HM Prison Parc

3. Topical Questions – in the Senedd at on 5 June 2024.

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Photo of Sioned Williams Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

1. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the recent events at HMP Parc? TQ1102

Photo of Lesley Griffiths Lesley Griffiths Labour 3:02, 5 June 2024

The operational running of HMP Parc is reserved to the UK Government. I'm extremely concerned at the recent events and have sought frequent meetings with the relevant senior leadership teams.

Photo of Sioned Williams Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru

Diolch. The tragic and unacceptable situation that has been allowed to develop at HMP Parc in Bridgend is an absolute scandal. Last Wednesday a 38-year-old inmate died at the prison, bringing the jail's death toll to 10 in just over three months. Nine other inmates have died since 27 February, including four believed to be drug related, while one prison staff member has been arrested in connection with drug dealing there. Last Friday around 20 prisoners were reportedly involved in a riot; three inmates had to be rushed to hospital following the unrest. And, yes, while running prisons is the responsibility of the Westminster Government, these are Welsh citizens, Welsh families, that are paying a terrible price for the fact that prisoners' safety and health have not been assured. 

Parc prison is run by the private security giant G4S and is the only privately operated prison in Wales. Yesterday evening the director in charge of running the prison, Heather Whitehead, stepped down. When Plaid Cymru raised this matter with you back in the middle of last month, you stated that the Welsh Government

'is liaising with the UK Government and other partners to ensure action is being taken following the deaths.'

So, what action has been taken, Cabinet Secretary? You stated that you'd met and written to the Minister of State for Prisons, Parole and Probation, so could you provide us with an update on how those discussions went? Did you push for Parc prison to be returned to public control? Do you support calls made by Plaid Cymru that private companies should not be running prisons in Wales and that the privatised model has utterly failed at Parc? 

Plaid Cymru believes that if Wales had its own justice system, we could most effectively focus on tackling the root causes of offending and reoffending, and emphasise prevention rather than perpetuating a cycle of violence. Do you agree that devolved control of services at all Welsh prisons would allow the Welsh Government's health and social policies to be better aligned with justice? In your answer, when we raised this issue with you last month, and so much has happened since then, you stated that you did support the devolution of justice to Wales. So, will you pledge today to make that case to Keir Starmer, should he be leading the new UK Government come July?

(Translated)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Photo of Lesley Griffiths Lesley Griffiths Labour 3:05, 5 June 2024

Thank you. Well, I will certainly be making that case, as you say, hopefully to a UK Labour Government, but I shall be doing be doing it to any colour Government, because I absolutely think the Welsh Government's position is very clear: we do believe that justice and policing in Wales should be run by the people of Wales in the interest of Wales. I disagree with very little of what you have said. I am greatly concerned about the brevity of the incidents, which really alarm me, at Parc prison. As I said in my original answer to you, I have sought frequent meetings with a variety of people in relation to the prison. I did meet with the prisons' Minister once; I've asked to meet with him again. I appreciate we're in the middle of an election period, but my concern is so great that I would very much want to meet with him again. I've just met with the executive director again today, of HMPPS in Wales, to seek some assurance. The press notice that went out for G4S yesterday about the director was not shared with me. I don't think it was shared my officials, but it certainly wasn't shared with me ahead of that happening. I've asked for the action plan that G4S have brought forward, following their improvement notice, to be shared with me as a matter of urgency. I don't think profits should feature in the running of prisons anywhere in the UK.

Photo of Altaf Hussain Altaf Hussain Conservative 3:06, 5 June 2024

Cabinet Secretary, recent events at HMP Parc have been deeply disturbing and I welcome the resignation of the prison's director. While we await the outcome of the inquests to the tragic deaths at the prison, we have to ensure that the current prison population and their families are fully supported. The responsibility of prisons remain a matter for the UK Government, but the Welsh Government is responsible for the health services provided to the prison estate in Wales. Therefore, Cabinet Secretary, what discussions have you had with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care about the actions taken to support the mental health of the prisoners, and their families, who have been impacted by recent events?

Photo of Lesley Griffiths Lesley Griffiths Labour 3:07, 5 June 2024

Well, as I say, the operational running of the prison is absolutely the responsibility of the UK Government, and it is imperative that the staff and inmates are not impacted again in the way that they have. My thoughts certainly go out to the staff and the inmates. My last meeting with the deputy directors of HMP Parc was a joint meeting with my colleague Jayne Bryant, the Minister for Mental Health and Early Years, to discuss absolutely that. So, from a health point of view, as you say, the Welsh Government is responsible for health services within the prison, and it was a very useful meeting that I held with Jayne Bryant and myself, along with officials from HMPPS, and also the deputy director, as I say, at Parc prison, and, obviously, those conversations will continue. I've been in post around 10 or 11 weeks, and every week it seems to me there is something that concerns me, and the UK Government really need to get to grips with this.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour 3:08, 5 June 2024

Drug dealing and illegal use of drugs is not exclusive to Parc prison, but it's undoubtedly exacerbated by the gross overcrowding in most of our prisons, as well as the shortages of staff. So, people are spending far too long locked up in their cells, rather than involved in activities to rehabilitate them. Given the numbers of vulnerable people in prisons—people with mental health problems and learning difficulties—what conversations may you have had with the Cabinet Secretary for health, given that the services that are delivered to help people with their drug addiction and their mental health difficulties are run by the Welsh NHS? I wondered if this is something that you might be able to take up with Will Styles, who's recently been appointed as the governor, to ensure that those staff are able to reach all of the vulnerable prisoners, as well as are able to work safely and not be subject to violence themselves? 

Photo of Lesley Griffiths Lesley Griffiths Labour 3:09, 5 June 2024

Thank you. I will certainly be seeking a meeting with Will Styles who, as you say, is the new director at HMP Parc. I mentioned in my answer to Altaf Hussain that I had a joint meeting with the Minister for mental health because I thought it was really important that we both expressed our concern around recent events. I don't want to speculate in relation to the 10 inmates who have died. Obviously that is now a matter for the ombudsman. But there is clearly an issue that I think has been addressed by the staff at HMP Parc. It's really important that that work continues, and I will certainly continue to have discussions with the Minister.

Photo of Luke Fletcher Luke Fletcher Plaid Cymru 3:10, 5 June 2024

Of course, everything that has gone on in Parc right now has caused serious concern for a number of people. G4S are proving that they're unable to run the prison, just like they proved they were unable to run Birmingham, and just like Birmingham, it should be taken back into the hands of the prison service, and out of private hands.

You mentioned you had meetings with partners. Could you tell us what was discussed in those meetings and what you asked them to do? And finally, I just want to emphasize as well the support that is provided to the prisoners, to the staff at the prison, but as well the families, because with everything that's gone on at the moment, no doubt this is having a serious impact on their mental health.

Photo of Lesley Griffiths Lesley Griffiths Labour 3:11, 5 June 2024

Absolutely. I mentioned I'd had meetings with the senior leadership team, so obviously the officials in the probation service, the representatives for Wales, and I met with the deputy directors—that was on one occasion—from Parc prison. And we did discuss just that point that you've made around the impact on families—well, so many people, communities and families. They are undertaking work, but that work needs to continue at pace. But as I say, the operational running of the prison is a matter for the UK Government. I think it's really important that I do meet again with the Minister for probation, policing and prisons. I appreciate we're in the middle of an election period, but nobody's eye can be taken off the ball in relation to this, because as I say, the frequency of issues that really raise concern with me is alarming.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:12, 5 June 2024

(Translated)

I thank the Cabinet Secretary.