we must end the overcrowding of our prisons that is defeating all our best efforts to achieve success. We should see whether the people who are in prison need to be in prison. We might review the number of women being held, although over 80% are in prison for non-violent offences. We might review the position of those being held on indeterminate sentences, not knowing when they will be released. In other words, we should allow prisons to breathe.
Thirdly, if we are to reduce overcrowding, we must reduce the number of people we send to prison. Like everybody else, I want to see professional and violent criminals, such as the Hatton Garden gang, inside prison and no longer a danger to the public. However, I do not believe that prison should be a social dumping ground for those with mental health problems and those with alcohol and drug abuse problems. We must find better ways to deal with these issues.
Fourthly, if we are to send fewer people to prison, we must re-examine sentencing and the power of the courts. One of the reasons overcrowding has taken place is because average sentences have increased. Another reason is that far too many prisoners have short sentences of below 12 months, in some cases serving only a few weeks or months. There is very little chance of doing anything constructive in that time. The better way would be to have sentences in the community that were not simply written off as a soft touch. A judge said to me that sentences must have the confidence of the judges who pass them, notably those sitting in the Crown Courts day after day.
Fifthly, and fundamentally, we should pass down responsibility as far as we possibly can to the governor and the staff of the individual prison. The prison department should lay down the strategy, but governors should be encouraged to develop their own policies. Mistakes will inevitably be made, but that should not invalidate the whole approach and the whole policy.
I started with an example from my days on the Times and I will end with another, which shows what I mean here. In 1967, when I was writing another article on prisons, I visited Dartmoor, built for the Napoleonic Wars and still going on. At lunch, I drove out to have my sandwich and parked in front of the entrance to a field, and suddenly noticed, working in the field behind me, an immense man, broad and tall—a rather eerie sight. Going back, I told the governor and his top staff that I had seen this extraordinary sight. “For goodness’ sake don’t report that!” they said, “That’s Frank Mitchell, the mad axeman”, so named after an incident some years before. “You would destroy all our work”. Who was I, a Fleet Street journalist on a day trip to Dartmoor, to challenge that view? So I did not. Ten weeks later, he escaped. It did not take much; all he had to do was to walk to the car that had been provided. As noble Lords will be able to imagine, a great row about prison security followed, only months after the traitor George Blake had escaped from Wormwood Scrubs.
In that case it was very easy to attack the governor, and a dozen editorials did just that. But the fact was that Frank Mitchell had been in one form of institution or another since the age of 12. The prison’s view was that the fires had burnt out and that it was possible to reclaim a man who was not yet 30. Of course, whether that policy would have been successful we shall never know. His escape had been planned by the Kray brothers and carried out by their men and, with a nationwide hunt in operation, the Krays did what they tended to do when cornered: they had him murdered.
My point is that all too often, the safe thing for prisons to do from the public point of view is keep the prisoner locked up. The only trouble with that is that if you return a prisoner untouched by any serious attempt at rehabilitation to the same environment outside, you should not be too surprised when, a few months later, he appears in the reconviction figures.
I wish the Justice Secretary well. He has a massive task but he should take encouragement from the fact that our policy over the last 50 years has been a notable failure—not good for the prisoners and certainly not good for the public, who finance this system. We badly need not only new ideas but new ideas followed by action, and that action and that need is urgent. In 1970, we faced a prisons crisis; today, we face a prisons scandal. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think that the whole House owes a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, not only for securing this debate but for what has, frankly, been a brilliant speech and exposition of the issues that the prison service faces and, potentially, some of the solutions.
I cannot declare an interest as having written extensively for the Times, as I appreciate that that is clearly an important qualification for considering these matters, but last year I submitted to the Government the independent review of the deaths of young people in prisons, Changing Prisons, Saving Lives. It was commissioned by a former Minister for Prisons and the Government’s response was published in December, just as the House of Commons rose for its Christmas Recess.
That review was probably the most comprehensive independent examination of penal policy for a generation. It was rooted in an enormous volume of evidence and research, and underpinned by a detailed analysis of the tragic cases of 87 young people who died in prison between April 2007 and the end of 2013. Since then, there have been a further 29 self-inflicted deaths of young people in NOMS custody. Each of those deaths represents a failure by the state to protect the young people concerned—a breach of Article 2 of the European
Convention on Human Rights. The failure is all the greater because the same criticisms occur time and time again. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said more generally about prisons policy, the lessons have not been learnt and not enough has been done to bring about substantive change.
Our conclusion in the review was that all young adults in custody are vulnerable. Some have had chaotic lives and complex histories; others have been subjected to child abuse, exposed to violence or repeated bereavement; many have been in foster or residential care; and their vulnerability is often further compounded by mental health issues or lack of maturity.
Let us be clear. Prisons and young offender institutions are grim environments, bleak and demoralising to the spirit. When that is coupled with impoverished regimes, it makes the experience of being in prison particularly damaging to developing young adults. Quite frankly, the experience is not conducive to rehabilitation. Therefore, I welcome in the introduction to the Government’s response to the review that I led the ringing declarations by the Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, about the primary purpose of prison being rehabilitation.
So, after those fine words at the beginning of the introduction to the Government’s response, it was disappointing that 33 of the central recommendations in the review were rejected outright. That included the fundamental concept at the heart of the review: that there should be a suitably trained professional who has the personal responsibility for the journey of each individual prisoner through the prison system—what we called a custody and rehabilitation officer. That person would have a caseload small enough for him or her to know each of the prisoners for whom they were responsible and a caseload that would enable them to ensure that the health, social welfare, security, education, training and rehabilitation needs of that individual were adequately addressed during that time in prison.
Frankly, it is difficult to see how the rehabilitation revolution to which Michael Gove has committed himself can be achieved without someone ensuring and owning what happens to the individual prisoner during their period in the prison system. I feel that this is a major missed opportunity and will mean that many lives continue to be wasted by a prison system that fails to find what Winston Churchill, when he was responsible for the prison system in 1910, called the,
“curative and regenerating processes … in the heart of every man”.
When the review was submitted to Ministers I wrote that:
“Those who ignore the lessons of past failures are condemned to repeat them. And that will be the fate of policy-makers who fail to act on the proposals that we are putting forward.”
Quite frankly, much more needs to be done to support young adults before and after they come into contact with the criminal justice system. In the 87 tragic cases that we examined, many of the young people’s problems and vulnerabilities, including their mental health issues, had been evident from an early age, so why did so many of them end up in custody? There needs to be much earlier and much more effective intervention. That requires a cross-governmental input to address the multifaceted problems and needs of children and young adults and to ensure that their problems are identified and effectively addressed at an early stage, comparable perhaps to the approach of the troubled families programme—targeted and concerted support.
If the Government are serious about the changes in prison policy that have been signalled by the Secretary of State, I welcome that. But we have to make sure that we intervene early enough to divert people from ever entering the criminal justice system and, for those who do, that someone takes the personal responsibility to make sure that the rehabilitation that we all want to see takes place.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for his excellent contribution and I declare an interest as president of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.
Although the Secretary of State is right to be shocked by the conditions that he has found in many of our prisons, purposeful activity is currently at the lowest ever level recorded. There are fewer staff looking after more prisoners than five years ago—nearly 14,000 fewer staff looking after around 1,200 more prisoners. Assaults in custody are at the highest ever level. The number of deaths in custody is also at the highest ever level. The reality is that, at the end of September 2015, 70 of the 117 prisons in England and Wales were holding more prisoners than they were built for. Furthermore, 45% of adult prisoners and nearly 70% of juvenile prisoners are reconvicted within a year of leaving custody.
I welcome Mr Gove’s plan to close all decaying prisons and replace them with newly built establishments. I also welcome his plan to review prison education, to monitor educational outcomes more rigorously and to make governors more accountable for those outcomes. But we need to tackle the root cause of the problem—namely, this country’s overuse of imprisonment.
Too many offenders are still sent to custody for short sentences, which was a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. They are released after no more than a few months in custody. That serves very little purpose. These sentences are far too short for sustained rehabilitation programmes but long enough for offenders to lose their jobs and homes, which makes them more likely to reoffend. The syndrome of the revolving door process continues. They could be better dealt with through community orders. Research confirms that community orders have a reoffending rate which is seven percentage points lower than that for similar offenders given short prison sentences.
The penal system has had to face significant spending cuts over the past few years. When resources are so stretched, we need to make sure that we are using them in the best possible way. In my view, the Government should legislate to make sentencing guidelines take account of the capacity of the prison system. This proposal is not new. It was first made in the Carter report on the prison system in 2007, and it still makes sense. At a time when all other areas of public services have to work within the reality of limited resources, there is no reason why the courts should be exempt.
Sentencing guidelines should scale down the number and length of prison sentences except for the most serious crimes.
We should also convert the sentences of the many IPP prisoners who remain in our prisons by converting them to determinate sentences once they have served a period equivalent to double their tariff, an issue that has been discussed in previous debates. In essence, we should look to our judiciary to ensure that the courts send to prison only those whose offending makes any other course of action unacceptable, but more importantly to ensure that those who are sent to prison do not stay there for any longer than is strictly necessary.
We also need a clearer strategy to reduce the use of imprisonment for women. Proposals have been made in the past to establish a women’s justice board to set improved standards for women’s community sentences, resettlement and rehabilitation, mental health services, family contact and culturally appropriate support for foreign national women in our prisons. A restorative justice approach can provide an appropriate alternative to custodial sentencing.
The Secretary of State for Justice has made an excellent start by challenging punitive thinking. He must now follow that up by taking determined steps to move this country away from the unenviable position of having the highest prison population in western Europe. We need a prison system that can genuinely protect the public by rehabilitating offenders and reducing reoffending. He can make a start by supporting my Private Member’s Bill, which will have its Second Reading next Friday, which seeks to raise the age of criminal responsibility.
