Skip to main content

Criminal Justice System

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 15 July 2010


Moved By

To call attention to the reform of the criminal justice system, in particular to the effectiveness of alternatives to custody; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a practising member of the criminal Bar. I have had three interesting experiences this year. First, a man charged with murder was held on remand. Until his arrest, he was a complete alcoholic who consumed at least a bottle of vodka a day and was permanently drunk. You would not have wished to meet him in the street. He did not enjoy that way of life but he could not get out of it: indeed, he was open to attack on the evidence in his drunken state. Prison had transformed him. Now, he was sober and he made sure he avoided the drugs scene in prison. Since he was intelligent and with a sense of humour, he was given the responsibility of teaching fellow prisoners to read and write, and he was enjoying it. He had a new purpose in life. It was sad to contemplate that on his release he would have no support, no job, no wife and no money, and that the only way open to him would be the bottle and probably a dismal end on the pavement.

Another, who had held managerial responsibility in a large firm, found prison interesting. He had met people inside with such schemes and plans for making easy money that he wondered why he had spent his life working so hard for promotion within his company. When he got out, he felt he would not need to work again. The prison had asked him to help fellow prisoners complete their examination papers so that they could present good results for their educational schemes: the prison feared that it might lose funding from the Government if the results were bad. He felt, “Everybody’s doing it. Why not me?”.

The third, a first-time prisoner, told me: “That fellow Clarke was right. Prison does not work”. In his view, what happened inside was that each prisoner learnt to go up a grade in criminality: he would graduate out of prison ready for action. It was not a particularly uncomfortable regime. One elderly and homeless man who had hit a policeman over the head with his stick was held on remand. He had nowhere to go and no intention of leaving prison, if he could help it. There was no work to do inside, the food was good and delivered on time, and there was a 70 inch telly to watch the World Cup. He said that when England scored, there was very little reaction but that when Chile scored the place erupted with joy.

This is what we are paying for. According to Ministry of Justice figures, 2007-08 saw £22.7 billion spent on the criminal justice system in one context or another. Spending in 2009 on prisoners in real terms increased by 42 per cent over 1997; that is, £48,000 per year for each prison place.

Last year saw 61 per cent of prisons officially overcrowded with 25 per cent of the prison population being detained in overcrowded conditions. As the Criminal Justice Alliance has put it in its helpful briefing:

“Prison overcrowding damages every positive aspect of the work of the Prison Service. It results in prisoners being held in inhumane and degrading conditions, compromises work to rehabilitate prisoners and contributes to high reoffending rates, with 49% of ex prisoners and 61% of those serving sentences of 12 months or less reoffending within a year of their release”.

That can be compared with the reoffending rates in 1993, when Kenneth Clarke was last Home Secretary. Then there were fewer than 45,000 prisoners and reoffending rates were 53 per cent, but over two years, not one.

“Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”.

A major cause of crime has been the policy of the previous Government to warehouse offenders in prisons with insufficient resources of time and money to tackle their offending behaviour; to create universities of crime, such as the one I have talked about, where they can improve their criminal skills; and to release them into the community with inadequate support—inadequate because the resources have been spent on building more prisons. It has been entirely cyclical.

The supporters of this policy argued that at least when criminals were locked up, they could not offend. The logic of that argument was that offenders should be locked up more often and for longer and longer periods. That is exactly what happened. I once complained to a very senior member of the judiciary at a function in the River Room here that when we knocked about at the Shrewsbury Assizes and Quarter Sessions in our youth, we would never have believed that the courts would impose the sort of sentences that are now routinely handed out and upheld in the Court of Appeal. His response was that although judges were not elected, they naturally responded to the pressures of the media and the direction of political travel. But reoffending is a serious matter because reoffenders are likely to commit more serious crimes.

In December 2007, I was pleased to be appointed to Lord Justice Gage’s Ministry of Justice working group on sentencing which contained a cross-section of the judiciary, magistrates, the criminal Bar, experienced solicitors and criminal justice professionals. I felt I was among friends who understood the system. I discovered that we were set up following the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, in his July 2007 report, to consider the feasibility of a structured sentencing framework, in effect a grid system, which would automatically deliver the appropriate sentence to the sentencer. It was based on the system adopted in the state of Minnesota. I learnt that the introduction of the system in that state had driven up imprisonment at a rate of 6.6 per cent annually—the numbers were on their way to doubling—but there was no prison overcrowding because more prisons had been built. The statisticians from the Home Office wanted, through our working group, to have a tool which would predict future rates of imprisonment more accurately so that more prisons could be planned in time to house the units who would be sent to them from the courts.

I do not recognise units. Like all practitioners, I see people with all their faults—grave or less grave, usually the product of poverty and deprivation, poor education and collapsed home lives. I became something of a nuisance on the committee, intervening too often and with too much emotion. Although I was not actually asked to do so, I resigned. Without any input from me, however, Lord Justice Gage and his working group roundly rejected the formulaic, Orwellian approach of the statisticians and recommended the setting up of the Sentencing Council.

We now have a Lord Chancellor who also knows what he is talking about. I have no doubt that he knocked about the Assizes and Quarter Sessions of the Midland Circuit in his youth. We wholly welcome his call for “intelligent sentencing”. We fully support his drive to switch resources into,

“rigorously enforced community sentences that punish offenders”,

at the same time as helping them to get off drugs and alcohol and into work. Perhaps we may be permitted to emphasise that he has adopted everything that his coalition partners, we on these Benches, have been saying for years. I fell out of bed when I heard the Lord Chancellor say on the “Today” programme that the key question was “What works?”.

