Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 30th June 2020.

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[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

The Committee deliberated in private.

Examination of Witness

Mark Fairhurst gave evidence.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury 9:26 am, 30th June 2020

Our first witness is Mark Fairhurst, national chairman of the Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers. Mr Fairhurst is participating via Zoom this morning, and I think it is just on audio, so it might be slightly tricky. Please bear with us. Do we have Mr Fairhurst?

Mark Fairhurst:

Good morning.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

Good morning. Would you briefly just introduce yourself and your organisation, please?

Mark Fairhurst:

I am national chair of the Prison Officers Association. We represent prison officers in every prison in the United Kingdom and secure psychiatric services as well.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

Thank you very much. We will start with questions. We have until 9.55 am, when we have to end the session bang on the dot. First, I will ask the Minister if he would like to ask some questions.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q 142 Mr Fairhurst, good morning. Let me start by thanking you for joining us and giving evidence this morning. I also thank you and all your members on behalf of the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor, and I am sure the whole House of Commons, for the extraordinary dedication that your members show in discharging their duties in prisons up and down the country.

Mark Fairhurst:

Thank you. That is most welcome, and it will be appreciated.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q Good. May I start by asking about the monitoring and risk assessment that goes on in prisons? The reason I am asking is that, as you probably know, the Bill provides for serious terrorist offenders to stay in prison for the whole of their prison term, without the prospect of early release, so it is very important that we monitor and assess the risks during that sentence. Can you talk a bit about the work that is done in prisons to monitor and assess the risk of prisoners on an ongoing basis, both during the sentence and in the run-up to their release?

Mark Fairhurst:

Sure. It is very much intelligence led and risk based. Throughout a TACT offender’s sentence, they will be allocated a key worker officer, who will get to know them and help them through their sentence plan. During that sentence plan, they will be offered the opportunity to address their offending behaviour, and they will be offered two deradicalisation programmes while they are in custody.

Staff will observe their behaviour on the wings, and who they mix with, and they will submit intelligence reports on a regular basis, specifically if they have concerns around radical behaviour while an offender is in custody. That will then lead to a multi-agency approach, and when the offender is coming up to their release point with the Parole Board, we put in place MAPPA arrangements. We will have reports from prison officers, psychologists, psychiatrists and healthcare, and we will liaise with security services, and a full picture will be presented prior to that person’s release.

As we have just witnessed with the Streatham attacker, he left prison as a high-risk, category A offender. The intelligence and the risks that we highlighted to the security services led to him being monitored 24 hours a day, because he was a significant risk to the public. When you look at it in that vein, what we did was appropriate and led to an atrocity being avoided because of the swift reaction. So I think we have got the risk part of the sentence planning really sufficient while in custody.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q Let me congratulate your colleagues on the work that they did in identifying the Streatham risk. Interestingly in the Streatham case, the release point was automatic; there was no Parole Board involvement. Just to be absolutely clear, all of the risk assessment that you have described—the MAPPA, the psychologists’ reports and everything else that was then passed on to the police—can and does happen, even where there is no Parole Board involvement in the release, as was the case in Streatham and as would be the case under the new sentences we are talking about.

Mark Fairhurst:

Yes, that is correct, even—[Inaudible] —reached the halfway point, because legislation dictated that we had no option but to do that. The intelligence we had gathered on his antisocial behaviour and radical behaviour in prison led the Security Service to believe that they were right in following and monitoring him upon his release so extensively. That would be the case in this situation as well. I believe that, with this Bill, at the two-thirds point, people must go through a parole process.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q Well, no. For some offenders that is the case, but the most serious offenders will serve the entirety of their prison sentence in prison. Some will get Parole Board appraisal at the two-thirds point, but under this new legislation the most serious will spend the whole sentence in prison, which leads me on to my next question. Some people have suggested that without the prospect of Parole Board early release, it might be harder to control prisoners’ behaviour, because you have not got the carrot of early release that can be offered. Is that an analysis you share, or do you think that there are other ways of controlling prisoner behaviour in prison, even where there is no prospect of early Parole Board release?

Mark Fairhurst:

That is a really valid point, and these concerns have been expressed from the frontline. I can give you an example. At the moment, if we are going to extend the sentences, and we are going to insist that the most serious offenders spend the entire sentence in prison, that will increase headroom in the high-security estate. Also, it incentivises people not to behave correctly or to go on deradicalisation courses.

