HM Prison Parc

3. Topical Questions – in the Senedd at on 15 May 2024.

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Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the issues highlighted at HM Prison Parc? TQ1083

Photo of Lesley Griffiths Lesley Griffiths Labour 3:18, 15 May 2024

Thank you. I send my sincere condolences to all those affected by the recent deaths at HMP Parc prison. The operational running of prisons is reserved, however Welsh Government is liaising with the UK Government and other partners to ensure action is being taken following the deaths. As with all deaths in custody, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will investigate.

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

 Thank you for the response, Cabinet Secretary.

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru

And, of course, it’s good to hear that liaison is happening, but what direct conversations is Welsh Government having with the G4S officials at Parc prison? The stories coming out of Parc prison are very concerning: two deaths within hours of each other, those being the eighth and ninth deaths in the space of two months, as well as alleged open drug use, neglect of inmates’ health—I could go on. Would she also support the calls of her colleague Beth Winter that Parc should ultimately be brought back under Government control, and would she also agree that the long-awaited devolution of justice would help us actually deal with the situation ourselves?

Photo of Lesley Griffiths Lesley Griffiths Labour 3:19, 15 May 2024

Thank you. As I say, there is that partnership approach going forward. Whilst the running of prisons is a reserved matter, of course, the health of prisoners here in Wales is devolved to the Welsh Government. I’ve already met with the Minister of State for Prisons, Parole and Probation, Edward Argar, last month. I’ve also written to him this week. As you mentioned, there have been two further deaths this month. I think it’s really important that we recognise we don’t know the cause of death of the individuals. That’s a matter obviously for the coroner, and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman is looking into these and will publish reports in due course, but, of course, the police did confirm in March that they believed some of the deaths were linked to substance misuse.

I heard the call, I think it was yesterday, in Parliament by Beth Winter to have the Ministry of Justice replace G4S in running the prison. At the current time, what's really important is we all come together to work together to ensure the safety of both prisoners and staff at Parc, but that's certainly something that I will be speaking to the Minister in the UK Government about, and, as you know, the Government supports the devolution of justice.

Photo of Sarah Murphy Sarah Murphy Labour

Thank you, Llywydd, for granting this topical question today. As the Member for Bridgend, I'm obviously getting a lot of constituents who are getting in touch with me, and I also want to refer to Chris Elmore, the MP for Ogmore, who put in an urgent question in Westminster as well this week. My thoughts are, of course, with the inmates who are no longer with us and with their families. Every death is a tragedy, regardless of the circumstances, and I would also like to thank Heather Whitehead, the governor of Parc, for engaging with me over the recent months as the deaths have, sadly, increased.

The UK Minister made reference in his speech to the spice in the prison and questions around naloxone, which is needed, obviously, in those very desperate circumstances to prevent tragedy. There are also concerns within the Bridgend community that the prison is a catalyst for spice, because it is being transferred in and out of the prison. So, Cabinet Secretary, can you expand on the work that is being done with the MoJ, Public Health Wales officials and Bridgend County Borough Council intervention teams to bring some sort of control of the drug abuse taking place inside and outside the prison?

I also want to pay tribute to the prison staff. They are working in what are extremely difficult circumstances. Issues around staff-to-prisoner ratios have still not been dealt with, and it is vital that we ensure that prison officers who are having to deal with the deaths over the past nine to 10 weeks are receiving the mental health support that they so desperately need. I would just like to say that there is a lot of speculation, accusations and abuse of those prison staff online. They are unable to comment or say anything back, but I believe that it is really making things very difficult for them.

Finally, can the Cabinet Secretary expand on any work that is being done with our health board, Cwm Taf Morgannwg? I have had some constructive meetings with the health providers over recent weeks, but there does appear to be a disconnect between the reality on the ground in the prison and what the Ministry of Justice seems to be saying. I would be grateful for any update that you can give, really, to bring some calm to the situation, as my colleague Chris Elmore MP also asked for in Westminster, to the prison estate and also to the wider Bridgend community. Diolch.

Photo of Lesley Griffiths Lesley Griffiths Labour 3:22, 15 May 2024

Thank you. I think you raise some very important points, and I too want to pay tribute to the staff at the prison who are having to deal with a very difficult situation, and I suppose that's what I was trying to say in my answer to Luke Fletcher—a lot of this is around speculation. It's really important people do not speculate and we wait for the reports to be published by the ombudsman, and also for the causes of death to come forward from the coroner.

As I say, there's a huge amount of work being done. I think it's really important that the UK Government focus on ensuring that they gather intelligence on the drug entry points. I think that's a really important piece of work that needs to be done. Movements within the prison—there have been extensive searches, I know, undertaken of prisoners and staff, and they've run drug amnesties, for instance, and they've expanded the use of naloxone at the prison. As a Government, obviously, we are looking at what we can do to support the health board in the delivery of that healthcare in our prisons. As you know, as a Government, we're doing work around mental health and substance misuse strategies, we've also got a new substance misuse treatment framework coming forward for our prisons here in Wales. So, I'll be very happy to update Members as we go through this process at the current time.

Photo of Altaf Hussain Altaf Hussain Conservative 3:24, 15 May 2024

Thank you for the update, Cabinet Secretary. I know colleagues at Westminster, as you said, have raised concerns with the MoJ and the prisons Minister. The number of deaths at Parc is deeply concerning, and I sought to raise a topical question on this subject last week. My thoughts are with the families of those who have passed. Although we don't know the whole picture at present, it does appear that many of these deaths are drug-related, and while the running of the prison estate is a matter for the UK Government, the Welsh Government has a role to play in ensuring the health and well-being of those on the estate. Therefore, Cabinet Secretary, what discussions have you had with the Cabinet Secretary for health about ensuring that sufficient drug rehabilitation services are available to Parc inmates and the number of inmates on substance misuse registers?

Photo of Lesley Griffiths Lesley Griffiths Labour 3:25, 15 May 2024

Thank you. I repeat that I really do not want to hear any speculation, but I absolutely accept Welsh Government's part in the delivery of healthcare at HMP Parc. I haven't had a specific meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services, but, obviously, our officials are working very closely together, along with other partners—Public Health Wales, for instance—in ensuring that the staff at the prison are able to access the healthcare for the prisoners that is required. I think, once we have the reports published by the ombudsman, once we have the coroner's reports as well, we really will need to look at learning lessons, not just us, but the UK Government as well, and we really will need to draw on the expertise of the ombudsman.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 3:26, 15 May 2024

(Translated)

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for those responses.