The political rhetoric of the past 20 years has distorted the pursuit of a rational strategy for the effective use of resources. The rabid article in today’s edition of the Daily Telegraph, in addition to being ludicrous and more defamatory than even my noble friend Lord Lester would wish in his defence of freedom of expression, illustrates precisely how criminals are demonised. In the eyes of that contributor they are beings from another planet who must be locked up or society as we know it will fail.

We must no longer talk about which political party is harder or softer on crime and criminals; we must ask what is the most effective use of scarce resources to reduce offending and reoffending. The Justice Committee of the House of Commons, in its report Cutting Crime: The Case for Justice Reinvestment, called for a policy to drive down prison numbers to a safe and manageable level—perhaps two-thirds of the current prison population based on the 1991 recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and on comparable figures from other western European countries.

Of course serious and violent offenders must be locked up to protect the public—no one would dispute that—but the majority of those locked up today do not fall into that category. Here is the challenge for the Sentencing Council: how can sentencers be given a better understanding of what works to reduce reoffending and offending, and thereby ensure justice and public protection? That should be its aim. The policy announced by the coalition Government means a wider use of restorative justice for young people and as a response to low-level offending. It benefits the victim as well as the offender. It means the development of drug and alcohol treatment programmes within community sentences. It means identifying and treating mental illness in offenders, as recommended in the review of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, with its policy of diverting people with mental health problems from the criminal justice system to more appropriate treatment in the community.

In August 2009, a prisoner serving a short sentence for possession of a knuckle duster in his car said to his social worker:

“I would like to have a psychiatrist, a psychologist, have a word with me regularly, on a regular basis, to see if there’s somewhere underlying like where I have a problem that I haven’t seen. If I’m at fault myself in any way, I’m open to all kinds of suggestions”.

That was Raoul Moat. He had no such treatment.

The policy that we are putting forward means investment in prisoner education, to improve literacy, to develop skills and internet technologies which will lead to jobs on release. It means the effective resettlement, employment and housing of prisoners, with advice in prison and “through-the-gate support” on their release. It means the abolition of the iniquitous indeterminate sentence for public protection as recommended by the Chief Inspectors of Prisons and of Probation—a sentence which is fundamentally flawed in principle, unworkable in practice and, above all, unjust.

Others in this debate will speak of the specific problems of women offenders, children and young adults and I shall not venture into those areas. However, there is light: there is before us the hope of a progressive and radical reform of penal policy, comparable to the enlightened era of Roy Jenkins, our former leader in this House. I am sure that his watching shade will nod approval to our aims.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for initiating this debate. I had the great good fortune of being led by him in the Brighton bombing trial back in 1986, when he was the most glamorous of silks sweeping through the Old Bailey and I was a mere junior. I should emphasise immediately that age has not reduced his elegance or his glamour. I learnt much from him then. I learnt that the legal system has to remain stalwart and principled in the face of provocations, particularly terrorism but also other serious crime. I have continued to learn from him ever since, particularly through debates in this House.

The criminal justice system can never rest on its laurels. It must constantly review its workings to ensure that justice is done. What was right at one time is no longer right when society changes. Things that were once acceptable become recognised as unacceptable. Marital rape is a perfect example; the old law on homosexuality is another. Law must adjust to altered times and to different mores but, at the same time, it must not become susceptible to the whim of the day. Reform of the law has to be rooted in principles—the great principles that have made our legal system admired throughout the world.

Changing law in response to public clamour, newspaper campaigns or police demands is a folly unworthy of good government. However, there is always a pressure on politicians to do precisely that. Governments become sorely tempted to legislate after every catastrophe, every shooting, every child’s death and every terrorist atrocity. The political instinct is to reach for yet more legislation when anything goes wrong in an endeavour to show that something is being done and, of course, to win popular support. However, criminal justice should not be the subject of a Dutch auction—as we have seen in a way that is new—where, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, described, parties compete to see who is being tougher on crime.

We are living through a period of high anxiety, with people fearful about their jobs, their pensions, their security and their future. When there is a high degree of fear, people often become more punitive and more demanding of law and order. They say that they want tougher responses to crime and more imprisonment. Government can very easily read this as a blank cheque for repressive action, which I am afraid we have seen in recent years. Yet when we have more reflective discussion with the public about crime, it has always been my experience that people recognise that there is very little purpose in simply jailing a person who has a drug problem, a mother who has young children or a young person who really just needs a job. When you have a proper discussion with the public about crime, you see that they recognise that alternatives to prison are often a better way.

It was a source of great regret to me that we saw such a considerable erosion of liberty under successive Home Secretaries, law officers and Lord Chancellors. I was deeply depressed at the ratcheting-up of prison sentences and the doubling of prison numbers in the past 20 years, so it is with relief that I hear that there is to be a restoration of many of the eroded liberties and a review of short prison sentences.

I have been fortunate over the years to have been involved in different penal reform organisations, from the Howard League to Nacro. I have led inquiries; I have written articles in books on criminal justice; and I have made television and radio programmes on the subject. I am the patron of a great charity, Make Justice Work, led by a wonderful woman, Roma Hooper, which looks closely at alternatives to prison. It has become clear to me that forever increasing the prison population makes impossible the rehabilitation of those who really are in need of serious work, because of overcrowding. Prison governors will tell you that they cannot conduct those rehab programmes effectively because they cannot move prisoners to workshops. In other cases, they cannot make available the programmes in the first place, because the numbers make it impossible.