My Lords, as Jane Austen once so nearly said, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a new Lord Chancellor in possession of a marked inclination towards prison reform must be in want of a curable injustice. One such plain injustice, together with the means to cure it, lies immediately to hand: the ever-increasing plight of those still incarcerated under the IPP regime, the scheme for the indefinite detention of certain prisoners for the protection of the public, who are often comparatively minor offenders. It is a wholly discredited system which was finally abolished in 2012 through LASPO, but there still remain some 4,500 such prisoners, of whom around 3,500 have served longer than their tariff terms; that is, longer than the terms judged appropriate as punishment for their wrongdoing. Indeed, 392 prisoners have served more than five times their tariff terms, as this House was told in answer to an Oral Question of mine last November.
It is not every day of the week that one is able, as I was last week, to plead personally to a Justice Minister the existence of a deep and systemic injustice in the criminal justice system flanked, as I was, by two former Lord Chief Justices, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers and Lord Judge, and for good measure by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. None of them is an enthusiast for putting the public needlessly at risk but all, thankfully, are champions of justice and for change. I am hugely indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and, indeed, to the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, for having held a meeting and for the characteristically thoughtful and sympathetic hearing we were given.
There is no time today to outline even the rudiments of the case for the release of these post-tariff prisoners, but I will take the opportunity to put before the House some of the facts as set out in an article in the Times—again that newspaper—of December last. The article was written by three of the Lord Chancellor’s highly respected erstwhile leader-writing colleagues, Rachel Sylvester, Alice Thomson and Richard Ford. They record that 740 IPP prisoners have served between two and four years beyond the tariff; a further 587 between four and six years post-tariff; 136 between six and eight years longer; and three are still in jail more than eight years longer than the tariff.
What is the solution? Surely it must be to make use of Section 128 of LASPO, the Act that abolished this regime, custom-built as that provision was, specifically to cater to the needs of the backlog of these prisoners still in jail—namely, by changing the test whereby they can finally regain their liberty. At the moment, they have to satisfy the Parole Board that they can safely be released; the Parole Board, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a defensive and risk-averse mindset, conscious that it might be blamed if people then reoffend. But the plight of these IPP prisoners, particularly those who have long since served terms for their punishment—in the early years of the scheme, these were often terms of only a few months—who are now being detained purely preventively, surely calls for a very different approach. If their continued internment is to be justified, it should now be for the authorities to establish a positive likelihood that, if released, they would pose a real, immediate and serious threat to life or limb.
Of course, some of those released would reoffend, but that is the price that we must pay to end this ever-growing stain on our justice system. We must consider the prizes to be won. Besides ending the basic injustice of internment, we would end the nightmare of uncertainty and hopelessness suffered not just by these prisoners—many of whom over the years, alas, have committed suicide—but their families, too. We would free up places in our already grossly overcrowded prisons and save countless millions of pounds which could then be devoted instead to some of the many other calls for prison reform which have been canvassed in today’s debate.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Fowler, who made such an excellent opening speech to this debate, I was much encouraged recently by the statements of my right honourable friend Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary. As it happens I have been involved with prisons in two ways in my life. As a Member of another place I had three prisons in my constituency which I visited and kept in touch with. I was also Minister of State in Northern Ireland with responsibility for security, including the Maze and the four other prisons which were there at that time. Of course, they had additional problems.
The three prisons in my constituency were Leyhill open prison, Ashfield in Pucklechurch, a remand centre for both males and females, which became a young offender centre and is now an adult male prison. Eastwood Park was a young offender centre, and for some time now has been a female prison and remand centre. We also had a police officers’ training school next to Leyhill which has now closed The way in which these prisons have changed reflects the huge number of changes in prison policy and organisation by successive Governments over the years. These include, of course, the creation of the National Offender Management Service at one end and successive changes of uniform, rank designation and that sort of thing at the other end.
The most interesting prison in my constituency was the open prison. Some prisoners go to an open prison as a result of being convicted for white-collar crime; some are well qualified, even in the law and medicine—and even in accountancy, my own profession, some have fallen to the sin of greed, leading to the crime of fraud. A lot of the prisoners were serving long sentences for very serious crimes of one sort or another and being prepared for release. My noble friend Lord Fowler referred to the necessity of preparing long-serving prisoners for release. He cited one example, but of course there are numerous others. Such prisoners occasionally abscond—I think five did from Leyhill last year, a high number historically—which can give rise to concern in the local population, although generally speaking the prisoners get well away before they are a risk to anybody.
My noble friend also referred to the way in which the statistics of the prison population have gone. Between the two world wars, the prison population fluctuated not far above 10,000. It has since risen by roughly 10,000 every decade, though not entirely in a straight line. I agree with all five of the points that he made. Some of my right honourable friend the Justice Secretary’s statements have been on those lines, especially on the third point. My right honourable friend was concerned with problem-solving courts, a good initiative and one that he should pursue.
Of course prisons are there to punish by the deprivation of liberty, as my noble friend said, and to prevent further crimes while the offenders are locked up. A book was published last year, The Last English Poachers, about two individuals in my part of the country. The mistake was made of sending one of them to Leyhill, an odd choice as he was by definition a specialist in moving unseen across exactly that part of the countryside by day and night. The first duty of prisons is to try to avoid their prisoners reoffending—that is ultimately the measure of success—and at present, for whatever reasons, the Prison Service is failing to achieve that. I support very much the idea that the avoidance of reoffending can be achieved only individually for each prisoner. Each is a human being with different problems and a different background, which is why I support what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said about looking after the individual prisoner.
My noble friend said that new ideas were wanted. In a sense they are old ideas, but they can never be overemphasised. The renewed emphasis on them by my right honourable friend the Justice Secretary is right, and I commend him for his thoughtful determination to make a difference.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust.
It is clearly welcome that the new Secretary of State is considering prison reform again, and the proposals to invest in the prison estate are equally welcome. I commend the five-point plan introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, in his excellent opening speech. However, it is crucial to understand that prison reform starts with what happens long before someone is sent to prison. As we have heard, nearly twice as many people are in prison now than 20 years ago, costing the country an extra £1 billion annually. It means overcrowded prisons that are inadequately equipped to deliver the type of constructive service that successive Governments have always claimed to want. The Sentencing Council’s review of guidelines affecting the decision to imprison is a necessary and welcome step in the right direction, but a wider review of sentencing is also needed to address significant inflation in sentence lengths—up by around a third over the last two decades.
In this brief contribution I will touch on two issues regarding the prison population and need for reform: first, people with mental health and learning disabilities in the criminal justice system; and secondly, release on temporary licence, or ROTL.
It is well known that a huge number of people in prisons suffer from mental health problems and learning disabilities. On
The report’s findings also underline the importance of expediting the rollout of liaison and diversion services, a subject I have some interest in. The current programme now covers 53% of the country and is already having a significant impact on the identification and assessment of people with complex health needs. Excellent partnership working, particularly between psychiatric nurses, learning disability nurses, the police, ambulance staff and other key agencies, often located in police stations and closely linked to street triage, is delivering extremely positive outcomes and over time should favourably impact on the prison population. Subject to Treasury approval, 100% coverage of the country for these services can be achieved over the next few years. I hope that the Minister will again support this ambition.
Secondly, release on temporary licence is a vital tool in resettlement and rehabilitation, which enables people to gain training and education, sort out jobs and housing, and establish contact with their families in preparation for their release. Less than 1% of releases on temporary licence fail. Of these, only 6.1% involve an arrestable offence. This is equivalent to five arrests per 100,000 releases. A stricter ROTL policy was introduced in March 2015 following the review commissioned by the then Secretary of State, Chris Grayling. Ministry of Justice statistics now show that the number of people released from prison on temporary licence has fallen by 41% since the policy change.
Last week, the Prison Reform Trust and Clinks published a joint briefing on the impact of changes to ROTL on charities and businesses. The key finding was that almost two-thirds of respondents to the survey had seen a decrease in ROTL, with some organisations reporting that placements had completely stopped or become almost impossible. The National Offender Management Service’s promised review of the policy presents a real opportunity to restore a more balanced approach, with less bureaucracy, more discretion for governors and more prisoners putting something back into society. Will the Minister confirm the timing and scope of the review, and whether charities and businesses will work with people on ROTL and be consulted?
These issues and many more being debated today should form the centrepiece of prison reform. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the issues.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Fowler on initiating this debate. I agree with every word that he said.
When John Major asked me to go to the Home Office to look after prisons in 1994, I was absolutely furious with him, and told him so. I did not want to go to an English department. I was hanging on by my fingernails in a Scottish constituency after three general elections. Why on earth would I want to go to a department with responsibility for England? He said, “I think it might benefit you”. Of all the jobs I have ever done, it was the one that did me most good. I started with a view that prison was somewhere where you sent people and the longer, the better, as they could not commit crime while in prison. However, I discovered a completely different view of the world.
My predecessor, Peter Lloyd, had been ill and I had a backlog of six months of life tariffs. In those days we had the absurd situation that unqualified people like me set the life tariff for prisoners. Because a decision that involves one person is harder to take than one that involves half a million, I sat until three in the morning for a whole month going through this backlog of files on individuals who wanted to know what their life tariff would be. I was struck by the fact that in the main all these individuals shared the same characteristics: they came from broken families; had not done well at school; could not read or write; had become involved in petty crime; had drink and drug problems; and then got into a knife fight one night which led to their whole life being destroyed. When you went to the young offender institutions, you found that the inmates— these monsters, according to the tabloid journalists—turned out to be frightened boys who had never really had an opportunity in life.
I was in that post for only a year because the Prime Minister took me at my word and moved me to the Scottish Office as Secretary of State. The only thing I achieved in that year was to strengthen the work of the boards of visitors. I thought those boards were fantastic and that their work was very important because they related to individuals. But even that has been pushed back. Those with responsibility for the bureaucracy did not like them because they did not like people coming in and interfering with the system. I regret that step.
I was also struck by the fact that our attempts to introduce rehabilitation programmes in the prisons were frustrated by the large number of people on short-term sentences, which made the programmes impossible to administer. Governors did not have very much local say or control in that very centralised system. Many of the prisoners should not have been there at all as they suffered from drug or mental illness problems, some of which were caused by the drugs they were taking. As Minister of State, I tried to introduce drug testing regimes among other things, but the fundamental problem was that many of the prisoners should not have been there at all.
