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Prisoners: Indeterminate Sentences

Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 19 November 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection: A Thematic Review.

My Lords, we welcome the thematic review, although we note that the fieldwork for the report was undertaken before a number of important initiatives were introduced that have significantly improved the management of prisoners serving an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection. We believe that many of the criticisms contained in the report have been addressed, but there are some outstanding issues of importance in relation to parole, risk assessment and access to interventions, on which we continue to work.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for his recognition of the trenchant criticisms made by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons of IPPs. Given that the legislation introduced earlier this year to raise the minimum tariff for people on IPPs to two years is not retrospective, are the Government prepared to review the sentences of those thousands of prisoners who were already on IPPs, in particular the 800 or so who had already gone beyond their tariff? Many of those prisoners have been unable to complete the required courses designed to prove that they are safe to be released because those courses are simply not available, creating a situation that the Court of Appeal has found to be unlawful.

My Lords, some outstanding cases are to be heard very shortly and I do not want to comment on them. We do not intend retrospectively to change the sentence, because that would be wrong, but we accept that there are problems in exactly the field that the noble Baroness suggested. Among the changes that we have made, including that to the law, we have undertaken the complete redesign of the processes and procedures for assessing and managing such prisoners. The noble Baroness will understand that the resultant changes run concurrently with the rollout of phase III of offender management. That means that it will be easier for these prisoners to gain access to courses and other work to address their offending. We also need to do something about the parole position.

My Lords, should there not be a moratorium on these sentences until all the disquiet expressed has been addressed?

My Lords, we do not think so. The prime task of any Government is to protect the public. We need to have that in mind at all times. It is important to learn lessons from the past and to make sure that this system works better in the interests both of the public and of those who are sentenced.

My Lords, has the Minister read the disturbing report by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, In the Dark, which describes the serious amount of mental disorder among prisoners awarded IPPs and the implications for increased mental health disorder on prisoners so sentenced? What action are the Government taking to improve and increase the amount of mental health treatment available to prisoners on this sentence?

My Lords, it is clear that many of those who receive this sentence have mental health problems. The changes that we are making to the way in which the sentence is carried out will undoubtedly include an element of looking after those with mental health problems and making sure that such problems, as part of the way in which we consider the risk involved in a prisoner’s release and its timing, are seen to be of great importance.

My Lords, will the Minister say what is being done to ensure that clear information about the operation of IPP sentences is given both to prisoners and to their families? Will he also indicate what support is given to interventions that are aimed at strengthening family relationships? That was touched on in the thematic report and can be important in helping prisoners to address their offending behaviour.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point. It may well be that sometimes prisoners do not understand exactly what they have been sentenced to. Having read the report, I can see case histories in which that has occurred. More effort must be made to ensure that what he suggests happens. It is also essential that courses of varying kinds, under the generic title of dealing with offences, are available to these prisoners better than they have been in the past. Among the courses will be those assisting them in their relationships afterwards.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the disproportionate number of female IPP prisoners suffering from mental health problems. The report flagged up something like 75 per cent of the sample. Have adequate measures been put in place since then to address these needs, particularly formal in-reach programmes on the estate?

I note that the report suggests that a large number of the women prisoners under these sentences—it should be said that 97 per cent of the total are men and 3 per cent are women—have considerable mental health problems. That is one matter that we are looking at in response to the report.

My Lords, it was of interest that on the DPP side for the younger generation there was a recommendation that these young offenders should be kept in a separate establishment. Is it the Government’s intention to follow that pattern? Would they like then to apply the same Corston-like approach to women in this position?

My Lords, I am not in a position to say whether that is the policy that we will adopt as a consequence of the report, but I shall certainly take back that idea and write to the noble Baroness with our response.