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Prisons

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 31 January 2008

My right honourable friend, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Following the Government’s response to the report by Lord Carter of Coles into the long-term supply and demand of prison places in December, (5 December 2007, Official Report, col. 827) I would like to provide the House with an update on progress to date. Prison Policy UpdateBriefing Paper, outlining further detail on today’s announcements and an update on the supply measures which we are putting in place following the report of Lord Carter of Coles is published on the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.gov.uk. Copies have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

The briefing paper sets out progress so far on the prison building programme announced in December. We announced then that we would provide a further 10,500 prison places on top of the 9,500 place programme previously announced. This will lead to a net increase in prison places of 15,000 by 2014. This year alone 2,500 new prison places will be delivered, of which more than 1,000 will be operational before the end of April. A further 1,600 are planned for 2009.

The paper also sets out details on how “Titan” prisons will work. We plan to build up to three Titan prisons by 2014 and a consultation on the design of such complexes will begin in April. This will build on the success of clustering small prisons together; for example, at the Isle of Sheppey. We are starting to identify suitable sites for Titans, housing 2,500 prisoners each, in the south-east, West Midlands and the north-west. We are also launching a competition for a new prison ship and have begun a consultation for a new prison at the former RAF Coltishall airfield.

The announcements I am making today signal a major drive to overcome some of the barriers to the rehabilitation of offenders. Our primary aim in doing so is further to aid the work we are already doing on cutting reoffending. These measures are focused on tackling drug use among offenders and providing opportunities for offenders to learn the new skills which might help them to a life away from crime outside prison.

These announcements are framed by a sense of what the community can expect from those who break the law. We will provide opportunities for offenders to learn the skills which will present the hope of a new life on release, but in return we will set out what the community expects from those offenders who take up these opportunities. I have asked my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Prisons (David Hanson) to bring forward proposals for a clearer “contract” between offenders and the community.

In the mean time, I am announcing today a range of new measures on prison work and industries, on tackling drugs and on community justice. These build on the announcements we made in response to Lord Carter of Coles’ review of prisons, including Lord Bradley’s review of mental health issues.

First, we will increase the range of constructive work available to offenders inside prison, and in turn their job opportunities on the outside. We have an existing corporate alliance with more than 70 employers, in addition to those working in individual prisons and probation areas, but the Government are now committed to expanding this programme significantly. With ministerial colleagues from the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Prisons will shortly host a forum with leading figures from the private and third sectors to bring in more partners to provide prison training workshops.

Today we are also announcing the launch of a major new scheme at HMP Wandsworth, (with Cisco, Bovis Lend Lease and Panduit) to train prisoners in installing voice and data cabling. Providing enhanced vocational training to prisoners is instrumental in helping offenders turn away from crime, and giving them back a sense of stability, discipline and responsibility.

Secondly, we are taking further steps to tackle drug use in prison and in the community against a background over the past few years of a tenfold increase in investment in drugs work in prisons and a two-thirds fall in the number of prisoners testing positive for drugs in prison (from 24 per cent in 1996-97 to 8.8 per cent in 2006-07). But we are clear that we have to go further. This drive against drugs will cover both drug treatment programmes in prisons and the control of drugs in prisons, and will be jointly headed by two senior figures with relevant experience in each area, who will be announced shortly.

Ministers are urgently considering what further measures we need to take over controlling the supply of drugs into prisons, such as reviewing the criteria for open/closed visits across the prison estate, with a particular focus on local prisons. This will also look at introducing more rigorous searches, including the provision of more sniffer/search dogs.

As well as stamping out the supply of drugs, we are helping offenders kick the habit in prison. By April,  29 prisons will have introduced the integrated drug treatment system (IDTS), and I am pleased to announce that with the Department of Health we will be extending this scheme to a further 20 prisons over the next 12 months. IDTS provides better clinical services (funded by the Department of Health), such as improved detoxification programmes and greater continuity of care between the community and prisons, between prisons, and on release into the community, as well as helping offenders to address some of the deeper roots of their drug abuse.  Alongside this, we will also consider extending the number of drug-free wings where prisoners can access increased rehabilitation and support separate from known drug users.

In the community, we are increasing the provision of current community sentences that specifically target and intensively supervise offenders with a drug misuse problem by 1,000 next year. These are known as drug rehabilitation requirements (DRR). The aim of the DRR, which involves treatment, regular testing and court reviews of progress and rigorous enforcement, is to get offenders to stop offending, with the longer-term aim of getting them off drugs for good.

Thirdly, many offenders come from chaotic backgrounds, their lives ruined by the pernicious cycle of crime and drug abuse. Subject to the current evaluation of the Leeds and West London pilots, we will extend our successful dedicated drug courts to four further areas, in which courts look to address the causes of offending along with the offence.

We will also bring forward pilots of models for court diversion and reviewable community orders for those with mental health issues. These will be based on models in the American and Australian jurisdictions. Problem-solving approaches applied to mental health builds on experience developed within HMCS relating to community justice, domestic violence courts and drugs court pilots, all aimed at ensuring that the courts respond effectively to problems in the criminal justice system.

For many offenders on sentences of less than 12 months community-based punishments are proven to be more effective at reducing reoffending than short prison terms. Therefore, we will fund at least six intensive alternatives to custody projects with new investment of £13.9 million over the next three years. The first such project will begin in Derbyshire in March, and will include a combination of unpaid work, electronic monitoring, behaviour programmes, mentoring, and help with resettlement, all under intensive supervision. More than 6 million hours of unpaid work are already carried out in the community each year. With the Department of Communities and Local Government we will further build on community payback, such as through options like citizens’ panels to decide on which projects offenders should undertake in their local area.

Today’s announcements should be set in the context of an impressive criminal justice record. This is the first post-war administration to preside over a sustained and substantial reduction in crime. The latest British Crime Survey/Recorded Crime Statistics demonstrated that overall crime has fallen a third since 1997, while the chances of being a victim of crime are the lowest since accurate recording began 27 years ago.

During the past decade more than 20,000 prison places have been provided due to more offenders being brought to justice, including 60 per cent more violent and dangerous offenders, and being sentenced for longer. We are fully committed to providing a net further 15,000 places by 2014. Meanwhile, prisons and the prison regime are almost unrecognisable from the institutions of 10 to 15 years ago. In spite of the pressures the prisons are under, they continue to be much more decent, humane and constructive places.