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Prisons: Garth

Volume 714: debated on Wednesday 4 November 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to respond to the report on Garth prison by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, in particular her comments about the effect of budget cuts on the prison system as a whole.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons published a report of her announced inspection of HMP Garth, carried out in March and April 2009, on 26 August. The National Offender Management Service will provide a detailed response, in the form of an action plan, to address each of the 122 recommendations and this will be submitted to Ministers and the chief inspector. Progress has already been made in implementing a number of the recommendations.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that in her report the chief inspector comments on the system of benchmarking that the Prison Service is operating, which in the words of the chief inspector is stripping out everything of excellence in Garth prison? What is this system of benchmarking? What is being benchmarked against what, and what effect is this benchmarking likely to have on excellence in prisons and on the rehabilitation of prisoners?

My Lords, the inspector said about Her Majesty's Prison Garth that it was to the great credit of managers and staff that the inspection found Garth to be one of the most effective and well run adult prisons to be inspected. She said that the amount and range of activity offered to prisoners was described as outstanding, with almost all prisoners able to engage in education and work, which provides high-quality skills and some training related to employability. She did, indeed, make the comments that the noble Baroness mentions. However, the noble Baroness will know that we are implementing the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Carter in his review of value for money in the Prison Service, including a framework of costed specifications for all services delivered in prisons and probation. Benchmarking has highlighted the range of variation in cost and performance for the same service being delivered in different prisons. By encouraging expensive or underperforming services to improve, we think that we can deliver cash savings and, more importantly, improve the effectiveness of our work with offenders.

My Lords, we know from the publication of leaked documents earlier this week, to which the Minister referred yesterday, that the Minister’s department is trying to make savings in its rather bloated costs. How is the department hoping to make savings in an area such as this, and will this not actually end up increasing costs to the taxpayer—by increasing the amount of recidivism and all those matters—and probably increasing the number of people who have to go back to prison in future?

My Lords, one way in which we intend to make savings is by implementing a much more streamlined regional and national structure for the Prison Service, which will save £20 million this year, with further savings planned for next year. That will free up resources for essential frontline work in prisons and probation. However, I have to throw the question back to the noble Lord to some extent. His party’s schemes for prisons would add something like 15,000 prisoners overnight to the prison population and would cost more than £2 billion. I also understand that this part of his party’s policy is not one of those parts that it has said will not have cuts. I am not sure where his party stands on this issue. Is it prepared to spend the extra money—

Is it prepared to spend this extra money? The fact remains that it is talking big but in fact would do nothing.

My Lords, instead of asking questions of the Opposition, does the Minister recall that the Chief Inspector of Prisons said that it was a serious and potentially risky development at Garth prison that there was a logjam of prisoners serving indefinite sentences for public protection? That logjam has not been broken but simply transferred from local prisons to Garth. There are some 200 young men serving those sentences without any possibility of gaining parole from that prison. What does the Minister propose to do about that? And please do not ask me to give our answer.

I am tempted to ask the noble Lord what his party would actually do in this field, if it was ever anywhere close to government, but I shall resist that temptation. Of course, Her Majesty's inspector talked about various issues and problems at Garth, but I repeat that she said that the prison was doing extraordinarily well. It is a category B prison, which has in it a number of prisoners who could well be in high-security prisons. It has a lot of pressures but has done extremely well. One difficulty with the system is that a number of prisons do not do so well, and the important thing is to bring the standards up from those prisons to that of Garth.

My noble friend referred to savings. Will he confirm that they will apply only to public sector prisons and that private prisons will be exempt from such pressure because they have long-term contracts?

It is right to say that they have contracts, whether long-term or not. However, we watch very closely how private prisons carry out the contracts that they have with government. Of course, the public prisons, which are the vast majority of prisons, as with all other aspects of work within government, have to take their share of the savings that have to be made.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the Carter report. When is it expected that the first prisoner will enter the first of the sub-Titan prisons to be built?

I cannot tell the noble Lord that, but the building programme is on course and, as he knows, we are trying to make sure that there are 96,000 places by 2014. He knows that we have listened carefully to what was said, in this House and elsewhere, about the very large prisons that were at one stage being proposed, and that we modified our policy as a result of argument.