If we are serious about reducing recidivism—my noble friend mentioned the appalling figures in that regard—we have to look at not just what happens in prison, which is very important, but also what happens when people leave prison, and whether they then go to a home and a job. There were many initiatives involving employers guaranteeing these people jobs but none of them has really taken off.
“I proved to myself that I could do something, even though I am in here. I wanted to show my kids that I’d done something positive”.
So work is being done in prisons. I declare an interest in that a friend has started a thing called the Clink restaurants in prisons, having successfully established a chain of restaurants. Those restaurants are run by prisoners, and attended by members of the public. They are doing extremely well and those prisoners are learning skills that they can use outside prison.
A lot of things to do with the prison system are gloomy and not good. The Secretary of State very kindly invited me to speak to him before Christmas and asked me to tell him about my former experience as Prisons Minister. I talked for half an hour—as I can, as noble Lords know—explaining all the problems. Then I said, “But, Michael, I am completely out of date. This all happened nearly 30 years ago”. He replied, “It is exactly the same now”. I believe that we have in our Secretary of State someone who has the drive and the ability to change things. Whatever the detail of our disagreements, we should back him 100%. What he has done for education in schools has been absolutely transformational—I have lost the Front Bench opposite now. The key thing there was to allow headmasters to have more power and control and I believe the same thing can be done with governors, subject to proper performance indices and standards of achievement. Let us seize this opportunity and work with the Secretary of State because for far too long we have been cheating the people in prisons and the public, who depend on us to get value for money and protect their safety.
My Lords, I start this speech in some confusion. I came along quite ready to explain to the House how much I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. It is something of an emotional shock for me to say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, as well. An observer of the debate might say, “Well, where is the problem?”. I think that we all know where the problem is—and it is not in this House, which frequently has very liberal debates on issues such as this. The problem is down the Corridor, it is in the media and it is on the doorstep when we go canvassing. That is worth putting in perspective. We still have other audiences to convince.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for this timely debate, to which he has attracted some very well-informed contributors. I declare that I am the current chairman of the Youth Justice Board. It is always a delight for me to follow my noble friend Lord Dholakia, who has been my mentor on these issues over many years. I think that we are all grateful chiefly to the Prison Reform Trust for an excellent brief, which gave us the basic figures: 85,000 people in prison, nearly 4,000 of them women; fewer than 1,000 under-18s, fewer than 50 of them girls; 45% of adults reoffend within a year of release; and 67% of under-18s reoffend.
As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, reminded us, quoting the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, there are genuine concerns about safety in both the adult and young people’s secure estate, and genuine questions are being asked about the capacity of our penal system to rehabilitate or reform, as the reoffending rates seem to indicate. But I also believe that, as others have said, there are grounds for optimism. Since Mr Gove became Justice Secretary, he has been asking the right questions and has gone about finding the right answers.
He has asked Mr Charlie Taylor to produce a wide-ranging report on the youth justice system, and the Youth Justice Board is co-operating fully in that exercise. The longer I am in this job, the more I am convinced that a successful youth justice system is how to cut crime off at its headstream. He has appointed Dame Sally Coates to look at education in our prisons. I am sure, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, just indicated, that his experience at the Department for Education is of value in giving education and training the proper priority they should have within our prison system. Of course, his plan to close the Victorian inner-city prisons gets rid of some real eyesores, and makes the argument to the Treasury, as the MoJ becomes a property developer, that it can use some of that money to build proper modern prisons for the 21st century.
The case for reform also benefits from parallel work being done, often under the leadership of Members of this House. As we have heard, mental health has been championed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, in his two ground-breaking reports. We have had the recent report of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, on deaths in custody. The benchmark for the issue of women in prison is still the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston. There is the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on which I have the honour to serve, looking at the overrepresentation of looked-after children in our criminal justice system. The overrepresentation of black and ethnic minorities has been the subject of a report by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and ongoing work by her. My noble friend Lord Carlile produced a very useful report on the effectiveness of the youth justice system and the magistracy. My colleague and noble friend Lady Tyler also works as chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. All will supply valuable assistance to a reforming Secretary of State, as will the views of our next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
Time is too short to cover all the good work being done. Let me mention just two points, partly linked to what the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, was saying. There is good work being done by my old college, UCL, on brain development, while the Disabilities Trust Foundation is working at the Keppel unit at Wetherby on the impact of brain injury on young offenders. I intend to ask them to come to the Lords later this year to present their findings. Let me also refer to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, on IPPs. I was the Minister who brought that Bill through this House and I can say, without equivocation, that the intention of Parliament at that time was to bring to an end the scandal of IPPs. Section 128 was put into the Act specifically for that purpose. I hope that the Minister has some progress to tell the House about.
There is another real reason for optimism, which is what Michael Gove has been saying. One of his first speeches as Justice Secretary was entitled, “The treasure in the heart of man”. That is a direct quote from the speech made by Winston Churchill as Home Secretary in 2010—no, in 1910. Would that he were here to make it now. He said then:
“The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country”.—[Hansard, Commons, 20/7/1910; col. 1354.]
And so it is. If it is in that spirit and mood that Mr Gove takes forward his reforms, he can certainly rely on support from all parts of this House.
My Lords, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on obtaining this debate, agreeing with his five points and thanking him for giving me and other noble Lords an opportunity to applaud the listening and learning style adopted by the current Secretary of State, Michael Gove—in stark contrast to the rushed and unresearched approach of his immediate predecessor—I have to admit that, other than statements of intent, we do not know much more about the Government’s proposals for prison reform than that they include the selling-off of some old Victorian prisons and reviews of education and youth justice. Currently, 84,550 prisoners are held in 117 prisons, 70 of which are overcrowded. These were described by the outgoing chief inspector, Nick Hardwick, to whom I pay tribute for a job outstandingly well done, as,
“places of violence, squalor and idleness”.
In agreeing that this was correct, Michael Gove said that no one should be held in such conditions, no matter what their offence—which is why those of us who have been campaigning for improvement for years share the hope for the future expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, in his magnificent opening speech.
Let me briefly illustrate some of what those three words of description hide. Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults went up by 13% last year, and serious assaults by prisoners on staff by 42%. Suicides were up by 14% and self-harm by 21%. It is not hard to see why. There are now 13,730 fewer prison staff than there were five years ago, looking after 1,200 more prisoners. Purposeful activity was at its lowest recorded level, being adjudged “good” or “reasonably good” by the chief inspector in only one-quarter of prisons. All this points to the urgent need to reduce the numbers in prisons which, as my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood said, could begin by tackling the disgrace of the 12,053 currently serving indeterminate sentences and increasing both the numbers of staff and the amount of activities available to prisoners.
In making his plans, however, I am aware that Michael Gove is faced with some painful realities. First, holding a prisoner for a year costs on average £35,237, yet the Ministry of Justice is required by the 2015 spending review to cut its running costs by a further £600 million by 2020. Secondly, the changes made to probation by his predecessor, which are already running into serious trouble, limit the effectiveness of community sentence alternatives. Thirdly, the Prison Service lacks an effective operational structure, which is an essential of day-to day working, let alone implementing reforms.
However, three changes are in the Secretary of State’s gift. First, he should implement the recommendation of my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf, in his seminal report following the riots in Strangeways and other prisons in 1990. This was included by the then Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, in the only White Paper on prisons, Custody, Care and Justice, published in 1991 but never implemented. The Secretary of State should also group prisons into regional clusters, so that no prisoner is held too far from home, with regions under a Director of Offender Management who would be made responsible for the rehabilitation of their own.
Secondly, as in every business, school and hospital, named people should be made responsible and accountable for directing each type of prison and prisoner, ensuring, inter alia, consistency of purposeful activity and in the selection and training of staff. If the Secretary of State does not do this, little or nothing will happen—as little or nothing has happened over the 20 years since I first made this recommendation. The best evidence of this is the Prison Service’s failure to exploit the countless examples of good practice initiated by good staff, who see their improvements dropped when either they or the governor of their prison move.
Thirdly, the Secretary of State should abolish the expensive and unnecessary bureaucracy that is the so-called National Offender Management Service and change his useless contracts branch, which awarded G4S a contract to run Medway secure training centre, as seen on “Panorama” last week, at the same time as cancelling its contract to run Rainsbrook secure training centre. One bureaucracy is quite enough for any Ministry, and he could then give staff to those responsible for running prisons.
My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend Lord Fowler for securing this debate. This is an extremely important discussion to drive forward, especially as the Lord Chancellor has indicated that he is willing to listen to all our proposals as part of his consultations. I have worked in a number of roles in prisons, including as a voluntary associate at Wormwood Scrubs and a visitor to HM Prison Pentonville and others, and I feel that I can add something to this debate.
My main point happily coincides with another issue that is very much on the agenda, which is mental health provision. According to the Social Exclusion Unit, more than 70% of the prison population have two or more mental health disorders. When I was a member of the board of visitors to Pentonville prison, I saw a large number of prisoners who had come from broken homes and were emotionally undernourished. Mental health provision must take account of this and the debilitating and lasting effects of substance abuse, which troubles the minds of prisoners long after they have left those substances behind. At present, there is not enough support for prisoners who arrive addicted and are taken off those substances. Opportunities for mental health assessment should be built into substance misuse care pathways to avoid overlooking individuals who also require psychiatric interventions, as recommended by the 2010 reform report.
Education is another key investment that requires additional investment and focus. In my experience, the most important step in reintegrating released prisoners into society is helping them to get a job. This holds true in almost all circumstances. Education can reduce reoffending, as mentioned by my noble friends Lord Cope and Fowler, and bring down the prison population. With a job, a regular income and something that keeps them focused, they can rebuild their lives and shape them how they want to. Most prisoners have low educational attainment and poor qualifications and dropped out of school early, with barely 5% holding a degree or equivalent. Teaching them in prison, when they have the time and motivation to learn, is crucial. For those who care most about the bottom line, this is an investment that pays back significant dividends.
It is not sensible for a country that wants to win in the global race to have such a significant chunk of human capital wasting away, being unproductive. It should be noted that vocational education is often a better route to employment than academic qualifications.
