Prisons: Overcrowding - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:25 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench 12:25 pm, 7th September 2017

My Lords, for many years I was a member of the board of visitors—now known as monitors—at a young offender institution. The 2016-17 report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales should make people who read it realise that improvements must be made. I did not see monitors mentioned once. I ask the Minister: are monitors still involved in trying to highlight needs and improve conditions, as we did? What is their present role? When 78 of the 116 prisons in England and Wales are overcrowded there are many risks.

Things have changed over the years and they are now much more complex. There has always been a problem with alcohol abuse, but prisons are now recording surging levels of violence, self-harm and drug use. It is deeply concerning that the incidence of self-inflicted death and self-harm among women in prison has risen dramatically. Many young adult prisoners spend less than two hours a day out of their cells. It is no wonder that many are depressed. Is this due to shortages of staff, or could the system be more humane? How is the drive to recruit more prison officers proceeding? Are there facilities to train them adequately?

Apart from overcrowding and the shortage of staff, there is the challenge of prisoners with mental and physical health problems and a growing population of elderly prisoners who need extra care. If there was a more comprehensive aftercare system for vulnerable prisoners when discharged, with ongoing rehabilitation and a place to live for those who are homeless, maybe there would not be so much recidivism, which is one reason for prison overcrowding. Discharging vulnerable prisoners on a Friday, with no care plan in place, is asking for trouble. What hope is there for a better system?