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Prisons: Titans

Volume 701: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

When they expect to find a site, and apply for planning permission, for the first of the three planned Titan prisons, announced on 5 December 2007.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what can only be described as a remarkably thin reply. On the same day that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, was published, the Times published a diagram of one of these monsters. It contained a series of three radial wings five storeys high to hold over 2,500 people. I understand that the firms that submitted these designs were invited to help solve today’s crisis by housing as many prisoners as possible as cheaply as possible. Can the Minister explain how that direction squares with the frequently voiced opinion that the Government are trying to protect the public by providing conditions and treatment for prisoners that are designed to prevent reoffending?

My Lords, the proposal is for three Titan prisons. The point of the Titans is that by investing in them, we will ensure that we have first-class design, infrastructure and shared services, but within the campus of such a prison there can be smaller units. In that way you get the benefits of large-scale investment together with the benefit of being able to manage smaller units within the campus. As part of taking Titans forward, we want to continue to improve the record on offender management programmes. The noble Lord may have forgotten that there has been strong investment in our prison services and offender management programmes over the past few years.

My Lords, in February the noble Lord promised us a consultation on these so-called Titan prisons, and I think that it was supposed to come out in April. I have been through the department’s website very carefully but I can find nothing whatever about the consultation. Is this yet another bit of consultation from the Government, or at least from the noble Lord’s department, that is to be deferred again and again?

Not at all, my Lords. We are going to publish a consultation in the near future. It will enable all interested parties, including noble Lords, to have a look at the proposals, and I am sure that we will take great care in taking account of the views expressed. It is better to get it right. If that means that the consultation comes out a little later, in terms of the final outcome, that is well advised.

My Lords, is it still the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to advance the principle of community prisons so as to meet the need for prisoner management and, if not, why not? If it is, how can the use of Titan prisons be said to be consistent with that policy?

My Lords, it needs to be remembered that the proposals for Titan prisons will be developed particularly in areas where prisoners are held at quite long distances from their homes. This will enable us to ensure that prisoners are held much closer to their homes. Developing Titans will also enable us to rationalise and further invest in the current stock, which may well provide some of the facilities referred to by the noble and learned Lord.

My Lords, given the vulnerability of young people in the criminal justice system, can the Minister tell the House whether he has determined a minimum age for those who might be housed in these Titan prisons?

No, my Lords. We debated youth justice extensively during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which received its Royal Assent today. The noble Baroness knows that we see custodial sentences for young people as very much the last resort, but they are necessary for some young offenders. Our aim is to make sure that the conditions and circumstances in which they are held in custody are geared towards the prevention of reoffending. We will continue with that aim.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the optimism with which he describes the way in which these Titan prisons will work is not confirmed by the experience of other countries? For example, the advice that has come from France is that it will not build any more because they do not work. Can he further explain his earlier comment that these large prisons would enable prisoners to be near their families? I do not understand how that would work. Surely large prisons, by definition, have larger catchment areas and therefore the distances from prisoners’ families must be greater.

My Lords, there is a particular shortage of prison places in the south-east, the West Midlands and the north-west. By providing more facilities in those areas we will enable prisoners to be located closer to their homes and families. The point about whether Titans will work effectively is surely this: we already have three clusters in this country where a number of units are located close together and are being moved towards a single management structure. There is very little difference between that and the concept of Titans.

My Lords, it is very different from the model of Titans published under the Ministry of Justice logo shortly after it appeared on television on 11 December, which showed one monolithic building and a small football pitch. What is the status of that particular design and how will the one small football pitch provide exercise for 2,500 prisoners and accommodation for the enormous number of visitors whom they can expect?

My Lords, much as I admire the Ministry of Justice website, one should not take one diagram and assume that that is the model that is set in stone. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, proposed a number of approaches and visions of how this programme might be developed. Essentially, it allows several categories of prison and different regimes within one perimeter. As I have said, that means that you get the benefit of large-scale investment, better design, better infrastructure and the cost-effective benefit of shared services; and with the smaller units within it you get the benefit of closer attention between management, staff and prisoners.