The idea of prison apprenticeships has been suggested in the past and remains attractive, as shown by the recent cases in HM Prison Lincoln. If a financial incentive was offered, such as a tax break on national insurance, it would boost the offering and uptake of prison apprenticeships.
Finally, it would be good to see more exercise hours offered in prisons. It is not healthy to be sitting around all day; indeed, boredom is often a factor in people involving themselves in crime. If possible, gyms and open areas should be open for longer hours, and inmates encouraged to go and exercise there, rather than watch television.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing this debate on prison reform at this critical time as pressure increases on staff in our overcrowded prisons.
I wish to raise the issue of women in prison. There is a growing consensus that most of the solutions to women’s offending lie outside prison walls, in treatment for addictions and mental health problems, protection from domestic violence and coercive relationships, secure housing, debt management, education, skills development and employment. I acknowledge the Government’s commitment to reduce the number of women sent to prison, but there are still far too many being incarcerated. Across the UK, more than 13,500 women are imprisoned each year. On
The Government’s review of sentencing policy is a key opportunity to encourage more community sentences for women with children. The Prison Reform Trust has proposed practical steps such as ensuring pre-sentence reports provide enough information about the woman’s circumstances, including her caring responsibilities, to make courts aware of appropriate community-based sentencing options. Magistrates are still too unaware of community alternatives where they do exist and are reluctant to refer where they see poor services or fragmented support.
I welcome the Sentencing Council’s definitive guideline on theft offences, which encourages the use of community orders where appropriate and which will come into effect next month. Most women are sent to prison for a non-violent offence, and the majority of these are for theft and handling. The average sentence for theft from a shop—the primary driver to women’s imprisonment in 2015—was less than three months.
As is now widely acknowledged, prison does not reduce offending. More than half—51%—of all women leaving prison are reconvicted with 12 months, and for those serving less than 12 months, the reconviction rate rises to 62%. Not only do children suffer while their mothers are imprisoned, but on release from these short sentences employment outcomes for women are three times worse than for men. Fewer than one in 10 women have a job to go to on release.
Prison is not the answer to women’s offending, except in rare, violent circumstances. Specialist women’s services, on the other hand, have been shown to be highly effective in supporting and rehabilitating women in contact with the penal system. Women receiving community orders have much lower reoffending rates, and there is an even greater reduction in reoffending for those who receive support from women’s centres, according to the MoJ’s own figures. Steps must be taken to increase the funding of women’s centres, prohibit the use of short-term sentences under 12 months, limit the use of remand and reduce recalls to custody where there have been technical breaches of an offender’s licence. Where the terms of a non-custodial sentence disregard a woman’s responsibility for children, there is an increased risk of breach for non-compliance, which can lead to custodial sentences being imposed where imprisonment was outside the sentencing parameters for the original offence. This is surely wrong.
Finally, on the proposed closure of Holloway, there is widespread concern that moving women to another prison further away from many women’s homes, therefore reducing access for families and resettlement opportunities, could result in worsening the rehabilitation prospects for those women, many of whom are vulnerable, have committed non-violent offences and have so often been victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse themselves. The implications of what the Government may see as a well-meaning improvement could have damaging outcomes, as there was no or little consultation with staff and other stakeholders, I am told.
The Prison Reform Trust has called for the current visitors centre on the Holloway site to become a women’s centre providing support and supervision for women caught up in the justice system in London. Several women’s centres across London are urgently needed to support women upon release. Could the Minister tell the House how much resource is going to be used rebuilding prisons for women compared to providing the more effective community alternatives to custody?
My Lords, I start by endorsing the powerful speech that the noble Baroness just made on the subject of women in prison. We should pay very close attention to her every word. I also want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on obtaining the debate and on opening it so powerfully. I applaud every word of his speech and the five measures he has proposed, which I shall address briefly a little later. I used to read the articles that he wrote for the Times all those years ago, and it is wonderful to see his consistency and continuing interest in this important issue.
We come to this issue at a time when we have a Lord Chancellor, with whom I have spoken about this subject, who I believe is completely credible in his determination to reform the penal system. He has applied his considerable critical faculty to whether the penal system is successful or not, and I think the answer he has reached is a resounding “No”, or at least “Not very”. I look forward to him taking his officials with him, and I hope that he will be in post long enough and not be reshuffled before we can see real reform to the penal system.
I am not sure what I can add to this debate, but I suppose I have spent longer in the cells than almost anybody else in this House—barring two or three people. I have on occasion had to sit in the cells, in cases that I do not count among the forensic triumphs which I talk about all too easily at dinner parties, and explain to my clients why they have been sent to prison for short sentences. As an illustration, I have always found it very difficult to explain to a man or woman who has been sent to prison for causing death by driving without due care and attention what the utility of the prison system is in their case, particularly as they tend to be middle-aged or older people who have never been in trouble with the law before. We ought to learn from some of the, in my view, ludicrous guidelines that are set upon us. I have sat as a recorder in the Crown Court on numerous occasions and have felt I had to send somebody to prison because the sentencing guidelines were just too prescriptive and did not allow for the subjectivity that the case needed.
Perhaps the headline of this debate for me, so far, is this: if a probation officer was given a case load for one year of one person and acted as a sort of personal trainer for that person for one year, we would save money for the state. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, compared it to Eton fees, but it may be even more powerful to say that, if we committed probation officers to looking after people who are not sentenced to custody, training them in their everyday lives, letting them understand how to manage their money, giving them real quality time, we would achieve a much better system than sending such people to prison.
I turn to the imperatives of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, which, as I have said, I share. First, of course, punishment by imprisonment should be more than the deprivation of liberty; it should also be an opportunity. As does Michael Gove, I take the view that prison education needs enormous improvement. I absolutely applaud the decision to allow books to go to prison. What an absurd decision it was to say that prisoners should not receive books. Recently, I represented a man who was convicted of manslaughter—a rather intelligent man. He said as he was going to prison, after the case was over, “I’m going to do an MBA”. I asked him why, and he referred to what the current Lord Chancellor had said about the advantages of being educated in prison and about released early if you do that—and that is very good.
Secondly, it is not just overcrowding that is the problem; the sites of prisons are unsuitable. In places with young men, there is only one playing field and one gym, at which they have to queue to have their opportunity, as well as insufficient educational provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, referred, thirdly, to the dumping ground. We had an eloquent contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, about mental health. If somebody goes to a hospital and they are going to be in a hospital for a long time, they are given a designated nurse to look after their case and to ensure that it follows the right track. Why, when someone is sent to prison for a long time, are they not given a designated officer to try to ensure, as if they were a sort of tutor, that every opportunity is made available?
I agree that we should use community sentences more, particularly problem-solving courses.
Finally, I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that we should give more opportunity to governors. I was once taken by a governor to a falconry course in a young offender institution. One of the young offenders told me that he was leaving the following week, that he had a job on an estate in Scotland and how he was looking forward to it. I came back to this place and thought, “I’m not going to tell anyone about the falconry course because the Daily Mail will get hold of it and call for it to be abolished”. But how useful that was.
My coda is to say: let us now start to apply imagination to sentencing policy so that those who come out of prison come out better and those who might go to prison do not do so, wherever possible.
My Lords, I very rarely disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, and I shall certainly not begin to do so today, because he made a powerful and convincing speech and I agree with every word. I also endorse most strongly all the comments that have been made about the admirable opening speech of my noble friend Lord Fowler and, again, endorse what he says. As I am in the business of endorsements at the moment, let me say how much I agreed with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. How privileged I was to be with him, as well as the noble and learned Lords, Lord Phillips and Lord Judge, when we went to see my noble friend the Minister last week to talk about indeterminate sentences. He made a powerful plea, which I hope will be heeded and will lead to a speeding up of dealing with these appalling stains on our justice system, because that is what they are.
In his opening speech, my noble friend talked about the Prison Service and how, if the squalor of the prison system was replicated in any way in any other aspect of the public service, there would be a massive public protest. One of the problems is—and I am afraid that I am rather old-fashioned on this matter—that the Prison Service is not entirely a public service. One decision that I have deplored over the years is the privatisation of prisons. It should be the duty of the state. Again, I refer to Winston Churchill, who in effect said that one of the hallmarks of a civilised society is how it treats its prisoners. There is a public responsibility, exercised by the Government of the day, and I believe that it has been detrimental to farm it out on economic grounds to private providers. That is not to say that there have not been some admirable people involved and that some of the prisons are not well run, but I do not like the principle.
I had considerable experience of prisons, with two in my constituency—Featherstone, and Brinsford young offender institution. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is only too familiar with both of them. He made reports on them, and his report on Brinsford is one of the best that I have ever read on any penal institution. Going to those two institutions, I discovered two things. First, many of the young offenders had such an appalling private background of deprivation that they needed rehabilitation in a way that was not always provided. I agree so much with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his remarks about the falconry course, and so on. In Featherstone itself I ran for a considerable period a surgery for lifers, which brought me face to face with men who had committed the ultimate crime, many of whom could not be categorised as criminal people. They had done something—sometimes provoked and sometimes not—of an appalling nature. Of course they deserved a prison sentence, and they all recognised that, but they were human beings and there is very much good in the worst of us, just as there is very much bad in the best of us. I became very conscious of that in those visits.
As chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in another place, I conducted an inquiry into prisons. One thing that convinced me more than anything else of the need for change was the experience that we had of the restorative justice system. It has been referred to during this debate, but I would like to underline its importance. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, and others have talked about keeping young people out of prison. A well-run restorative justice system on which proper money is expended, would save a lot of money—it would not be £36,000 per person per year—and do a great deal to help to implement the five Fowler proposals. I endorse all of them.