For example, at the moment, we have funding, and we should have open three separation centres, but we have only got one, with a small number of the most influential and serious terrorist offenders, in play. That leads to serious concerns from my members who are in that separation centre at HMP Frankland, because we are now in a situation where the prisoners who are housed there are not engaging with staff whatever. We have had a really violent assault on a prison officer, and there is nowhere to transfer those prisoners to if they show violence towards staff or if they become a security risk. That is why we need more separation centres open, especially with the implementation of this Bill. More concerningly, there is now no incentive for good behaviour.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q Clearly, those sentences are going to be served in full for reasons of public protection. You would probably agree that it is very hard to assess the risk of these kinds of terrorist offenders, particularly if they pretend to comply with deradicalisation programmes, but do not really mean it. Given that we are going to have these sentences served in full—it is a rather similar concept to automatic release at the halfway point, with no Parole Board involvement, and, of course, the majority of offences currently have automatic release at the halfway point with no Parole Board involvement—what measures do you think we should put in place to ensure good behaviour for those prisoners with no Parole Board early release? You mentioned additional separation centres, which is a very good idea. Can you talk the Committee through other steps that might be taken to ensure good behaviour by prisoners where the Parole Board carrot does not exist, whether that is SDS offenders currently or these new offenders in future?

Mark Fairhurst:

I think the separation centres are the key. We need three open because, as you are all aware, the rise of the far right is a real concern for the security services. It would be unwise to put high-profile far-right extremist offenders in the same separation centre as Islamist extremist offenders, with staff stuck in the middle. That is the key point here.

To come to your point, what can we do to incentivise people to take part in deradicalisation courses if they know they are going to serve their full sentence? All we can do on the frontline is our best, and that is to try to engage with people, get to know them and encourage them to take part in deradicalisation. We involve imams and community groups to come in and speak to these people. We just keep chipping away, because it is down to the individual. Only the individual can change. We can encourage them to change. We can give them the ideas to change and the courses to help them change, but it is down to the individual. The biggest fear from the frontline is, “If I know, as a terrorist offender, that I am going to serve my full sentence, and I am not going to get any chance of early release, I might totally disengage, and that might reinforce my radical views, which leads me to a disruptive life inside.” That is the biggest fear.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand, although, of course, if they step over the criminal threshold, they will be prosecuted. Equally, there is no value in people pretending to engage with deradicalisation programmes just to secure early release, so we need to be mindful of that risk as well. Thank you, Mr Fairhurst.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Good morning, Mark. I want to reiterate the Minister’s thanks to the people out there who are working so hard—your colleagues in the prisons. I have a prison in my constituency, and I get an insight into the pressures that are facing not just prisoners and their families but prison officers and their families as well.Q

You recently made a film called “The forgotten service”. In that film, you talk about the lack of support for prison officers, particularly around mental health, and there are other issues as well. Somebody responded to that film by saying—I hope the Chair will forgive the swear word in the middle—

“I left 3 months ago from the high security estate, after 18 years I had seen enough. Too much political bullshit, ridiculous workload, rubbish managers causing dramas, and good managers having to pick up all the pieces”.

Few would disagree that the main measures in the Bill are right, but what needs to happen in prisons to ensure that they can cope with the ramifications of it?

Mark Fairhurst:

Mental health is a massive issue at the moment. We are getting more and more members suffering from PTSD. When you take the sentiments in that statement from that member of staff who left the service, I can echo every one of those.

What you have got to understand is that staff on the frontline are doing an absolutely fantastic job. They will monitor individuals’ behaviours and make a referral. The current system goes through a three-stage referral process, with the ultimate decision being made to remove someone from the main population to a separation centre at stage three. Very few of those referrals from staff get approved, because of the red tape and the legal challenges. It seems to staff on the frontline that the legal challenges are the major stopping point and buffer to removing people, who are a real danger in the normal population, to a separation centre.

You will eventually have complete apathy from staff, who keep referring people they think should be separated from the main population and keep getting knocked back. That has a knock-on effect, because, day after day, they have to deal with people who are threatening them, who are underhand, who are trying to radicalise people. Day after day, they know that if they make a referral, there is a good chance that that person will not be moved from the main population.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Q Yes, but what actually needs to happen in prisons to overcome some of these challenges that officers are facing?

Mark Fairhurst:

You need mental health support. You need some sort of counselling service on site five days a week during the working week. You need training to help staff cope, to spot the signs of radicalisation and danger. There is good training on offer if you work in a separation centre, but not for the main body of staff who work on the wings. You need to recognise that staff are under stress, so you need to rotate their jobs so that they are not in a high-stress situation year after year. We need more staff on site to assist us as well, to help prevent trouble breaking out.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Q That is helpful, Mark. I am sorry to keep cutting across you, but we have not got very much time. I want to talk about capacity. In answer to the Minister, you mentioned that a terrorist offender could be offered one of two radicalisation programmes. What is capacity like in the system for providing that sort of programme?

