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Prisoners (Dependent Children)

Volume 404: debated on Monday 28 April 2003

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What proportion of (a) male and (b) female prison inmates have dependent children. [109764]

Information on the number of prisoners with dependent children is not routinely collected. However, surveys conducted between 1994 and 2000 indicated that 59 per cent. of men and 66 per cent. of women had dependent children. The Prison Service works closely with family support groups in maintaining prisoners' family ties.

May I suggest to my hon. Friend that such information should be routinely collected and published? Does he note from the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" trial that the judge stated that he was not going to give an immediate prison sentence to Major Ingram and his wife because they had dependent children, yet many working-class women get immediate prison sentences for relatively minor offences when they have dependent children? Does my hon. Friend agree with the Halliday report that there must be more consistency and, if that principle is to be applied, that it must be done so more broadly? [Interruption.]

I am just waiting for the outbreak of coughing to subside.

I agree that there needs to be greater consistency. On the collection of information, part of the difficulty is that 200,000 or so people pass through prison every year and prisoners may not always choose to give correct information about their family circumstances when they are first questioned. However, we have just completed the second of our resettlement surveys of about 2,000 prisoners who are about to leave prison and who may be more inclined to give accurate information about their family circumstances and those relating to their children. We shall publish that later in the year.

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the importance of maintaining family ties to reduce reoffending is now better understood across the criminal justice system. It is one reason why the Prison Service is working much more in partnership with voluntary organisations to maintain family links. I saw a good example of that at Wayland prison in the eastern region, where, as a result of our partnership with the Lankelly Foundation and the Ormiston Children and Families Trust, it is operating an all-day visits facility for children so that they can spend time with their fathers.

The hon. Gentleman's emollience is all very well, but what plans does he have to stop or minimise the operation of the "churn"—the phenomenon whereby often large-scale movements and transfers of prisoners take place, critically at short or no notice—given that the effect of those disruptive movements damages the chance of training, undermines the prospects of rehabilitation and reduces the links between prisoners and their families?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the disadvantages that the phenomenon of churn, which he accurately described, creates for prisons in trying to work with prisoners and for prisoners themselves. One of the answers is to provide additional prison places so that we can reduce the rate of churn, which is precisely what the Government are doing, as he will be only too well aware.