We ought to be addressing crime at the lower end of the scale, or crime—sometimes it may even be violent crime—where the offender is new to the courts and can be diverted. The alternatives to short-term sentences are particularly important when we are dealing with young people. As we know, most crime is committed by people between the ages of 14 and 25. Once you have lost them to the prison system, it is very hard to retrieve them.

The second group is of those who seem hardened but who, when something happens in their life that takes them to the cusp of change, with the right kind of support can resist the old pressures to offend. I refer to people who, for example, suddenly meet someone whom they want to marry and live with—or perhaps they have a child, or a job comes on offer. What they need is real help to make something of those opportunities.

The third category is women. It is important to recognise that 68 per cent of women in prison are there for non-violent offences. Half the women in prison have suffered domestic violence; one-third have been sexually abused. Most women in prison have a dependency of some kind or a mental illness. Half of all self-harming that takes place in prison is done by the women, wretched about their circumstances, yet they represent only 5 per cent of the prison population. The majority of women in prison are mothers and one-third of them are lone parents. It is important for us to realise that very few of those women are ever supported on the outside by men; only 9 per cent of the children of imprisoned mothers are cared for by fathers. Men often do not stay the course in the way that women do when their partner ends up in jail. Eighty-five per cent of mothers in prison are separated for the first time from their children and the trauma to children is immeasurable. Sixty-five per cent of mothers in prison are receiving their first custodial sentence. Just think of the impact on those children—on their mental health, their behaviour and their chances in education, and the anger that it creates in them to lose their caring parent. Think of the cost to them and then the cost to society.

I shall mention three alternatives to prison. One is the intensive alternative to custody order, which has been piloted in seven places around the country and aims to reduce offending. It is about having close monitoring of an offender, which brings better outcomes. That means that the offender manager—we used to call them the probation officer—must have really close contact and that all offenders must be involved in meaningful activity, such as study, training, apprenticeships or work. Offenders must have support to run their lives, which so many have had little help in doing, getting rhythms of work established to help them into good habits of getting up in the morning. Sometimes it is just a matter of acquiring an alarm clock. It is important to work with families so that they support the person who is trying to change their ways; without that, they are likely to fall back into old practices. There is victim awareness and there are programmes and workshops to introduce people to what their wrongdoing does to others. That often produces interesting accountability letters from offenders as well as voluntary restitution—wanting to give something back. It is about taking responsibility for offences that have just been committed but also ones from the past.

One problem is that alternatives to prison sometimes do not operate at weekends. The offices close on a Friday afternoon, but you need outreach officers available to contact at weekends, too, when people are most tempted. There should be a coming together of the multiple skills of the probation service with the police and people who can work on therapy for some of these offenders. In Greater Manchester, only four orders have been revoked out of 70 in the past two years. The subject of one of them, a man called John Hankey, has even written about how gaining the qualification and licence to become a fork-lift driver has changed his life. However, it is not always so easy, so we must really address some of those problems. I could mention other programmes, but all of them deserve our examination.

I want to deal with what has been said about the importance of looking at the views of victims. It is wrong to turn the system into an adversarial contest between offenders and victims. Rebalancing should not be an excuse for more inappropriate punishment. We should have the effects of crime on victims clearly within our sights, of course, but victims are better served by our seeking methods for turning people away from their offending behaviour.

I shall make three quick, radical proposals. First, we should look at the abolition of imprisonment for all minor offences. It is difficult to find a definition, but we could do that. We should make it clear to the courts that minor offences should not involve imprisonment. Secondly, we should have women’s courts. It has been recognised that most women coming before the courts have multiple social problems. If we could have a one-stop shop in major conurbations for women offending at the lower level so that their offending and social issues were addressed, we would divert many of them from crime. Thirdly, I suggest that we re-examine, and have a serious debate about, the issue of drugs. Much reoffending is due to people having addiction problems, which we should address as health rather than penal issues. These may be radical suggestions, but I hope that noble Lords consider them sensible.

I applaud any government effort to reduce prison populations. I therefore hope that any suggestions coming from the Government will have the support of my Benches, too.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this important subject. I declare an interest of a lifetime of working with prisons and prisoners’ families. Many of us were astonished and delighted by the Secretary of State for Justice’s speech when he called for the reduction of the prison population, particularly the use of short prison sentences for low-level crime. Some of us have been asking for this for years as we watched the prison population rising exponentially, by 66 per cent over the past 10 years, while crime actually dropped and the numbers found guilty by the courts fell from roughly 1.5 million in 1991 to 1.3 million in 2008.

These levels of imprisonment are simply unaffordable in financial, social or human terms. Financially, it has cost us approximately £44.4 billion in 2009-10, and an average of £45,000 per prison place per annum. It has cost us socially, because an average of about half— 49 per cent—reoffend, while in the case of short sentences it is 61 per cent and, most terribly, where children are concerned, it soars to just under three-quarters.

If the purpose of imprisonment—apart from punishment and protecting us properly from dangerous, violent and prolific offenders—includes, inter alia, preventing reoffending, which means public protection, the figures that I have mentioned demonstrate expensive failure. The human cost and damage continue through to the next generation since the children of offenders are more likely to become the next generation of offenders themselves; 160,000 of them lose a parent to prison each year, which is often experienced as a bereavement.

Ken Clarke’s clarion call for recognition of this unacceptable situation is greatly welcome, as is his support for the development of alternatives to custody with far better outcomes for those low-level offenders for whom alternatives are more appropriate and successful. Rehabilitation and reparation are key in sentencing if we are serious about reducing reoffending and making society safer. As Churchill exhorted, the,

“constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment”,

should be coupled with,

“a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate”.