Mark Fairhurst:

Spaces in the high-security estate, where most TACT offenders are housed, are at a premium. We have very few spaces at all in a high-security estate. We do have spaces on courses for deradicalisation programmes, but they are not mandatory; the offender has the choice of whether they wish to attend one. That is another issue: do we want to make these courses mandatory, and where is the incentive to go on a course if you know you will not be released early?

If we are going to increase sentences, I suspect that we will need extra headroom. We will certainly need the other two separation centres open, because of the rise of the far right, and we will certainly have to think about a high-security prison—perhaps specifically to house terrorist offenders. Although there are only approximately 230 in play at the moment, it may be an idea to separate them totally.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Q Okay. The Minister talked about the fact that the Parole Board would not have any role to play in the future for these determinate sentences. Would you like to comment on that? Will there be a full set of expertise available to prepare society and those who will deal with prisoners outside, if the Parole Board, with its expertise, does not have a role?

Mark Fairhurst:

I would like the Parole Board involved more, because it is an independent scrutiny body, but the measures we have in place at the moment are adequate. They work really well with the intelligence gathering from the shop floor, with the assessments and with multi-agency experts, including the security services. I do not think there is much more we can do, but I have no objections to the Parole Board being involved more as an independent scrutiny panel.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Q That is helpful. I have one more question. Young people will be subject to the same legislation as older, more mature people. Do you have any thoughts on that with regards to rehabilitation and their future?

Mark Fairhurst:

This is another issue. If you look at people under the age of 18 and at female offenders, do we have the capability to house them in a secure environment, or are we going to throw them into the adult estate? Throwing a young person into the adult estate due to the nature of their offence could have an adverse effect, so we need to come up with programmes for young offenders who commit terrorist crimes. I do not think we have that capability at the moment, but rehabilitation of a young person has more chance of success than rehabilitation of someone who is seasoned and radicalised. I feel that we have a big opportunity to make a difference in that field.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

That is very helpful. Thank you.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member)

Can I come back to the issue of incentivisation or early release? Do you believe that that is actually important, and in what way does it impact on your officers’ employment?Q

Mark Fairhurst:

I do think it is important to have an incentive for people to engage with rehabilitation and improve their behaviour. You must also consider that when terrorist offenders are released, they rarely reoffend. Only about 5% to 10% reoffend, compared with 50% to 60% of the general population. I understand that those who do reoffend are high profile and commit atrocities, but we are looking at a cohort that, on the whole, has a 90% success rate, because only 10%—max—reoffend. We need to take that into account when we are thinking about the future of the offender—not only when they are in prison and what we offer them there, but when they are released. I do not think anyone has mentioned that yet.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member)

Q In Scotland, we have a particular order called the order for lifelong restriction. That will be trumped by a mandatory sentence under the Bill. The order for lifelong restriction allows for release at any stage, but for recall on cause shown. Do you think that the order for lifelong restriction has merit?

Mark Fairhurst:

I like the sound of that, Kenny, I really do, because it gives people an incentive and gives them hope that they will be released before serving their full term, but they are also under no illusion that they will be monitored in the community, and if they commit an offence, they will end up back in prison. I like the idea of that. As you know, Scotland has a lot of good practices that we could adopt in England and Wales, and I ask people to seriously consider that element.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member)

Q Given the importance that appears to be getting put on polygraph tests, which are basically unknown within the Scottish jurisdiction at present, what training, if any, is given to prison staff?

Mark Fairhurst:

None whatsoever, Kenny. That would be down to some independent body responsible for performing polygraph tests. That is another skill that I would not mind staff getting trained in—it would be another string to our bow. How often is it going to get used? Is it going to be a regular occurrence? All these issues need to be ironed out, but I am not against the polygraph test and I am not against prison staff being trained in polygraph testing. However, I would guess that scrutiny panels would say that prison officers are not independent because they work with the offenders, so they would want a totally independent body to facilitate that.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice Team Member)

Q Finally, given the importance being put upon separation centres, which do not, so far as I know, exist in the Scottish Prison Service, have you any idea how your colleagues north of the border are expected to cope if a great deal of weight is being put upon them?

Mark Fairhurst:

This is the major concern from my colleagues at the only separation centre that is open, in Frankland. We have had one serious assault, and that member of staff had to be a moved away from the separation centre, because there is nowhere to transfer the prisoner. Once that prisoner goes to court, if he is convicted of that assault on the member of staff, where do we transfer him to? We do not. We keep him at Frankland.

