Prisons: Overcrowding - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:27 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bradley Lord Bradley Labour 12:27 pm, 7th September 2017

My Lords, I also congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, on this debate and on his excellent opening speech. I declare an interest as a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust. In this short time I will raise three issues relating to overcrowding. First, as we have heard, reform is urgently required of indeterminate sentences for public protection. I support an approach recommended by the Prison Reform Trust, based on the three principles of convert, protect and rehabilitate. IPP sentences should be converted from indeterminate to fixed-length sentences, starting with the shortest tariff lengths where the greatest injustice seems to have occurred. The public should be protected with a guaranteed minimum licence period for all cases following release. As to rehabilitation, we should ensure that a proper investment is made in the support of IPP prisoners after release.

Secondly, as we have heard, overcrowding has a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of prisoners. Despite improvements in prison healthcare following the transfer of commissioning to the NHS, overcrowding limits the opportunity for effective treatment, particularly for those with mental health problems, learning disabilities and other complex needs. We know that 26% of women and 16% of men said that they had received treatment for mental health problems in the year before custody and that three in 10 people assessed in prison in 2015-16 reported that they had a learning disability or difficulty. The national rollout of liaison and diversion schemes can therefore make a real contribution to reducing overcrowding. Following my report in 2009, and the support of successive Governments, 75% of the country is now covered by such services, with the ambition for 100% coverage by 2019-20. Such services include: street triage, where the police and health staff work together on our streets to identify and assess people requiring crisis care intervention; and health staff working in police custody suites and the courts to identify and assess people with health needs. This would enable the police to make more-informed decisions on charging, proportionate to the offence that has been committed, or consider the option of diverting the person to appropriate health and social care facilities and services. The courts would then receive information about the mental health and other complex needs of the individual at their first appearance, enabling magistrates to make a more timely decision, reducing the use of remand—particularly important for women offenders—and using community sentences with treatment orders instead of custodial sentences.

Thirdly, the current delays in transfer from prison to psychiatric units of prisoners approved for such a move exacerbate the overcrowding problem and is totally unacceptable. I therefore hope that the Minister will support the continued development of liaison and diversion services and see it as part of the solution to the intolerable overcrowding in our prisons.