Your Lordships will soon gather from my croaky voice that I returned from a northerly cruise on Wednesday with something of a cold. It was 10 days without responsibility. No money was used on board; at mealtimes, all I had to do was sway my way into the restaurant, and the food was there ready cooked. There was no lock on my cabin door—but, with the North Sea all around me, I was going nowhere. I could circulate on the top deck for as long as I liked; a lot of exercise went on there, but, fortunately, it was not compulsory.
Arriving back in Dover on Wednesday was a bit of a shock. I had to check my wallet to see if I had any money. I had to get myself to Dover railway station, pay for a ticket and find a platform and a train. I had to make decisions, get used to traffic again and rush to reach your Lordships’ House in time for a committee. I was away only 10 days. The problems for a prisoner being released after a lengthy period in prison are very serious. The shock of being propelled through the prison door into the community—into a world of decision-making—must be profound. I strongly support the Bill as a very sensible means of reducing that impact, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and Mr Simon Fell on bringing it forward.
The Bill gives us the opportunity to talk about the critical step of release. I have spoken about Berwyn prison near my home in Wrexham many times in this House in very negative terms—its shortages of staff, the level of violence and the all-pervasive problem of drugs—but it is largely successful on the issue of release. The unannounced report of the prison inspectorate last year found that an average of 140 prisoners were released each month and that work to support resettlement was good. A workshop area—a resettlement hub—had been set up in a large open space with separate interview booths, bringing together all resettlement staff. The inspectors found that this was an excellent initiative,
“the best of its kind that we have seen recently”.
It was yielding promising early outcomes for prisoners nearing release, including job offers and improved outcomes for accommodation on release. In the hub, there are a range of resettlement services: a job centre, work coaches and housing support. Prisoners are supported in obtaining ID and in opening bank accounts. Job fairs are a regular feature, attended by local employers. The number of prisoners who gain employment on release has risen from 6% to 20%, and employers including Greene King, the Murphy construction group and Iceland are involved. An employment adviser helps connect prisoners to job opportunities, and a firm called Novus Cambria helps the men with their CVs, so opportunities to secure a job are there before offenders even set foot back into the community.
On accommodation, the prison is also successful. Currently, on the day of release, 85% of men are getting into prepared accommodation—the 15% who do not are referred to the local authority. The prison joined a construction industry training board pilot scheme, where offenders are trained in prison in trades such as bricklaying, plastering, joinery and welding. Components are manufactured in the workshops for affordable, environmentally friendly houses being built for more than 130 families in Ruthin and Llangefni on behalf of Williams Homes, and jobs are available with that firm on release. Next month, DesignLSM, in collaboration with the actor Fred Sirieix, will transform the food hall in the prison into a high-street business run by prisoners to provide them with the opportunity to gain qualifications and experience in hospitality.
Berwyn prison is the second-largest prison in Europe and the largest in the UK. It started off with good intentions of promoting rehabilitation. Cells were called “rooms” and wings “communities”, and internet was provided. There have been some appalling teething troubles, but the prison, its governor, Nick Leader, and his staff must be given full credit for the initiatives they have taken. I am sure that the Bill will be welcomed in that community.