In Lincoln, where I have the privilege to live, we have just completely restored Lincoln Castle, which contained within it two prisons—a Georgian debtors’ prison and a Victorian prison. The latter was based on Pentonville, and they operated there the separate system whereby every prisoner was kept separate from another, even in the chapel, where each prisoner occupied a cubicle. This is a pretty scary thing when you go to see it, but of course the motivation was entirely decent, because they wanted to try to ensure that people would not reoffend. It was a crude, simplistic and unsuccessful system that deserved to be castigated as it has been, but the motives were right. The motives here in this debate are all right, but we need to convince the admirable new Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor that he has our support in his reforming zeal. May he keep it up—and I am sure that he will have the good wishes of every Member of this House if he does so.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing this important debate and on his excellent opening speech. I welcome the Justice Secretary’s desire to introduce much-needed prison reforms because, as has been said repeatedly during this debate, far too many young men and women are ending up in prison for a variety of reasons, such as mixing with the wrong company, living most of their early life in care, suffering from mental problems, some sort of child-abusive background or maybe simply because society has failed them.
When I visit prisons, I find that young black men are disproportionally in this position, with no hope or encouragement to better themselves, and this often leads to a revolving door situation as they leave prison with no prospects or further education. Being in prison should offer them an opportunity to turn their lives around in a positive way, and this can be done through education, especially for those serving long-term sentences.
I visited Swaleside prison on the Isle of Sheppey last year to open officially a unique and original project in its A wing called the Open Academy. It gives long-term inmates the opportunity to change their future by studying for a university degree using distance learning. The feeling of enthusiasm and hope among the inmates was electrifying and inspirational. Men who never thought they could achieve anything in life were suddenly empowered to discover their potential and the world of education. As my beloved mother used to say, “Education is your passport to life”. This is a perfect example of the kind of initiative we should be promoting as part of prison reform.
The Open Academy at Swaleside, which was praised in Dame Sally Coates’s review of education in prisons, has been open for nearly four months now. During that time, Malcolm Whitelaw, the head of learning, skills and employment in the reducing reoffending department, along with two co-ordinators and prison staff, has worked tirelessly to ensure the continued progress and promotion of the project to all inmates. Prisoners are given the opportunity to move to A wing to live to enable them to be part of the community of learners. The project now has 30 students signed up to the self-study programme. Their academic levels and abilities are wide-ranging, but they work together.
However, this initiative has not been easily achieved. It happened purely through the vision and dogged determination of the then governor and her staff. They were fortunate enough to have the majority of the resources donated to them by libraries that had closed down and to have generous donations which enabled them to buy essential equipment. However, more resources will be needed to continue to engage all the inmates who want to learn and develop.
The staff on A wing have also benefited. They have responded positively to the change in the dynamics of the wing and, importantly, they have supported the work required in the Open Academy, as much of it has been somewhat different from their usual everyday job. They now share ideas and make contributions. The Open Academy has given them an identity and a positive purpose. Some staff have even shown an interest in engaging in distance learning themselves and will be using the facilities of the Open Academy to study and to develop their career path and abilities. What a success story this is.
Malcolm has said: “I have been very proud of the work that has been achieved and the commitment, dedication and passion shown by everyone. To see prisoners engaging in positive activity which no doubt aids in their rehabilitation and employment opportunities upon release, encourages my staff. Together we are achieving and impacting upon prisoners’ lives”. He also said: “I strongly believe that should other prisons use this unique model and roll this out in their prisons then they too will see the change and progression which we have started to see at Swaleside. With the correct support and drive I believe it is possible across the prison estate”.
I agree with Malcolm. This could be a fundamental part of prison reform for the development of prisoners, especially those with medium and long-term sentences, as there is little progression available through the normal channels. To continue this important programme, prisons need relatively low investment and, more importantly, they need to involve and train their committed staff, who will be essential to the running of not just the Open Academy at Swaleside, but all future academies of this type. Will the Government consider funding Open Academies like the one at Swaleside? May I suggest that the Minister visits Swaleside prison, if he has not done so already, to see for himself the good work that is being done there?
My Lords, I, too, join noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Fowler on securing this timely debate and on his excellent opening speech. Momentous developments are taking place right now in the area of prison reform, which have the potential to make major inroads into social problems that have dogged our nation for decades. As part of the Secretary of State’s commitment to tackle reoffending by working with the whole person to find the “treasure in the heart of the man”, as he puts it, recent announcements have been made that the Ministry of Justice intends to put family at the heart of prison reforms.
Award-winning journalist Nell Bernstein observed:
“The dissolution of families, the harm to children—and the resultant perpetuation of the cycle of crime and incarceration from one generation to the next—may be the most profound and damaging effect of our current penal structure”.
Families can feel as if they, too, have been the victims of crime. For partners and children who have not themselves offended, it can seem as if they are also serving the sentence. An article last month in the Times told Sandra’s story—how her son’s life sentence for manslaughter at the age of 16 made her want to die too. She hated going into prison to see him—it was so heartbreaking. That is why all new prisons should have family-friendly visitor centres. They should be cheerful facilities where it is made clear to family members that they are welcome and valued. Staff should be trained to do all they can to prevent visitors feeling humiliated. One study found that reoffending rates are 39% lower if prisoners receive family visits, but they can be major undertakings that require travelling a long way with children. When I recently visited someone in Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight, it took a whole day to get there and back, and I was coming only from Chichester.
One of the longest-running longitudinal studies in the history of social science found that getting married can be a key turning point away from crime, even for the most prolific offenders. Research has also found that partnering relationships which bring structure, informal monitoring and emotional support decrease the likelihood of reoffending. It can make an enormous difference to a prisoner if they know their wife or husband is willing to stick with them. The perceived strength, stability and quality of ex-prisoners’ relationships are particularly important in rehabilitation, so the opportunities presented by their being inside must be taken to help prisoners develop better relationship skills, and prisoners should, wherever appropriate, be helped by staff to maintain family ties. Yet this happens for only one-third of offenders. Will the Minister include the need to improve the stability and quality of family relationships in the outcomes governors are required to deliver as they are given more autonomy? Programmes with a solid evidence base, such as Family Man, can pay for themselves in the money they save by preventing reoffending. This course uses drama, group discussions and written work to improve family relationships as a way of developing skills essential to education, training and employment.
These synergies are important. If prisoners’ family-based needs go unmet, it can greatly undermine wider efforts to improve their employability and educational attainment. However, the National Offender Management Service’s review of parenting and relationship support found that currently there is significant variation in the quality and scale of family provision. There is also too little structured assessment of family need in sentence planning, yet, as my earlier quote suggested, it makes no sense to ignore the needs of the next generation. Two-thirds of young males separated from imprisoned fathers in childhood go on to commit crime themselves.
Will the Minister discuss with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government how family support could also be joined up with work that goes on outside in the community, such as the troubled families programme? Similarly, schools should be able to use pupil premium money for children of prisoners on programmes such as Family Literacy in Prisons if this is the most effective means of improving their educational outcomes. Involving the imprisoned parents in their children’s education gives them a reason to go straight, and gives the children a better chance of avoiding criminality themselves. Given the Prime Minister’s inspiring mission to improve life chances for everyone in this country, can we assume that improving prisoners’ family stability will be at the heart of this Government’s rehabilitation strategy?
My Lords, I have long been an admirer of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and his contribution today has done nothing but strengthen that admiration. However, there have been many other important contributions to this debate. The contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, was crucial. What he described is a disgrace and a blemish on all our claims to a commitment to justice in our society. I draw particular attention to the words of my noble friend Lord Harris. In my view, his report is compulsory reading, and all of us who take these issues seriously should read it if we have not already done so.
I say to the Secretary of State to be careful. We live in an age of unprecedented cynicism about the political system, partly because large sections of the public see politics as a game of rhetoric without real commitment to, and fulfilment of, the needs of society as a whole. The excellent priorities that he has set out on rehabilitation could too easily become part of that accelerating cynicism if they prove to be nothing more than rhetoric. We all have to realise that when commitments of this kind are made, it is necessary to face the discipline of the resources that are required. These things cannot be done cheaply. They cannot be motivated by a desire to have social provision, wherever it is, on the cheap; they must be motivated by the determination to make the resources available.
We talk about rather abstract statistics and figures when we discuss penal reform, when we should all be thinking of the huge number of terrible human experiences that individuals have within the system, with so many broken lives and nightmare experiences. It is not a great credit to us that all we can do in response is lock people up.
The first thing to do is decide what we are trying to do and then say what is necessary to do it. Large warehouse prisons are certainly not the way to do it; what we need are far more well-designed individual establishments appropriate to individual needs. Almost nothing in this is more important than the mental health dimension.
Women are a particular challenge. I remember being told by a prison officer in Holloway, in absolute exasperation, “What are we supposed to be doing, particularly with women on short sentences? Their life is one of unremitting chaos, and with short sentences we are only adding to that chaos. Sometimes, I think the best that can be said for what we contribute is that we give them relief for a few days from the pressures that are ruining their lives outside”. What a commentary.
That brings me to my last point. When I was president of the YMCA in England, I tried to give as much time as possible to the work with offenders. I was glad that in the leading councils of the YMCA we had a very experienced senior police superintendent from the north of England, who was a very effective policeman and very down to earth. He said, “I often feel that it is at the moment when the person is being sentenced and sent down that there should be someone at their elbow saying, quietly but firmly, ‘What a terrible mess this is in your life. How are we going to sort it out?’. Such a person should take the sentenced person through the experience of imprisonment and back into a rehabilitated life outside. Without such an approach, we are just playing mechanical games that are destined to fail”.
My Lords, I share the feeling, expressed around the House, of enthusiasm that this debate is happening, that it was so powerfully introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and that it takes place at a time when the relatively new Lord Chancellor appears genuinely open to new thinking and radical reappraisal of some of the kinds of ideas that I pursued when I chaired the Justice Committee in the other House.
I want to try to analyse why the problem is as it is. We have to do something; we have far and away the largest proportion of our citizens in prison of any country in western Europe, at a time when there is enormous pressure on prison staff. Prison officers, instructional staff and others cannot really be expected to deliver very good results under that degree of pressure.
We all know that there are people who have to be in prison for public safety. However, we also know that the prison system is relatively weak in its record on rehabilitation. We know that it is of extremely limited deterrent value in relation to quite a few crimes and very many criminals, most of whom believe that they will not be caught and, if they are, that they will not receive a prison sentence anyway.