That is what short sentences do not do but alternatives can.

For seven years I chaired an initiative called Rethinking Crime and Punishment, where we looked at the uses of custody and its alternatives and funded a range of 60 projects and organisations in the field, developing some of the best practice, including that by Roma Hooper. We set up a commission of inquiry chaired by Lord Coulsfield, whose report, Crime, Courts and Confidence, concluded that the sentencing framework should restrict the imposition of custody and,

“review the need for short custodial sentences because these have little or no deterrent or rehabilitative value”.

It is a model of analysis and wise recommendation that I hope that Ministers will consult.

Crucially, we worked with sentencers and members of the public in developing more knowledge and understanding of the reality of the alternatives currently available to them, thus developing greater confidence in their use. Sentencers, after all, are the people who make the decisions and will choose either prison or an alternative. Knowledge of and confidence in what is available to them on their patch is essential. One judge said about his local visits that,

“there really is no better way to find out what someone is doing than to see them at work and to talk to them and ask questions. No amount of reading of reports can convey the same amount of information so efficiently”.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, who was then Lord Chief Justice, commented on his visits, which we arranged:

“I am convinced of their value”.

He also did a day’s unpaid work.

This is hardly rocket science but the opportunities available to judges to get out and do this regularly are rare. Given the constantly changing landscape of provision, it would deepen their understanding of their options if they could do more. Despite very busy lives, it was not difficult for us to arrange, as we did in the Thames Valley, Cheshire and London, and the rewards were immense. Another judge said to me, with some astonishment after visiting his local drug programme and a domestic violence programme: “I had no idea it was like that”. His sentencing decisions will now be better informed in the future. If this was regular, rather than an occasional practice, it would do a great deal for the confidence of sentencers in alternative provision. Confidence is essential in the field of criminal justice. I will be interested in the Minister’s comments.

The same applies to public knowledge and attitudes. That offenders should pay back something to the community against which they have offended is part of natural justice, but it should be visible and better understood. However, there is little public confidence in our criminal justice system today, despite this country’s vigorous use of custody. The Government’s community payback initiative is not known about enough, but there are myriad projects across the country where local people can have a say in how offenders do unpaid work and this, too, is important in developing confidence in alternatives. Rethinking Crime and Punishment funded the publication of a booklet which describes outstanding examples of community programmes all over the country. It is important reading for those interested in understanding more. I give just one example, though all show a reduction of reoffending rates and some are significant. Circles of Support, based in Hampshire and originally funded by the MoJ, works with particularly difficult high-risk sex offenders. It uses local groups, or circles, which work with professionals, and in the past five years there had been no reoffending.

However, there are worries about the implementation of the new plans. While we are told by Crispin Blunt that there is no new money, not only will all those offenders who will now—increasingly, under the new policy—serve their sentence in the community have to be provided for, but that provision must be part of some new strategic framework. A significant growth of new localism does not just happen. It has to be choreographed with all the local agencies and providers. The social investors by whom the Minister sets such store are one part of the picture of providers at the point of need as the courts deliver them, but only one part. Some are very impressive, such as National Grid. There is a real challenge here for all those agencies that are expected to be involved to develop their partnership roles effectively.

This is where the probation boards could have a pivotal role; where the spread of people, experience and knowledge of local partnership working is already there on the ground; and where links with the range of providers from the statutory, voluntary and private sectors are already established. Probation trusts are now responsible authorities, tied to their local authorities more closely. Crucially, they work with individuals, which is the great strength of the service, creating those human connections which are pivotal in the reduction of reoffending. Localism is indeed what they offer, and there is now a need to rethink their position under NOMS, which is perceived to be inhibiting, centralising and overbureaucratic. Ministers would do well to look at the Scottish experience, where a centralising NOMS-type option was examined and rejected in favour of the local option. Now the country is divided into eight criminal justice authorities with which we in Scotland are very happy.

The real fear is that if sentencers find that the provision of alternatives is not available at the point of need, or not up to scratch, they will not use them. That loss of confidence, so necessary to ensure that the Government’s new approach is a success, would be tragic and hard to restore. Poor alternatives are worse than none at all. Since the savings from reduced imprisonment will not be directly available for this kind of core provision, will the Minister clarify the Government’s thinking on how the gap is to be filled?

I had intended to speak on the problems of children and young people in custody, but time is against me. Therefore, I end by reminding noble Lords of the famous lines from Julius Caesar:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries”.

Now, I think, is such a moment; we need no more shallows and miseries.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on bringing this subject forward for debate. After his magisterial address, which covered the ground so comprehensively and with such style, one is tempted to give up at this point. I fear that I shall inevitably repeat many of the points which the noble Lord and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Linklater, have touched on. However, I hope that I may be able to shine a sidelight on at least one or two of the points which have been, or will be, made by other noble Lords. All the same, it is probably a good job that I come relatively high up in the batting order, or there really would be nothing left to say.

This is the second debate we have had on this subject in the space of three days in your Lordships’ House, the other being specifically on the Government’s policy on prisons. Both are extraordinarily timely in that, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has just suggested, we are witnessing a conjunction of circumstances which mean that, if we play our cards right, we might—just might—have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get off the treadmill of penal policy which has been taking us nowhere for the past 15 years.