We have got a Muslim member of staff at Frankland who is being moved from the separation centre because the terrorist offenders in that separation centre have threatened him. That is not right—staff are being penalised for doing their job because we do not have the capability to transfer violent and disruptive prisoners to another separation centre. We have funding for three, but we only have one open because of the red tape and the legalities of moving people into a separation centre, because apparently, if you have three or fewer prisoners in a separation centre, it is classed as segregation. Well, you know what? Staff on the frontline are not interested in how you term things; they are not interested in the legalities. They are interested in you keeping them safe and giving them the tools to do their job, so let us get these other two centres open and let us respect staff safety.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

Mr Fairhurst, let me echo the praise and the credit for your members that has already been mentioned. As a former non-executive director of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, I met many of your members, who do a tremendous job. What is your view of the current rehabilitation and deradicalisation programmes for terrorist offenders?Q

Mark Fairhurst:

I think we need a full review of those two courses, simply because of the last two atrocities, where both offenders had attended one of those courses. One was, in effect, a poster boy for one of the courses. I would like to see a full review, because what do we actually class as a success? Do we class success as offenders attending and passing those courses, or do we class as success the offender who attended those courses being released and not committing further atrocities? We need to look internationally at what is on offer for terrorist offenders, certainly around Europe, if not the world. We really need to review what we class as success, because I am not sure that those two courses offer what they should.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

Q On that basis, and given that it is accepted that the courses are certainly not perfect, is that not a strong argument for having longer sentences, with the offender required to spend the entire period in custody?

Mark Fairhurst:

That depends on what you are going to offer in the community. Are you going to offer them support services with charitable groups, or groups that specifically deal with terrorist offenders, which meet them at the gate, take them to accommodation, maybe get them out of the area where there is peer pressure, engage with Muslim communities—there is a lot of shame involved with terrorist offenders, who want to reform when they go back into their communities—and get imams involved? Are we going to invest in that side of things and incentivise people while they are in prison to attend these deradicalisation programmes, in the knowledge that there will be massive support systems in play for them when they are released, or do we keep going along the same path, where offenders are released with not much support in place, and if they are a risk, they are monitored? There is still a lot of work and research to do. We have some really intelligent people getting interviewed this morning, with some really positive, radical ideas that need to be taken on board.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

We have five minutes left. I call Ruth Cadbury, and then Sarah Dines.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Robertson.Q

Thank you very much for your contribution, Mr Fairhurst. In response to the last question, you covered Muslim terrorist offenders. You have talked about deradicalisation, incentives to go straight and the success rate—the small percentage of terrorist offenders who reoffend. Do those figures and your general thoughts apply also to the growing number of far-right terrorists we are now seeing coming into the criminal justice system?

Mark Fairhurst:

This is a completely new dynamic, but let me tell you this: if we have prolific far-right extremist offenders in the general population, they will be able to influence and recruit far more prisoners than Islamist extremists ever could. They will get more support. They will be a similar threat to what IRA prisoners were. They will have a lot of contacts in communities. They will be able to get staff details and addresses, and be more of a threat. That is why it is absolutely essential that we open the other two separation centres. What we do not want is, first, a situation where you have far-right extremists in the same centre as Islamist extremists or, secondly, a situation where a prolific right-wing extremist offender is recruiting in the general population and causing chaos. We really need to rethink this.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

Q Is the potential for deradicalisation among those prisoners there in the same way as it is for those prisoners you talked about earlier?

Mark Fairhurst:

Yes, without a doubt. At the moment, we only have these two programmes: healthy identity and desist and disengage. We need to look at alternatives, because the far right is a completely different dynamic. It has not really raised its head above the parapet in our prisons at this moment in time, but I can assure you that it is on its way, because it is on the rise.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines Conservative, Derbyshire Dales

Mr Fairhurst, you touched on polygraph testing, which is a new tool that would be used on licence under clause 32. Do you think it would be a useful tool, delivered not by prison officers but by specialist providers, to avoid the situation that you highlighted, where people are released, having undergone a rehabilitation programme—a deradicalisation programme—that has clearly failed? Is the polygraph therefore going to be a useful, essential tool?Q

Mark Fairhurst:

Yes, I agree with that. It will be an essential tool, but it would also be essential if we had an incentive to release people early, and prior to their release they were given a polygraph and asked about their future intentions. That is something else to consider. I agree: it is very useful. I have no opposition to it.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines Conservative, Derbyshire Dales

So you agree with clause 32? That provision would be useful?

Mark Fairhurst:

Most definitely, yes. I would not like to see it removed.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

That is the end of that session. Mr Fairhurst, thank you very much for joining us.

Mark Fairhurst:

You are very welcome. Thank you for your thoughts about frontline staff. We appreciate your support. Thank you very much.