In the Justice Committee, I have had witnesses in front of me who said that they committed further offences in order to get back into prison; far from being deterred, they wanted to get back inside, in some cases because they could get access to drug treatment in prison that they could not get outside, and in others, frankly, because they did not really have anywhere else to go. At Christmas time or in the depths of winter, people were actually committing offences to get into prison. Another part of the problem is that the prison system pre-empts resources that cannot then be used to deal with the alcohol problems, drug addiction problems and failures in the care system and in the education system that put so many people into prison in the first place.
So why is the UK—this is true in Scotland as well as in England and Wales—set on a default course to the wrong place? Why is it that our system seems always to push up the prison population unless a real effort is made, as it is from time to time, to try to counteract it? These are the reasons I want to suggest to your Lordships.
First, it is institutionally dominant in the Ministry of Justice and the National Offender Management Service. Everything starts from the fact that we have this great big prison system and that the effects of that within any management structure are quite powerful.
Secondly, prison is treated as a free good in the criminal justice system. It is commissioned nationally, whereas all the alternatives to prison are commissioned locally. When a court has an offender in front of it and is coming to a decision about what to do, at the back of the mind there will always be the simple fact that, if some kind of community sentence is required with several elements in it, it has to be established whether that is available—whether it is available locally and whether there is a place for someone to take it on. If the sentence is custody, a van will roll up outside and it will be somebody else’s job to find a particular prison to put the person in, but prison will be found, with the resulting overcrowding if necessary. A commissioning system does not work well, because things are commissioned in completely different places, which creates an imbalance in the system.
The third factor is that the prison system has been exempted from the value-for-money questions which have been applied to every public service, including defence, which of course shares with prisons this crucial importance to the security and safety of our citizens. I was very pleased to learn that the Lord Chancellor has been to Texas. The Justice Committee certainly went to Texas; that surprises most people you mention this to until you explain to them that what happened in Texas, particularly with regard to drug-related offences, is that right-wing Republicans and liberal-minded Democrats found that they agreed that they could not go on as they had been, putting more and more people into prison. The Republicans said, “This is the taxpayers’ dollar—it’s our duty as state senators to make sure that money isn’t wasted in this way”. Therefore, they reached an agreement that they should put more money into family-based programmes, nurse-family partnerships, problem-solving courts and keeping people out of prison, particularly when drug-related offences other than large-scale dealing had put them there. In our system, we now need to apply to the prison system some of the value-for-money tests which are applied to every other aspect of our system.
The final factor is that prison and the length of a prison sentence is the only yardstick by which society, and particularly the press, measures and asserts how seriously a crime is viewed. If you read a newspaper article it will ask, “Did he get more than somebody else got for a slightly less violent attack?”. We use it as a measure and a yardstick. That will not do, because it does not lead to the most effective disposition for that offender—the choice of sentence for that offender which might make them much less likely to reoffend. We have to find ways to insist and demonstrate that crimes are taken seriously when the courts impose a demanding community sentence or a community element as part of a sentence which involves custody. That has to change.
My Lords, I start by confessing that my experience of prisons is pretty limited. I was briefly responsible—for a couple of years—for the Army detention centre at Colchester, but most of my relevant experience was under the direction of my noble friend Lord Fowler, to whom, naturally, I add my thanks for this debate. While I served as a junior Minister in the DHSS under his guidance, special hospitals were part of my responsibility and I remember visiting them on a number of occasions, including, if I may say so to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, one in Scotland at a place called Carstairs, which was also a special hospital at that time.
I will focus on a particular issue, namely the way in which we treat older prisoners. By that I mean those of, say, 80 years of age or more, although there is room for more than one view as to what the precise age should be. For example, I understand that in Italy nobody goes to prison over the age of 70 years, and I dare say there are similar age limits in other European countries.
My interest in this matter was roused by a case before one of the county courts, as I recall, about a year ago now, when a man in his late 80s was ostensibly convicted of leaving his shotgun in public view on the back seat of his car and was sentenced to a term in prison. I say “ostensibly convicted” because it turned out that the judge had got both the sentence and the law wrong, and the prisoner was, correctly, released very quickly. We are sometimes told that we ought not to criticise the judiciary. I do not do so on this occasion, because there may have been considerations of which I am unaware, which did not seem obvious from the reports that I read.
In June last year, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Mr Nigel Newcomen, delivered an important address on this matter. He of course draws on extensive knowledge and experience. Apparently, those aged over 60 are now the fastest growing segment of the prison population. The recent flurry of prosecutions for historic sex offences is no doubt one of the causes, but longer sentences also contribute. Thus it is, presumably, that increasing numbers of prisoners die from natural causes while in prison. Mr Newcomen refers to a number of cases in his lecture. He refers, for example, to one prisoner in his 94th year, who was removed from a care home to serve his first prison sentence for a historic sex offence and died a few weeks later after falling out of bed in his cell. In his lecture Mr Newcomen makes four recommendations for improving the arrangements for so-called geriatric prisoners. The Minister will no doubt be familiar with them; I should be glad to know which of them are now being implemented.
I am also concerned about the excessive use of restraints on older prisoners who in reality present little or no risk of escape. I have seen reference to one particularly shameful case where an elderly man in the last hours of life was eventually allowed to go to hospital and his restraint was only finally removed after he had died. That case was also referred to by Mr Newcomen. Can the Minister also say what arrangements are available for prisoners with serious medical problems; for example, double incontinence? Again, there are some quite shocking cases of the prison authorities simply ignoring these problems, which is quite unacceptable.
I also draw the Minister’s attention to a recent letter in a publication called Inside Time, which I understand circulates among the prison population, which relates to the treatment of an 83 year-old prisoner who had serious medical problems. Another prisoner was appointed to look after him, which raised serious question about access to his medication and other related matters. If the account set out in that particular published letter is accurate, we will need better and fuller particulars and an explanation.
Our present policy in respect of older prisoners is wholly unsatisfactory. Prisons, almost by definition, are designed to hold younger, comparatively fit people, and if there are no proper arrangements for holding much older prisoners, they should be released on licence or some other solution found. No doubt there are one or two who, given the gravity and may be comparative recency of their offence, need to be kept inside, but that does not apply to the majority.
Before I sit down, I will refer to a slightly different matter, namely the arrangements for the imprisonment of younger women who may have small children. There are now some improved sentencing guidelines on this matter, which I hope the Minister will be able to refer to and confirm. We are a civilised and compassionate nation, and our present policies should reflect those qualities.
My Lords, I echo the thanks of many noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, both for securing this debate and for the powerful and striking speech with which he opened it. The debate has demonstrated that the first priority in prison reform is reducing the numbers of people in prison and that to achieve that our aims must be rehabilitation to cut reoffending, and fewer offenders sentenced to prison when they do not need to be there. The whole House has welcomed the fact that the new Justice Secretary recognises the crisis in our prisons and is committed to change. However, there is much to be done.
The House also recognises that prison overcrowding is the main obstacle to rehabilitation—the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, made that point. The Howard League for Penal Reform, to which I am grateful for its briefing, points out that in 25 years the prison population has almost doubled, from less than 45,000 in 1990 to more than 85,000 now, in spite of the last few years of falling crime, and that the prison population is projected to increase to 90,000, plus or minus 8,000, by 2020. The institutional factors mentioned by my noble friend Lord Beith clearly have something to do with this.
My noble friend also pointed out the dependence on tariff sentencing, which is so prevalent and so powerful with the press. There is overwhelming evidence that short sentences do not work, yet far too many prisoners are serving them. We have had the depressing figures for reconviction rates. Through-the-gate supervision, introduced by the Offender Rehabilitation Act, may reduce the disparity but it has not done so yet. The fact remains that short prison sentences work far less effectively than community sentences in reducing reoffending. Short sentences may indeed increase the risk of future crime by removing offenders from their family and social supports, as my noble friend Lord Dholakia pointed out.
The unnecessary imprisonment of drug offenders has also contributed to prison overcrowding and to increased drug use and drug-related corruption in prisons. The extent of the problem was highlighted by a 2013 survey which showed that 64% of prisoners reported having used drugs in the four weeks before going into custody. On these Benches, in the face of overwhelming evidence that imprisonment or even punishment does not reduce drug use or cure addiction, we have long argued for drug possession to be treated as a health rather than a criminal justice issue. It is therefore welcome that the Justice Secretary has established a working group to consider establishing courts that would have as their aim solving drug and similar health and social problems through rehabilitation rather than imprisonment—the Texas solution mentioned by my noble friend Lord Beith.
Far too many women are in prison, as the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, pointed out. Eighty-two per cent of women in prison have been convicted of non-violent offences and probably do not need to be there. The evidence shows that among women there is a far greater prevalence than among men of serious social and health problems. Women suffer disproportionately from prison in their family and personal lives, and of course their children and families suffer disproportionately, unnecessarily and unfairly from the separation that imprisonment of their mothers involves. The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, also made the point that there is an unduly extensive use of prison on remand for women who face a trial.
For young people, young offender institutions have for far too long been academies for crime to which we have sent our most deprived youngsters with the most intractable personal, social and health problems—mental and physical—and often with backgrounds of abuse, as my noble friend Lady Benjamin pointed out, only for matters to get worse for them. I applaud the contribution that my noble friend Lord McNally has made not only to this debate but to improving youth justice in the United Kingdom, which he continues to do. However, we also need to improve educational opportunity and vocational training, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out, we need to ensure that personal responsibility is taken by the service for individual prisoners. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, pointed out the difficulties of imprisoning too many older offenders.
The continued unjust incarceration of prisoners whose tariffs have expired but who are serving IPPs also contributes to the prison population. We have heard again from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, taking up the cudgels of Lord Lloyd of Berwick. Both have repeatedly exposed the continuing injustice caused by these sentences, which were abolished as long ago as 2012, yet the Government will not use their power under Section 128 of the LASPO Act to change the test for their release, although for IPP prisoners the rate of reconviction within a year of release is only 14%.
Certainly one answer to overcrowding is to ensure that there are prison places to house the prison population in humane conditions, with an end to cramming and insanitary, squalid and filthy cells, lacking in privacy and destructive of self-esteem. The plan to replace old and inadequate city prisons with modern prisons that are fit for purpose is therefore welcome, provided that they are then used for the numbers for which they are designed and that we do not replace overcrowding in Wormwood Scrubs with overcrowding in its modern out-of-town-centre equivalent.