It would not be difficult to demonstrate that the system is not working and needs to be reformed. Indeed, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has amply demonstrated this already, and I am sure that other noble Lords will do the same. This week the Prison Reform Trust published its latest prison fact file. Nearly every page contains examples of how the system is not working. I do not wish to weary the House by labouring the point, I simply mention the following sobering statistics. As the prison population accelerated after 1993, reoffending rates worsened to the point where two-thirds of prisoners are now reconvicted within two years of leaving prison. Sixty-six per cent of people entering prison serve less than one year. They leave after a few weeks or months, homeless, jobless, out of touch with their families, further in debt and ready to offend again. It is little wonder, then, that 61 per cent of them are reconvicted within a year of being released.

In 2008, 74 per cent of children reoffended within a year. In fact, every time a person is sent to prison, he is more likely to reoffend on release. In one sample, 25 per cent of those with no previous custodial sentence reoffended. After one previous custodial sentence, this figure jumped to 40 per cent, and so on until 76 per cent of those with 11 or more prison sentences offended again. This seems to me to give the lie to those who say that the increased use of prison is responsible for the reduction in crime which has undoubtedly taken place in the past couple of decades. At best, prison is a short-term expedient, just as a credit card is a short-term solution to debt, but it catches up with you in the end, with interest.

If we go back to first principles, it has to be admitted that the point at which to make the greatest impact on these problems may have less to do with the criminal justice system than the social pressures which lead people into and trap them in a life of crime. The proportion of prisoners who were taken into care as a child, truanted from school, ran away from home, were homeless or have used drugs is up to 30 times that of the general population; 71 per cent of children in custody have been involved with or in the care of the local authority; 40 per cent have previously been homeless; 23 per cent of young offenders have learning difficulties; 36 per cent have borderline learning difficulties; and half all offenders are at or below the level expected of an 11 year-old in reading, 65 per cent are below that level in numeracy and 82 per cent in writing.

Sentencing has very little impact on factors such as these, except perhaps where the child’s situation has been aggravated by sending a parent to prison. All the same, when sentencing offenders, we should constantly have in the front of our minds where the problem really lies and be trying to address that, as opposed to going through the mechanical ritual which sentencing so often degenerates into. Seven out of 10 prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders. It therefore seems obvious that one way of tackling the problem of prison overcrowding should be the creation of more mental health facilities—not necessarily custodial—rather than prisons. Crime reduction strategy should focus on factors such as these, rather than increasing sentences, which seems to have all-too-little effect.

The most important factor in preventing reoffending is what happens after the sentence. Does the offender have a home or a job to go to, and other forms of support? These are also matters for the community at large, not just the criminal justice system. That system, especially prison, often only makes things worse. It stigmatises people so that it is harder for them to find a job afterwards. Hardened criminals are hardened in prison. It separates them from people who might be a good influence and herds them together with others like themselves with too little to do, often introducing them to drugs. There is a high incidence of bullying and self-harm, and there are too many suicides—often by young people.

It would be easy to conclude that the system was broken beyond repair and that we were locked into a cycle of rising prison numbers, leading to the building of more prisons, which are already oversubscribed by the time that they are built, and in turn to another round of prison building and so on. If we follow the analysis of Professor Nicola Lacey of the LSE in her recent Hamlyn lectures, it may be that regularities about the political economy and social culture of our society make it difficult to escape from this “prisoners’ dilemma”, as she calls it. Why else would we have rates of imprisonment more like those of eastern Europe than those of our western European neighbours?

However, after listening the other evening to the reflections of Dame Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, on her nine years in that job, one has to draw a more nuanced conclusion. There has been progress—patchy, to be sure—and there is more prisoner activity, education and rehabilitation, but that remains extremely fragile and could easily be set back by savage expenditure cuts. Where better to make cuts than on prisons? As she said, imprisonment is loved but not prisons. What we need are savings, not cuts, reinvested in putting the escalator into reverse so that it starts going down, rather than relentlessly upwards, for a change. In this, reducing prison numbers is the key. Custody should be reserved for the most serious cases of danger to the public. Community measures are generally less costly and no less effective, and ideas of restorative justice, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, pointed out, which has also been shown to reduce reoffending, enable the victim’s perspective to be taken on board.

I have long wondered why we do not carry out research into the systems that they have in places such as France and Germany, which put so many fewer of their criminals in jail. Would our penal policy not be informed if we knew the solutions that they have found for their criminals that we are obviously not finding? What do they do with the people that we put in jail but they do not? The answer to these questions would be highly informative as we move forward with penal policy.

This is where we have the historic conjunction of circumstances that I referred to—tenuous but discernible —that might make this possible. We have an economic crisis that creates a paramount need to make savings and trumps penal ideology. We have a Government with a secure parliamentary majority who are determined to make savings, and a Secretary of State for Justice who understands the folly of the treadmill that we have been on and the opportunity that the economic crisis gives him.

The coalition’s programme for government said that the Government believe that we need radical action to reform our criminal justice system, and that this means introducing more effective sentencing policies as well as overhauling the system of rehabilitation to reduce reoffending and to provide greater support and protection for the victims of crime. They promise to introduce a rehabilitation revolution that will pay independent providers to reduce reoffending, with the costs met by the savings that the new approach will generate in the criminal justice system; to conduct a full review of sentencing policy to ensure that it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending; and to explore alternative forms of secure, treatment-based accommodation for mentally ill and drug-addicted offenders. This is talking. It reflects many themes that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, alluded to. I hope that the coalition will be up to it, and that it will enjoy bipartisan support from the Opposition and not be torpedoed by being dragged back into another round of the perennial auction staged by the parties in recent years to outbid one another and show who can be toughest on crime.

