Prisons: Overcrowding - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:52 am on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Conservative 11:52 am, 7th September 2017

My Lords, first, I warmly congratulate the noble and learned Lord on initiating a most distinguished and eminent debate, and on a very thoughtful contribution—as one would expect from a former justice of the Supreme Court.

I particularly welcome the current President-elect of the Supreme Court. When I first became involved in criminal justice matters 42 years ago as a very young magistrate, I became chairman of the juvenile court in Lambeth and was absolutely aware that the judiciary was coping with the consequences of poverty, disadvantage, illiteracy and domestic upheaval. In one young judge, Brenda Hale, I found a person who was interested in debating whether or not sentencing made any difference. I used to sit with a stipendiary who said, “In the public interest you must go to a detention centre”. I used to say, “In the public interest we know that if they go to a detention centre, they have an 80% chance of reoffending”—so a more thoughtful, analytical approach to sentencing is evidently part of this situation. The other areas of IPPs, prison release and cutting recalls are also critically important.

But I am afraid the idea that there was ever a mythical day when it all worked beautifully is nonsense. Dr Helen Johnston of the criminology department at the wonderful University of Hull has done a tremendous longitudinal study of prison, going right back to the middle of the 19th century. She states:

“The use of custodial sentences today are just as financially costly and ineffective as they have always been, and they will continue to damage chances of rehabilitation from the outset. For over a hundred years the use of custody has cut away connections and support-networks in the community. Sentenced offenders lose their residences, their jobs, and sometimes also their family-relationships as soon as they go through the doors of the prison”.

Now, people will talk about prison education and prison health. I felt very strongly about ensuring that prison health was part of the National Health Service, not outside it. But I have a different call for action. When Nick Hardwick stepped down as the Chief Inspector of Prisons, he described as “appalling” the sector’s,

“lack of imagination and … failure of empathy”.

What I am calling for, and believe we are beginning to see, is a real presence of imagination and a much more genuine empathy. I used to have debates in another place in the mid-1980s on prisons. Nobody was interested; it was not a subject that would have attracted as many speakers as there are today. The only way we are going to address these issues is by community mobilisation. This is not just the Justice Department but all departments of Government; and it is not just prisons but whole communities.

I argue that the police and crime commissioners, now in their second iteration, are much more appropriate and able to create partnerships. The new community rehabilitation companies are beginning to work well. Above all, the voluntary sector is now coming forward with massively impressive schemes. I have worked closely with Working Chance, which is working with employers to find work for women prisoners. The wonderful KeepOut scheme in Surrey is using prisoners to educate others.

All in all, we have to work together to create a community for change. We need innovation, ingenuity, collaboration and determination—and I believe we really can turn the tide.