It is also clearly right that if costs to the Ministry can be saved by using modern videoconferencing technology to avoid unnecessary attendance at pre-trial court hearings, this is a sensible innovation. I would, however, add a word of caution about out-of-town prisons. It is important that, where possible, prisoners are placed close to their communities, particularly to enable their families to visit them. The Prison Reform Trust points to the evidence that prison visits help to reduce the risk of reoffending, which is 39% higher among prisoners who receive no visits than among those who do. We should not move prisoners miles across the country to far-away locations in large prisons where their links with their past, and therefore often with their futures, are cut, perhaps fatally. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made that point.
The effects of overcrowding are exacerbated by chronic and serious understaffing. Staffing levels fell by 29% between March 2010 and December 2014—from about 45,000 to about 32,000. That has meant more violence, more drugs, more drug-related corruption, more in-cell time, less education and less activity. The vicious circle inherent in all that is obvious. The understaffing increases reoffending, which increases the prison population and further strains staffing levels.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons has painted a chilling picture of violence in custody, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, pointed out. The review of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, was a terrible indictment of our prison system. As he pointed out, the Government have a fundamental obligation towards prisoners to keep them safe. His recommendations for safer cells, for understanding the vulnerability and differences of maturity of young adults and for keeping them out of prison where possible must be implemented.
The figures on drug use in prisons are alarming. A rise of 60% in incidents where drugs were found in prisons in 2014 can only partly be explained by better detection. Understaffing and a demoralised staff contribute to that problem as well.
The House considered the position and role of prison education in Tuesday’s debate moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and I will not repeat what was said then. However, the role of education has been mentioned by many and, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and my noble friend Lady Benjamin pointed out, good things are happening, understaffing, limited availability of courses, large disparities and poor continuity have all meant that we are not taking the opportunity to turn people round. We should applaud the idea of resettlement of prisoners close to their families and communities, but the effectiveness of that will be sharply reduced if prisoners cannot complete the courses they are undertaking because they are not available in the new prison.
The ways forward are not obscure. The plan of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has been clear and others have mentioned it. In short, we now need to turn a vicious cycle of prison letting down offenders and society and turn it into a virtuous cycle of improving prisons and of ensuring that we increase rehabilitation and save funds accordingly.
My Lords, I join all those who congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing this wide-ranging debate. My admiration for him was undimmed by the occasion when he spoke in a debate on a Motion of mine and described me as having risen from “the serried ranks” of the Labour Opposition, who consisted in their entirety of me and a single Whip.
In a similar vein, it would be churlish not to welcome Mr Gove’s appointment as Lord Chancellor, although almost anyone would have been an improvement on his predecessor. Mr Gove’s announcement about secure colleges, the reversal of the decision on books in prison, a review of prison education and the replacement of old and unfit buildings are most welcome. His speech, “Rescuing Broken Lives”, acknowledged in broad terms the failings of the present system and emphasised the importance of rehabilitation as a vital element in penal policy and of our justice system.
But perhaps understandably, his brief address did not really begin to make clear the scale of the crisis in our prisons. That emerges with stark and deeply troubling clarity from Nick Hardwick’s last report as Chief Inspector of Prisons. The House will wish to pay tribute to him for his service and for my part—and I suspect many others—I regret his departure, which followed Mr Grayling’s decision not to reappoint him but to invite him only to reapply for the job that he had done so well.
The Minister will no doubt be aware of the five-page letter that Mr Hardwick sent to the Permanent Secretary in December protesting about the latter’s interference in the way that he was carrying out his responsibilities and reminding him that the chief inspector is and must be independent and is a Crown appointment. Will the Minister confirm that position and assure the House, the chief inspector and his successor that there will be no repetition of the matters about which Mr Hardwick complained?
As we have heard today, the fundamental problem in penal policy is that we have far too many people in prison—we have heard the figures: 85,000, which is twice as many as a couple of decades ago—and occupying in March 2015 97.7% of usable capacity. Even Texas, the jailhouse capital of the western world referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, is striving to reduce its prison population. Furthermore, too many of our prisons are, as we have heard, overcrowded and understaffed, with the consequences that the chief inspector’s report spelt out. As he noted, assessed outcomes in prisons fell sharply last year to be the worst in 10 years. Prisoners were more likely to die in prison, be murdered, commit suicide, be assaulted or self-harm than five years ago. Serious assaults in that time rose by 55%. Such assaults on staff rose by 58% and some of this has no doubt been fuelled by increased access to drugs in prison, where the incidence of drugs found in 2014 reached an all-time high since 2000 at 5,973—a 40% increase on the previous year alone. Meanwhile, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed out, staff numbers fell by 29%. BME and especially Muslim prisoners, and those with learning disabilities, are recorded as having experienced a worse time than others. As the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, pointed out, the number of older prisoners, some of them very frail, is rising sharply.
We debated education in prison earlier this week and without going over that ground again in detail, it is apparent from the chief inspector’s report that, as the headline to the relevant section of his report makes clear, “purposeful activity” presents a dismal picture, with only 25% of adult male prisons performing well or reasonably well—the worst position in a decade. In a former life, Mr Gove would no doubt have intervened in schools that failed. What action will now be taken in relation to failing providers of this service within prisons? I hope that he will take notice of the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in that respect. However, to judge by the reaction to the latest of many scandals affecting G4S, one must not be too hopeful that action will be taken where the provider is a branch of the oligopolies that increasingly dominate the provision of our public services.
It is a reflection of the depths to which the service has sunk that the welcome initiative to prescribe a core day of activities,
“was fatally undermined by staff shortages and this affected outcomes in all areas”, so that:
“It is not currently possible to say how well it will work if staffing levels increase to agreed levels”.
But will they increase given the gap in salaries revealed by the University and College Union between prison education staff and staff in other sectors?
It is also deeply disturbing that 50% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day and 20% spent less than two hours a day out of their cells, with exercise in fresh air only 30 minutes a day in most closed prisons. Teaching standards were found wanting in two-thirds of the prisons inspected, and leadership and management of learning and skills in 74% of prisons were found inadequate or requiring improvement. That surely raises the question of whether it is not high time for more joint working in peer review across the sector to identify and promote good practice in this and other aspects of the service.
The report also echoed the concern of HM Inspectorate of Probation and Ofsted, mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Farmer and Lord Marks, that family contact—a critical issue—was often seen as a privilege rather than part of the resettlement process. Therefore, welcome though the replacement of some of the existing prisons will be, we trust that the Government can give assurances in relation to the siting of new facilities, notably but not exclusively those that serve London, so that access will be facilitated rather than made more difficult.
Another area of concern relates to boys in custody where the use of restraint, including what are euphemistically described as “pain compliance techniques”, had increased in three establishments. Again, there were problems with access for families, which is particularly necessary in the case of young offenders, with a mere 35% saying that it was easy for family and friends to visit. While generally education and training were good, there was, again, much too little opportunity to exercise.
Two other areas outside the immediate prison service were also the subject of comment, namely; police custody and court custody. In relation to the former, there were found to be far too many vulnerable detainees for whom risk assessments were too variable, with some staff being too casual in their work and more monitoring required. The accommodation in police custody was often substandard and the quality of healthcare remained variable. I assume that that is a matter that should be taken up by the Home Office. Perhaps the Minister can convey that concern if that department has already not begun to grapple with it.
Shockingly, however, the report states:
“Court custody contained some of the worst conditions we saw on inspection. Leadership was fragmented and ineffective and there was unwillingness to … address the filthy and unsanitary conditions we often found”, on court premises. The needs of vulnerable detainees were little understood, and I was amazed to see that a previous report had commented on the failings of the escort service, including the lack of seatbelt provision while transporting prisoners in vehicles.
The Ministry of Justice has a clear responsibility to address these issues and could perhaps learn from the good practice in military detention facilities, which were warmly commended in the report, in relation to a wide range of concerns that appear so far not to have been properly addressed within the rest of the custodial sector.
In addition to the low levels of educational attainment, especially literacy, which Mr Gove rightly stated characterised many offenders and with which he was of course familiar in his previous role, more recognition needs to be given to some other factors. Among those are the high levels of prisoners with one or more mental health problems, referred to by my noble friend Lord Bradley, and the disproportionate number and length of custodial sentences on BME defendants with comparable records to those of other offenders and in relation to comparable offences. Here, the sentencing clearly needs reviewing. The noble Lord, Lord McNally and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, referred to that important issue.
Mr Gove has made a very promising start in his approach to the crisis in our prisons, although I hope that he returns to the important report produced by my noble friend Lord Harris, and I join others in urging him to look again at the vexed question of IPP prisoners, referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and other noble Lords today and on previous occasions. We must hope that he secures the support of his colleagues in a major effort to build on the aspirations of Transforming Rehabilitation by indeed transforming a dysfunctional and all too frequently failing prison service and, in so doing, make no longer contestable the claim of one former Home Secretary that “prison works”.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Fowler for introducing this important debate and all noble Lords for contributing to it. There is a great deal of expertise in your Lordships’ House on this subject. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out, a number of noble Lords contribute not just to debates but to reports, and by chairing committees. There is no lack of interest and, it is remarkable to report, a considerable consensus apparent in the House across all parties and among those of no party. I can report that the Secretary of State, who has received several plaudits for his endeavours so far, reads carefully the debates in your Lordships’ House, so everything that has been said will be noted by him. I will not respond in detail to all the many suggestions that have been made, but suffice it to say that the five points emphasised by my noble friend Lord Fowler received widespread support, and I find no difficulty in supporting any of them myself.
There are some positives about prisons as well as the litany of negatives that have been pointed out by so many of your Lordships. It is important to bear in mind the invaluable work undertaken in prisons. We have many dedicated prison officers and governors working in difficult and often dangerous conditions. They strive to help offenders lead better and safer lives, and they take their duties to prisoners and to the public very seriously. I am shortly to visit their training establishment to gain a better understanding of the challenges they face and the training they receive. It is not just about prison officers but a whole host of professions, from psychologists to teachers and career advisers. There are also many from the voluntary sector. We should not neglect the charitable and voluntary sector for all it does for prisoners, a matter referred to by my noble friend Lord Farmer. But there are undoubtedly many challenges that face us.
