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Prisons: Titans

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will review their plans to build Titan prisons in light of recent projections of future prison populations.

My Lords, large prison complexes are about more than just additional capacity. They will enable us to seize an important opportunity to modernise the prison estate by decommissioning worn-out, ineffective prisons, and use these gains in efficiency to support improvements in the delivery of rehabilitation by delivering the interventions which help turn prisoners away from a life of crime.

My Lords, I welcome any improvement in the prison estate, but will the Government consider pausing in their plans to build Titan prisons until they can review more fully the nature of the prison population, particularly the numbers of mentally ill, many of whom might do better with treatment elsewhere than in the prisons?

My Lords, we await the report by my noble friend Lord Bradley into the mental health issue which is due in December this year. The most recent projections show that 94,200 places will be needed by 2014 and we aim to provide 96,000 places—hardly a great margin. If the end-of-custody licence scheme were to come to an end, we would need an additional 1,300 places. However, I have to emphasise that the projections are based around estimates, and estimates are not an exact science.

My Lords, the Minister has emphasised the importance of turning prisoners away from crime. Does he recall paragraph 1.195 of the Woolf report in which the noble and learned Lord said:

“It is also highly desirable for the stable running of a prison and”—

I emphasise “and”,

“for the prospects for the prisoner leading a law abiding life after release that, whenever practicable, he should be accommodated as near to his home and community as possible”?

What has happened to change the Government’s enthusiastic acceptance of that view?

My Lords, nothing has happened to change our enthusiastic support of that proposition. We are looking to build the larger prisons in areas where there is a large amount of demand.

My Lords, I am afraid that is the uncomfortable truth. At the moment, of course, many prisoners have to be dispersed a long way from where they live, sometimes to smaller, sometimes to larger prisons. We need new prisons in certain parts of the country, and when these larger prisons are in place it will be easier for families and friends to visit those incarcerated.

My Lords, taking into account delays which are inevitable in the processes of building prisons, what is the earliest date on which it is expected that the first of these prisons will receive the first prisoner?

My Lords, it is not possible to answer the noble Lord directly. He knows that consultation on the operation and direction of these larger prisons is taking place. That is due to report soon. When the report is made public, it will be easier to say when the first larger prison will open.

My Lords, in ancient Greek mythology, the Titans were a pretty unsavoury lot. One of them cut off the unmentionable parts of his father with a sickle, married one of his sisters, swallowed five of his children and finally, along with his siblings, was cast into the dreaded Lake Tartarus. Will the Minister comment on that scenario in relation to these horrendous prisons, about which, in spite of his wonderfully sanguine demeanour and voice this afternoon, many of us are deeply sceptical?

My Lords, as the Government have made up their mind fairly comprehensively on Titan prisons, or what the Minister has now rechristened “large prison complexes”, why are they consulting the public and others on their future? Have they decided to ignore the consultation in advance of its results?

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has misunderstood the consultation. It is not about the principle of whether larger prisons are appropriate, but about how best to organise, direct and manage such prisons.

My Lords, the Minister will have seen the Justice Secretary’s speech from Monday, where he almost crowed that the UK spends most in the OECD on law and order. Does he subscribe to the view that that is a good thing, or does he subscribe to Professor Ian Loader’s view, expressed in yesterday’s Guardian, that:

“In a civilised society, punishment should be a matter for sorrow and regret, not a badge of political pride”?

My Lords, I have read the speech fully and agree with every word of it. What I am proud of is the significant and sustained drop in crime—it has fallen by one-third since 1997—which represents an enormous success in social policy. It is an achievement of which we should all be proud. We should be proud of the cultural and structural reform of the police, of prisons, of probation, of the courts and of youth justice, which has breathed life back into a system that had too many deficiencies in the past.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Government do not plan to provide any Titan prisons for women? He will know that the Government accepted 41 of the 43 recommendations that I made in my report two years ago, where I said that women should be held be in small custodial units close to home. Will he confirm that that is still government policy in relation to women prisoners?

My Lords, what is the Government’s budget for tackling the cycle of deprivation in families to prevent offending and reoffending, compared with the £2 billion that they propose to spend on Titans, which are almost universally condemned?

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Baroness the first figure that she wants, but she should know that a huge amount of public money is being spent on what she referred to in the first part of her question. We will continue to spend that money, because we want to keep people out of prison. However, it is unfortunately necessary, unless the noble Baroness disagrees, for persistent, violent and dangerous offenders to be put in prison.