I respectfully remind noble Lords that contributions are time-limited to nine minutes and that when they overrun they are denying time to other noble Lords.

My Lords, I declare an interest as Bishop to Prisons in England and Wales. We have had many debates in this House, and many questions, about the criminal justice system. This debate is timely and we on these Benches are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for initiating it. We also very much look forward to the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and the noble Lord, Lord German, to the debate and to the House. I pay tribute from these Benches to Dame Anne Owers, who retired this week, and recognise the outstanding work that she has done in her nine years as Chief Inspector of Prisons.

It is not just the economic climate that prompts the rethink on our penal policy. However, there is a cohort of people within the criminal justice system who believe that the time has come for a major rethink about what we do with offenders and prisons. The question is summed up in words that I heard when I first met regional chaplains. They asked me: “Are prisons warehouses to store the incorrigible, or will they become greenhouses to restore the redeemable?”. That summarises the debate and our expectations of what can happen when people who have offended are sent to prison or alternative custody.

At a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs, the question was asked: what percentage of people need to be in prison for the protection of society? The answer was less than 12 per cent of men and less than 4 per cent of women. That begs the question: are there not other ways for us to punish, reform and rehabilitate those who offend against society?

The Prison Act 1952 reinforced the legal requirement for a chaplain in every prison. The first prisons were in fact built on a monastic model, with the philosophy that you put a person there in order for them to contemplate their life, reform and then rejoin society. To this day, the chaplaincy of NOMS is at the forefront in developing programmes of what is known as desistance, enabling offenders to change their behaviour. For the past couple of years, the chaplaincy has been at the forefront of the SORI programme of restorative justice. The programme is currently being evaluated and a report will be made to NOMS next month on its effectiveness. Next year, the chaplaincy will pilot a brand new, six-month course called “Belief in Change”, whereby prisoners who are about to be released will elect to live in community and explore the need for change in their lives, drawing on both their faith and their psychology, in an attempt to equip themselves to live more effectively on the outside. My noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guilford will be exploring some of these areas in his speech.

In the limited time that we have today, I want to address the issue of funding. We on these Benches warmly welcome the Lord Chancellor’s initiative in challenging us all to think again about the purpose and effectiveness of prison, but we also know that this is a time of economic restraint. I know that the Minister is aware of the hundreds of voluntary organisations working with offenders on both the inside and the outside, many of which are faith-inspired. However, if ever you wanted to find an example of the big society, it can be found in the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who work in the community and in prison with offenders. This resource for our society comes in two strands. One is the operational charities, such as the St Giles Trust, Kainos Community, iTunes or the Prison Fellowship; the other is the foundations and trusts whose wealth is directed towards these and other initiatives.

I know that the Minister for prisons intends shortly to hold round-table discussions with the operational charities, and I very much welcome that. I know, too, that NOMS has appointed someone as a liaison officer to act with the trusts and foundations which bring millions of pounds to this enterprise. However, in this debate, I urge the Minister to take a step further. Without interfering with the independence of the trusts and foundations, there is now a need to establish the Government’s priorities and to indicate them to the trusts and foundations, because at the moment their engagement with NOMS completely lacks focus. If the ministerial priorities are, say, restorative justice and alternatives to custody, will the Minister tell the trusts and foundations, and invite them to give to these priorities and then co-ordinate their giving, thereby maximising the potential of the money that comes from this direction? I believe that that will help the Government to deliver their own priorities. I should be glad to hear the Minister’s views on integrating the trusts and foundations with the work of NOMS.

My Lords, it is a great privilege to speak for the first time in your Lordships’ House. I have been humbled by the extraordinary welcome and support from my sponsors, my noble friends Lady Scott and Lady Garden, and from other noble Lords across the Benches. They have shown me great kindness, welcoming me and guiding me on the ways of the House. I also thank the dedicated staff, who serve this House so well, for their unfailing help and support. They are always on hand literally to point me in the right direction. For someone of my background, it is a huge privilege to serve in your Lordships’ House, although some have assumed that by taking the title of Highbury I was somehow able to get tickets to Arsenal matches.

My father, a Turkish Cypriot and a Muslim, came to this country in 1948 as a young man from Cyprus to seek work. He had served as a policeman during the 1940s, when Cyprus was a British colony. My mother arrived in 1952 to stay with her brother, who had settled in the UK after serving in the British forces during the Second World War. He had been captured by the Nazis and held in a prisoner-of-war camp until the end of the war. My maternal grandfather, Abdullah, was the son of a slave, who was captured as a young man in the Sudan and sold to a Cypriot merchant. In later life he was given his freedom and went on to marry my Turkish great-grandmother.

My parents were married in London. They brought with them the extraordinary work ethic that many post-war migrants shared when they came to Britain. I was born in Islington, well before it became a byword for the chattering classes. I went to school with children from some of the most deprived backgrounds and spent my school holidays with my family in Turkey and Cyprus. My early formative years have left me with a lifelong passion for, and commitment to, championing the cause of a more equal society. Islington is still a place with extremes of poverty and wealth and, in common with other London boroughs, great inequalities. I hope therefore to contribute to future debates on the rich social diversity of modern-day Britain.

The topic today is of immense importance and one that presents our society with huge challenges, so I am very grateful to be able to make a contribution to this debate. The London Borough of Islington, where I served as a councillor until May this year, has two prisons—Holloway and Pentonville—the latter, I was told, being the largest prison in Europe. I had the opportunity to visit these prisons on a number of occasions and to talk to both staff and offenders. I was a member of the PCT board when it took over responsibility for primary healthcare in those prisons.

