Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat 5:00 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, the Government have certainly sacrificed some key reforming measures that should have been included in the gracious Speech. One such issue, referred to by my noble friend Lord Paddick, is the problems in our prison system. The need for greater efforts to promote prisoners’ rehabilitation is clear from even the most cursory look at reoffending rates. Some 44% of adult prisoners, 59% of short-term prisoners and 69% of juvenile prisoners are reconvicted within a year of their release—an unending cycle that continues to repeat itself on a regular basis.

All too often the problems and pressures that lead offenders into crime are still there when they leave prison. That is why we should ask a fundamental question: do prisons really rehabilitate inmates? All too often their pro-criminal attitudes are unchanged. Imprisonment causes many prisoners to lose their accommodation, their jobs and, sometimes, their families. On release they are, therefore, more likely to be jobless, homeless and without family support, all of which increase the risk of reoffending. Research and experience tell us a great deal about successful approaches that can reduce these dismal reconviction rates.

For example, we know that focused offending behaviour programmes can reduce reoffending. These programmes can change attitudes to reoffending and improve empathy with victims. They can help offenders to restrain impulsive and aggressive behaviour, to resist peer pressure and to recognise and manage the trigger situations that lead them to offend. Practical resettlement support for prisoners also reduces reconviction rates. Which other factors help support a reduction in offending? Getting released prisoners into jobs cuts reoffending; providing educational opportunities reduces reoffending; providing stable accommodation on release cuts reoffending; maintaining family ties cuts reoffending; and effective drug rehabilitation dramatically cuts reoffending.

All too often, prisoners receive little in the way of purposeful activity or rehabilitation and the position has deteriorated in the past five years. Will the Minister look at the Ofsted inspection of prison education provision and Unlocking Potential, the report produced by Dame Sally Coates? However, we need to go much further than that and ensure that every prisoner who needs a programme to tackle his offending behaviour or an intensive drug or alcohol treatment programme can get on to one.

The Minister was right to draw attention to domestic violence, but at present the waiting lists are often far too long. For example, it can take two years for a prisoner assessed as needing a programme to tackle domestic violence to get on to one. That cannot be good enough if the strategy is to stop that sort of reoffending on release.

So many prisoners reach the end of their sentence without work being done that could reduce their risk, and victims of crime suffer as a result. Underlying all this is the fact that we use prison too much and too often. We now have 148 prisoners in England and Wales for every 100,000 people in our general population compared with 101 in France and 76 in Germany. We are not twice as criminal as Germany, so why do we need to use prison twice as often? As a result of our high use of imprisonment, much of the prison system is overcrowded, overstretched and cannot provide effective rehabilitation for all its prisoners.

The report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons into Brixton prison published this month illustrates these problems graphically. At the time of the inspection in January, two-thirds of prisoners said that they had felt unsafe in the prison. Levels of violence had increased and self-harm incidents had quadrupled since the last inspection of that prison. Prison should be removed as an option for many lower-level offences and sentencing guidelines should scale down the length of sentences except for the most serious offences and the most dangerous offenders.

I urge the Government to think again about their regrettable decision to drop the prison-related elements of their previous Prisons and Courts Bill from the programme for this Session. Those provisions amounted to just 22 clauses. If they were reintroduced in a short prisons Bill, I believe there would be strong all-party backing to ensure its safe passage through this Parliament, and the prospects for reducing the high number of crimes committed by released prisoners would be much better.

In conclusion, £1 billion can buy 10 votes for the length of this Parliament. The same amount could improve our prison system and make it fit for generations to come for a very long time.