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Prisoners: Rehabilitation

Volume 697: debated on Monday 14 January 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have any plans to increase the resources committed to the rehabilitation of life prisoners who have served more than their tariff.

My Lords, all life-sentence prisoners should have a sentence plan that includes appropriate interventions to promote rehabilitation, including where their tariffs have expired. In negotiating service-level agreements with prisons, regional offender managers will need to take this into account when allocating resources.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. My Question derived from the experience of a man who was convicted of murder at the age of about 20 and given a tariff of 15 years. He has now been in prison for 27 years, consistently denying the offence. I understand that the rehabilitation of such long-term prisoners is based very much on acceptance of their guilt. Does the Minister accept that rehabilitation needs to be aimed especially at those who, like the man I mentioned, deny their guilt? Secondly, does the Minister accept that, with more lifers in British prisons than in the whole of France, Germany, Russia and Turkey combined, the very high levels of recidivism among prisoners and the Government’s need to double their planned expenditure on prisons to £2.5 billion to accommodate an extra 10,000 prisoners, we have an urgent need to review the amount of money that we are spending on the successful rehabilitation of prisoners so that they become good citizens rather than stay in prisons?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises some profound questions about prison policy. The release of prisoners such as the ones he mentions is a matter for the Parole Board and is done on the basis of risk of harm.

On access to programmes for people who deny their offence, some offender management programmes will not be suitable because they are concerned with discussions about the offence itself, but other educational and training programmes are available, and people who have denied their offence are regularly released by the Parole Board.

On the noble Lord’s general question, we are due to debate that. The Government believe that they are on track, that they have the right programme and that prison is and should be available for the most serious offences but that community sentences should be used for other offenders.

My Lords, the Government are cutting prison funding next year by some 3 per cent. How on earth will that improve the ability of the Prison Service to do its job?

My Lords, the Ministry of Justice itself will see a 1.7 per cent reduction per year in real terms over the next CSR period. There is indicative funding for the National Offender Management Service, from which the Prison Service is funded, of a 2.5 per cent cash increase per annum over the CSR period. Extra resources will be made available for the expansion of prison programmes. I do not deny that this is a challenging budget, but we will do everything that we can to ensure that the kind of programmes to which the noble Lord has referred will remain funded in the future. It is worth making the point that, in the past few years, we have seen a considerable expansion in those offender management programmes.

My Lords, in 1999, I published, as Chief Inspector of Prisons, a report on lifers. It contained figures produced by the then Lord Chief Justice that showed that 60 per cent of all lifers were exceeding their tariff by at least a year before being released. That is not to say that they should all be released but, hidden among this, in addition to those in denial, were a large number of people who never got into any programmes. The administration in the service for seeing them out was inefficient. Will the Minister say what the percentage is now? Surely in times of heavy overcrowding, you want to get rid of the people who should not be there, including the people who are of no risk and with a tariff that has expired.

My Lords, I do not have hard figures available, although I fully understand the noble Lord’s point. I am not aware of lifers with problems getting on accredited offender behaviour management programmes, but we will continue to keep this matter very much under review. It is worth making the point that there has been very encouraging progress in increasing the number of programmes available.

My Lords, despite the pressure on resources, are there any plans in the next year to increase the number of Parole Board places? In light of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, does the Minister concede that offending behaviour courses should be available in all prisons where people serving life sentences are housed?

My Lords, on the second point, it is very important that the allocation of prisoners is done flexibly to make sure that the programmes to which the noble Baroness has referred are available. That is part of the changes and developments that have now taken place in the Prison Service. As far as the Parole Board is concerned, there have been issues around oral hearings, a significant percentage of which have had to be deferred for one reason or another. We are very concerned to see that those difficulties are ironed out. A current National Audit Office study is looking at this matter and we will take that forward with a great deal of enthusiasm.

My Lords, in considering these important and complex matters, does the Minister agree that underlying all these decisions should be the protection of the innocent public?

My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend. There has been an increase in prison population, but part of that is because more offenders have been brought to justice. The aim of my department is to ensure that prison is available for those serious offenders who ought to be in prison. The other side of the policy is to encourage the use of community sentences, which can be hard sentences but none the less do not require the use of prison. We are getting the balance right at the same time as crime levels are coming down.

My Lords, if an individual is kept in prison for longer than the period that the trial judge deemed appropriate for the crime originally committed, he is, in effect, being punished no longer for what he has done in the past but for what it is feared he might do in the future. In other words, he is being kept in preventive detention in all but name. That being the case, should he not be granted as many privileges as possible, provided that security, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie pointed out, is not jeopardised?

No, my Lords. The release post-tariff of prisoners serving life sentences is a question for the Parole Board, as it must be. Its decisions are taken on the basis of its assessment of the risk. As far as indeterminate prison sentences are concerned, there is concern about those short-term sentences where the kind of programmes that noble Lords have mentioned are not yet available. We are putting our energies into that area at the moment.