As has already been mentioned, the prison population in England and Wales stands at a record high. Overwhelming evidence highlights that there are now more people in prison with long-standing mental health problems and learning disabilities than ever before, as mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lord Thomas. Many of these people end up in prison because, as the staff told me, there is simply nowhere else to send them. Many prisons lack the resources that they need to conduct full psychiatric assessments of those they receive, while a wider concern is that too often prisons use segregation units to hold people who are seriously ill until a transfer can be arranged.

Of ongoing concern is the over-representation of prisoners from minority ethnic groups—just under 27 per cent of the prison population, many of whom had undiagnosed mental health conditions until they came into contact with the criminal justice system. Furthermore, research carried out in the past few weeks by the University of Leicester has revealed that the number of women in prison is growing at a much faster rate than the number of men. This is despite their crimes often being less serious, with 94 per cent convicted for minor offences, compared with 76 per cent of men. Women often serve shorter sentences for lesser offences, which means that prison is far more disruptive for them, and usually for their children. Women are normally the primary carers for elderly relatives and children, as mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lady Kennedy. Around 55 per cent of women in prison have a child under the age of 16, and 20 per cent are lone parents. Because of the relatively small number of women’s prisons, and due to their geographical location, women tend to serve their sentences further from their homes than male prisoners. This can place additional pressure on important links with family.

We know that around 71 per cent of children in custody have been involved with, or have been in the care of, social services before entering custody and that less than 1 per cent of care leavers go to university. As the noble Lord, Lord Low, mentioned earlier, a recent survey found that over 90 per cent of prisoners had poor reading skills. These figures are of huge concern.

As Islington’s cabinet member for health and social care during my time as a councillor, I was for a period responsible for the looked-after children in the council’s care. As a corporate parent, I met regularly with young people in our care, and I also did some mentoring. I was struck by something that a young man who had spent most of his life in care said to me. He said: “You”—meaning the council—“are my parents, and like other parents, aren’t you supposed to make sure I get a good education and a job?”. Of course, he was right. Most of us who have children do all we can to ensure that they receive a good education and then eventually take up meaningful employment and reach their full potential. As the largest employer in the borough, as most councils are, I pulled together a senior-level board of all departments and partners to work together to improve the life chances of children and young people in our care. The Corporate Parenting Board met monthly and required every council department at the most senior level, and the council's key partners, to set aside apprenticeships and trainee posts for Islington's care leavers. This project was emulated by other councils across the country and proved to be quite groundbreaking at the time.

To effect real change in the way that we deal with offenders we have to look at investing more in diversionary and preventive methods, not only for people with mental health problems but for the way in which we as a society support children who are placed into care. Too often I was told by the young people in the council's care that they felt that no one really cared. Of course we are all too well aware that in the present climate there are pressures on budgets and other restrictions that might prevent a more consistent approach across the country, but society will end up paying one way or another. The cost to the public purse for each prisoner is around £40,000 per annum and the cost of a young person leaving the care system who ends up offending further down the track is enormous. Is it not better to invest in that young person’s education and training?

I believe that instead of expanding prisons we should be looking at meaningful ways to reduce the prison population. Mental health trusts in partnership with local authorities should be compelled to allocate adequate resources to treatment and to divert offenders with mental health and drug and alcohol problems to those appropriate healthcare services. Reoffending would surely be reduced with investment in increasing literacy skills. Practical and consistent rehabilitation is surely a better investment.

My Lords, it is my very pleasant duty to welcome my noble friend to the House as a full Member, now that she has made her maiden speech. She has told us about her background. This is one case where not only has immigration enriched society but it has also enriched our Chamber in a very direct way. She has had a very distinguished local government career and having been in touch with issues outside the House, that will have an effect on this Parliament and beyond. She knows what she is talking about. I am not sure whether those on the Front Bench will always be grateful for that knowledge and detail, but that should be cherished by the House. Very few of us would disagree with what she said in her speech as it was based on fact and the experience of those who have had something to do with the system. It is a good beginning and I look forward to hanging on to her coat tails in many a debate to come.

As with anything to do with our criminal justice system, one is confronted by the fact that the system mops up what the rest of society fails to deal with. Ultimately, the criminal justice system and the health service deal with most of the failures in our society and that is where you find things that have gone wrong. Invariably, the criminal justice system gets the first bite at this: it tends to deal with people who have failed educationally and thus in employment. It is not surprising that one discovers very low levels of literacy and numeracy in the prison system and it is not surprising that one finds an incredibly high number of people with educational problems within that group.

When I speak of dyslexics in the prison system, for once, I am not talking about a minority. Approximately 50 per cent—some estimates are higher than that—of the prison population are in the dyslexia spectrum. That means that one in two prisoners has a problem, which means that they cannot process written material and the educational process easily, and one wonders why they are at higher risk of offending. They do not have access to jobs because of interview processes and qualifications. One has to take into account the fact that they come from what used to be called a working-class background. We are now discovering that often there are entire generations of dyslexics in families: families where the idea of reading a book or passing an exam is anathema to their entire social structure. You wonder why the problem is so entrenched.

What can we do about it? There are no dyslexic deniers here today—they are usually quite a free hit. If people with such problems are coming through the system, what can we do to lessen the impact? First, we must try to identify them early. The age of 14 seems to be when young men, who end up in the prison system, have stopped their education, having refused to attend or having been excluded from school. Often they have not been identified within the school system and I am sure that, when my noble friend returns, he will acknowledge that the Government intend to implement a programme of better identification. However, even if it were implemented tomorrow, we would still have 10 to 15 years of pupils in the school system who will not receive the benefit of being identified as dyslexic or as having other special educational needs, to say nothing of the entire population outside the school system. I hate to say it but I doubt whether any system devised by man will catch everyone. We need a process of identification to give people the right kind of help throughout the criminal justice system.