It is helpful that the current political situation does not lead one to believe that there is any sort of arms race between the parties as to who can be tougher on crime. I think we have left those days behind. What we can all agree on is that reoffending has simply been too high for too long. Although the overall reoffending rate has come down slightly over the past decade, 45% of all adult prisoners reoffend within one year of release, with the figure rising to 59% for those serving sentences of under 12 months. The figures are significantly higher than for those who serve non-custodial sentences.
Perhaps I may pause briefly to say that although the current Secretary of State has received some qualified approval, his predecessor did not on the whole receive such approval in your Lordships’ House. However, I pay tribute to him for all he did on the transforming rehabilitation strategy. A number of noble Lords made the point that those who serve sentences of less than 12 months are particularly likely to reoffend. They used to be allowed to leave prison with £46 in their pocket and it was no surprise that they immediately reverted to their old habits. Under the stewardship of the Secretary of State, the previous coalition Government brought in a system whereby all those offenders received support in the community from the probation service and before they left prison to enable them to rebuild their lives as best they could. That was a brave initiative and it is one that we should pay tribute to the previous Secretary of State for introducing.
To help prisoners leave custody, we need our prison officers to be able to work in an environment which is suited to supporting offenders. However, our current prison estate is ageing, inefficient and ineffective at doing that. There are numerous “dark corners” which facilitate bullying, drug-taking and violence, and, within prisons, violence towards prisoners and prison staff is increasing. In the last year, serious assaults have risen by a third and, tragically, 95 prisoners have taken their own lives while in custody. While referring to deaths in custody, I pay tribute to the impressive and thorough report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and we have accepted a considerable number of the recommendations made in it. He mentioned particularly the identification of a custody and rehabilitation officer, who would be responsible for each offender. I understand entirely what drives the suggestion, but, notwithstanding the wisdom that lies behind it, the Ministry of Justice believes that it could undermine the concept that reducing the risk of suicide is a key part of the role of all prison staff. Our philosophy is that every contact matters and every individual matters. Of course, the noble Lord will know, as will the House, that the death of a prisoner is not only a tragedy for that prisoner and their family, but also very destructive to the morale of those who work in prisons. All prison officers should be concerned for the welfare of each individual.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for responding. The point of the custody and rehabilitation officer is not to get away from the concept that everyone should be responsible for the security and safety of an individual. It is to create someone who would take personal responsibility for ensuring that the journey of a prisoner through the prison system, particularly in relation to rehabilitation, so that it is owned by an individual who makes sure that that journey happens and that the right solutions are found for each person. That is what I think is being lost and is what will undermine the Secretary of State’s desire to bring about a rehabilitation revolution.
I do not disagree with the objectives outlined in the suggestion; rather it is simply about how they can best be achieved. But the identification of the desire for continuity is of course important.
I was saying that one of the problems we must confront is the use of psychoactive substances, known as legal highs. Their use has been plainly linked with specific acts of violence and erratic behaviour, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. This and the previous Government have already introduced measures to tackle the use of these substances, including the use of specialist dogs to search cells, and we are currently exploring the use of body scanners to reduce the threat posed by drugs being smuggled into prisons. This is a problem being confronted not only in prisons in this country but elsewhere throughout the world. It is proving particularly intractable, but it is vital that we do so. Despite the tireless efforts of all those working in our prisons, these issues, which were identified by many noble Lords, cannot be ignored. The Secretary of State has made it clear that our prison system is in need of reform. It fails to rehabilitate and it fails to ensure that criminals are prevented from offending again. Without reform, this cycle will continue.
What changes are we making? A key aspect of these reforms is the proposed changes to the prison estate itself. We will close down ageing and ineffective prisons, replacing them with buildings fit for today’s estate. We will invest in a high-quality modern prison estate, with appropriate facilities for training and rehabilitation. This is receiving enthusiasm across government. Some £1.3 billion will be invested to reform and modernise the prison estate to make it more efficient, safer and focused on supporting prisoner rehabilitation. The Chancellor announced that the Government will build nine new modern prisons, five of which will open during this Parliament, with better education facilities—as referred to earlier this week in a debate answered by my noble friend Lady Evans, which I shall not go into now—and other rehabilitative services, while selling ageing and inefficient prisons to free up land for new homes.
This includes the closing of Holloway prison. The female prisoners held there will be transferred to better prison environments, including HMP Downview, which we will reopen as a women’s prison. Downview provides better facilities for family visits as well as being a better rehabilitative environment for women. I do not in any way disparage what was achieved in Holloway, which I visited, because it was a remarkable prison. However, we feel that we can do better.
A number of noble Lords, among them the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Healy of Primrose Hill, mentioned the problem of women in prison. In 10 years of sitting as a recorder, I always found reasons not to send women to prison and I can hardly remember ever doing so. I am glad to say that the female prison population is now consistently under 4,000 for the first time in a decade. We are modernising the prison estate to provide the best rehabilitative regimes and hold women in environments better suited to them. We want to ensure that they serve their sentences in appropriate surroundings and to maintain their strong family ties. My noble friend Lord Farmer made the point that family ties are vital to assisting rehabilitation not only for women but for all the prison population.
Of course, it is not just the structure of the estate that we need to reform, but how we manage offenders. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Fowler that prison is a place where people are sent as punishment, not for further punishment. If we ensure that prisons are calm, orderly and purposeful places—I entirely accept that there is a need for more purposeful activity—the skills and habits that they acquire there will prepare them for outside life. We can all benefit from that.
The Secretary of State clearly set out his commitment to “liberating offenders through learning”. Prisoners must use their time in prison advantageously. We must offer them a chance to obtain qualifications and skills—I note what the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said about that. I welcome the opportunity to visit prisons where that is going on: it is a vital part of the Government’s reform agenda.
We know that one in five prisons has an “inadequate” standard of education provision and two in five require improvement, according to Ofsted. That is why we have commissioned Dame Sally Coates to chair a review into the quality of education in prisons, which will report in the spring. Talking of reporting, of course I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said: Mr Hardwick is there to provide an independent report to the Government on the state of prisons. That is important for him and his successor, and we should be able to take criticism robustly and respond appropriately. Their independence is crucial.
While the review by Sally Coates is going on, work is under way to improve the quality of learning and skills provision in prison. These measures include improving support for prisoners with learning disabilities—unfortunately, many have them— developing more creative teaching methods and collecting better management information. Giving poorly educated adults a basic level of literacy and numeracy is vital, following tried and tested methods, and the current failure to educate prisoners well is hard to defend. I do not think the House will need much convincing about the Secretary of State’s attachment to the importance of education.
Meaningful employment is crucial. It is a vital part of the Government’s approach to support those who have committed a crime to get out of the cycle of offending. We are keen to increase the number of employers who engage with prisoners and offenders to offer them employment opportunities. We hold an Employers’ Forum for Reducing Re-offending, chaired by the CEO of Timpson, James Timpson, which brings together employers who support the employment of offenders to share their experiences and promote the benefits of employing offenders to other businesses. We have built a relationship with several employers, including Halfords, which provides work for prisoners in its academy, which is run in a prison and employs the prisoners on release if they positively engage on their 16-week course. I have had several conversations with the Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, who is particularly keen on and pleased with the progress that has been made in this regard.
We are also anxious that there should be greater autonomy at a local level for prisoners—a point made by my noble friend Lord Fowler and the noble Lord, Lord Beith, with his considerable experience of justice issues. That is a form of localism in the Prison Service. The noble Lord made the interesting point that Texas has brought about a strange consensus between the political parties on the way forward in that regard.
I could respond on the issue of IPP prisoners at considerable length; unfortunately, I do not have time to do that. Suffice it to say that we are progressing well in the number of courses available to IPP prisoners. We are also in the process of reducing the backlog for hearings before the Parole Board. As I told a number of noble Lords at a recent meeting, there remains the question of the Secretary of State’s powers to change the test for release. That is a matter which he continues to consider carefully. I will make sure that I faithfully transmit all messages from this House and noble Lords about the need to do something about that.
The points of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, were well made. We are aware of the importance of reviewing the working of ROTL and liaison and diversion services. The Secretary of State has well in mind a possible wider review of sentencing. Similarly, several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Cormack, emphasised the importance of restorative justice.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Trefgarne rightly drew our attention to the plight of older prisoners, who are becoming a particular, somewhat unusual, feature of the prison population. That is partly to do with so many offenders having been committed for ancient offences of sexual abuse and the like. All prisoners, regardless of age, need to be treated in a humane manner that reflects their needs. That is a matter we should attend to particularly carefully.
I am grateful to all those who have taken part in this excellent debate and to my noble friend Lord Fowler for initiating it. The Secretary of the State and the Ministry of Justice will have learnt a great deal from it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for his reply, which was very constructive and will be well received. There were two significant features of this debate. First, there was vast agreement on the changes that are required. Prison is not remotely the right place to tackle mental health problems or, for that matter, drug abuse, points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, and my noble friend Lord Suri. The central issue remains the overuse of prison and the overcrowding that goes with it. That point was made by my noble friend Lord Cope and the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia, Lord Beith and Lord Ramsbotham, to whom we owe so much. More needs to be done to consider the position of women prisoners, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Healy and the noble Lord, Lord Judd. There is a range of other issues, not least the roots of crime going way back to life before prison, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and my noble friend Lord Cormack.
The second significant feature of the debate was that it just showed how much good will there is for the new Justice Secretary. I hope that is recognised. It was shown in the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. It was shared by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who agreed—reluctantly, I think, but he agreed nevertheless—with old Tories like me and my noble friend Lord Forsyth. The noble Lord, Lord Beith, also mentioned the rather strange Texan coalition. The message of this debate is that we wish the new Justice Secretary well and now look forward to the action that is so necessary to reform a Prison Service which cries out for change. Above all, we wish him well in this vastly important job.