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Safety in Prisons

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2016

15. What is his Department doing to improve safety in prisons; and if he will make a statement. (903249)

Violence in prisons has increased in recent years. The nature of the offenders who are currently in custody and the widespread availability of novel psychoactive substances have contributed to prisons becoming less safe. There is no simple single solution that will improve safety in prisons, but we are making progress. We are trialling the use of body-worn cameras and training sniffer dogs to detect NPS, but ultimately the only way to reduce violence is to give governors the tools to more effectively reform and rehabilitate prisoners.

One threat to safety inside and outside prisons is the ability of inmates to access mobile phones. On Friday, a serving prisoner at Rochester prison was sentenced to 12 years for arranging the supply of reactivated firearms via a mobile phone from his prison cell. Random checks are only so good and prison officers do their best, but I think it is time to cut off the head of the snake and go for mobile phone jamming devices.

We already employ a number of measures. We have body orifice scanning chairs, metal detecting wands, signal detectors and blockers, and specially trained dogs. My hon. Friend is right that we need to refocus and redouble our efforts in this area, particularly in respect of the use of blockers and detectors. I assure him that the Secretary of State and I are fully engaged in this area.

The safety of young people in our prison estate was, as we have heard, called into question by the “Panorama” programme about Medway secure training centre. What assurances can be provided that the safety of young people across the prison estate, not just in Medway, is being prioritised?

My hon. Friend will have heard the answer that the Secretary of State gave to a previous question on this issue. I will not repeat that, save to say that we take this issue extremely seriously. That is why the Secretary of State commissioned Charlie Taylor, the former chief executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, to conduct a review of youth justice and youth custody across the piece. That will have not only safety at its heart, but improved outcomes for young people in custody.

The example of Medway shows that the use of restraint for good order and discipline can be exploited. Will the inquiry look into that issue across all prisons, because I do not think it is appropriate in this day and age?

There are occasions in custody when, for the safety of the young person and others, we have to use restraint. The chief inspector has acknowledged that the new process of minimising and managing physical restraint is an improvement, but that is the case only if it is used properly and appropriately, and not if it is abused. We are very mindful of that.

The report by the outgoing chief inspector of prisons quoted a member of staff at HMP Wormwood Scrubs as saying that one cell was so unsafe,

“I wouldn’t keep a dog in there.”

I know that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but will the Minister tell us what is being done to deal with the Tory prisons crisis?

I hope that the hon. Lady would be fair enough to recognise that this Government have accepted that much of our prison estate is simply not good enough. It is too old, it is inappropriate and we cannot provide the education or work that we need to provide. That is why the Chancellor has provided £1.3 billion to build nine new prisons, in addition to the new prison that we are building in north Wales, the new house blocks that we have delivered and the two further house blocks that we are going to deliver. We want a fit-for-purpose estate where we can rehabilitate people properly.