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Prisons: Population

Volume 700: debated on Monday 31 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

When, on current rates of growth, they expect the prison population in England and Wales to exceed 85,000.

My Lords, taking into account the measures being introduced to manage demand for prison places as recommended in the report by my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles, we expect the prison population to exceed 85,000 in the second quarter of 2009.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that tomorrow marks the start of the new shorter prison day? To save £60 million, prisoners will be in their cells most of the time between noon on Friday and Monday morning, with no educational or rehabilitative activities. Is he also aware that the chairman of the Prison Governors Association has said that, with these changes, the average time spent out of cell each week for each prisoner is at its lowest for nearly 40 years? In the light of this reduction and the expected further cuts in expenditure next year, how many hours of rehabilitative activity per week will prisoners have in 2009 when the prison population reaches 85,000?

My Lords, the Prison Service has had to meet spending targets. Reducing the core day in the way in which the noble Baroness rightly said will be done will help the Prison Service to live within its budget. The aim is also to ensure that activities and programmes that reduce reoffending are protected. Of course we will want to ensure that over the years ahead we invest properly in reoffending and rehabilitation programmes. That is all part of the policy that the Government are taking forward.

My Lords, last Friday the Government released two terrorist prisoners early; no doubt they chose Friday because the House was not sitting. What commitment can the Government give that they will not grant any more terrorists automatic release half way through their sentences?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the number of terrorism-related cases that are likely to fall within the ECL criteria is very small. In the light of those cases, the Justice Secretary has decided to change the criteria for the ECL scheme so that any prisoner convicted under terrorism legislation would not be eligible in the future.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that, when the prison population reaches 85,000, the rate of imprisonment per 100,000 in Britain will be 154? The comparable rate in France is 91. Do we not have something to learn from the French? What about the entente amicale?

My Lords, we are always prepared to learn from our neighbours, as we are from other countries. Countries such as the US have much higher prison population rates. One reason why we have seen an increase in our prison population is that more offences are brought to justice. At the same time, we are seeing a reduction in crime in this country. Those are the outcomes that the public want.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons that a major cause of the present overcrowding of prisons is the indeterminate sentence for the protection of the public, which this Government invented in 2003? Is he aware that the number of those serving such sentences will soon be over 5,000, is estimated to be increasing at the rate of 1,800 a year and is further estimated according to the Home Office to reach the staggering figure of 12,500 in 2011? Is he satisfied that he is doing enough to meet that serious situation?

My Lords, we have to remember that the provisions were brought in to secure public protection. However, the noble and learned Lord is right to point to some of the issues that have arisen. He will know that in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which is before your Lordships at the moment, there are provisions to make modifications to that scheme. Those modifications will secure public protection but release some of the pressure on the prison population.

My Lords, the noble Lord will have seen the article in the Observer yesterday stating that the population of women prisoners has doubled between 1997 and 2006, with 90 per cent convicted for non-violent offences. All he has done is set up yet another review, an interdepartmental one on this occasion. Can he see why reformers such as the Howard League for Penal Reform call that response,

“reacting with yet more procrastination, delay and cowardice”?

Can he give the House hope that there will be some action on these matters instead?

My Lords, I do not share that analysis. The review by my noble friend Lady Corston was excellent. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, will know that we have accepted virtually all my noble friend’s recommendations and that we have set up a working mechanism to look at the development of small units. Of course we regard custody for women as a last resort. We are committed to seeing improvements. I am confident that the work being taken forward by my honourable friend Maria Eagle is the way to ensure the kind of changes that I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, like me, wishes to see.

My Lords, does the noble Lord not think that 85,000 people being virtually out of work is rather a large number? Why cannot the work that they are given be productive? Why cannot the profit thereof go to the people whose lives have been injured by the prisoners? In Changi jail, for example, the prisoners make marvellous garden furniture and the profits go to the families of those who have suffered through the misdoings of their relations. One always knew what was going on in Bedford jail if the gnomes had bad-tempered faces, because that meant that the prison was in a bad temper that day.

My Lords, I certainly agree that reparation and restorative justice offer great hope for the future. I should say to the noble Baroness that Prison Industries employs about 10,000 prisoners a day, which provides some 12 million hours of activity per year. I very much understand and endorse the value of work for prisoners. Great progress is being made; more needs to be undertaken. As for the method of paying prisoners, we do not agree with the argument that is always being put forward that they should be employed on minimum rates, because the Prison Industries cannot be regarded as employers in the normal sense.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, makes clear at page 42 of his report, the projections of the size of the prison population in the past six years have all been understated?

My Lords, we are into the ninth minute. Noble Lords need to be aware that that means that we have done eight and are on nine. I am afraid that we are out of time on that Question.