Young dyslexic men may resent any kind of authority, usually because of a bad school experience, and we have found that they tend to do badly under cross-examination in court. They may have short-term memory problems which means that they cannot identify things like numbers, dates and sequences. Eloquence was displayed by the first two speakers in the debate. However, if dyslexics find themselves in court, they are more likely to be convicted more regularly than others. For different reasons, those with Asperger's syndrome also handle that process badly.

What can we do to make the entire system aware of these problems and that probably the majority of their client base has them? How will we start to address this? Will we take this on board and work it in? If we do not, we will have a slow process of a series of assessments. Prisons are very good at assessing people who present themselves. People who move around the prison system are often assessed eight or nine times for being dyslexic; they do not actually get much help beyond that. I suggest to my noble friend and to our colleagues in Government that we look at a process of identification and explanation for those who are found to be dyslexic.

A while ago, I found an excellent scheme in Chelmsford prison for those who never go to the education unit. If you have had a bad experience when being taught literacy and spelling at school, and someone says, “Go to the education unit; they’ll teach you to spell”, unsurprisingly you will avoid it. How many noble Lords who hated games at school force themselves to go jogging three times a week? Take that example and spice it up a bit. Will we have programmes in the system for identifying people with literacy problems early on? The majority with literacy problems will already have taken that on board. Can we identify them and tell them why they cannot spell or write, which is still seen by society as a way of judging someone’s intelligence? A dialogue could then be opened. When I visited the prison in Chelmsford, the warders said to me, “Do you know what has happened where the scheme works? We have cut down on the number of assaults”. The level of tension has been removed and a lot of money has been saved in reducing the number of man hours required to process assaults. Can we therefore have a recognition that this area has to be examined not because it is a special, concentrated group but because it is part of the mainstream?

If we start to address the problem properly, we may be able to make considerable savings and make it far easier for those in the justice system to access the help on offer. I suggest that this really is one of those no-brainers in theory—in practice it will require thought and a degree of prejudice-kicking measures. I look forward to hearing about them.

My Lords, bishops are frequently in prisons, usually attempting to obey the Lord’s command to visit the prisoner rather than for less honourable reasons. Everyone taking part in this debate would wish that there were fewer people in our prisons. Your Lordships’ House debated some of the questions recently. I draw attention to the debate initiated earlier this year by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, asking Her Majesty’s Government for their response to the Howard League Commission on English Prisons Today.

It would be well worthwhile revisiting Hansard for 22 February this year. Why do we have more men, women and, scandalously, children in prison proportionally than other countries in western Europe? My diocese of Guildford is twinned with the French diocese of Evry, just south of Paris. Bishop Michel Dubois is the French bishop responsible for prisons—the French Catholic equivalent of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, whose speech today I strongly support. On a visit to my Guildford diocese, Bishop Michel visited Send women’s prison with me. He was surprised at the length of custodial sentences for women, as compared with those in France, largely for offences as “drug mules”. A month ago, my own diocesan synod responded to a request from local parishes for an informed and compassionate debate about the special problems of the families of women prisoners who sometimes have to travel the length and breadth of the country, as alluded to earlier today, to visit daughters, wives, partners or mothers in prison. More generally, my clergy conference has engaged in penal matters through a visit of Dame Anne Owers, whose valedictory lecture has also been well referred to today.

The short debate in February in your Lordships’ House called attention to what prison governors call the “revolving door”—discharge from prison, return to sink estate and old company, the drug habit again, theft and/or assault to get money to feed the habit, arrest, court and back again through the revolving door to prison. Community chaplaincy can prevent returning. This involves official liaison with the prison and particular offenders before discharge. That is essential. Then supportive connections are made through carefully selected and trained volunteers largely, though not exclusively, from faith communities, so that offenders do not have to go back to an environment that will almost certainly mean return.

Proven results in terms of a significant decline in reoffending have long been demonstrated, going back to pilot schemes originating within the Canadian penal system. There are, I believe, about 20 such schemes operating throughout the country. I was involved in the establishment of one, linking the Dana—Shrewsbury prison—with the churches and mosques of the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Such schemes work, as rigorous academic assessment can show. Your Lordships’ House was alerted to the benefits of community chaplaincy by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter way back in 2006. Experience has only further confirmed what he then said. I therefore particularly welcome the speech of the Secretary of State for Justice on 30 June in which there was a fresh emphasis on the voluntary sector in rehabilitative work.

I must also flag something already mentioned in your Lordships’ House today—restorative justice programmes. I have taken part in more than one in the prisons of my diocese. Typically, offenders agree to a contract to take part in a programme in which they meet a victim of the type of crime they have committed—not of course their personal victim, but a real victim none the less.

Picture a group of women who have been sentenced for drug offences—characteristically, as I said, as “mules” carrying drugs for their male, frequently abusive, partners. They meet another woman whose son died of drug abuse in his early 20s. For the first time, these young women recognise the consequences of their actions in terms of people, not by listening to the moralising of a bishop’s sermon but by meeting a woman who has cried over her dead son’s body. Restorative justice programmes, which many prisons would like to have but have no money to commission, can also be implemented as a legal alternative to prosecution and a court appearance if an accused person so opts and the police agree.

Finally, in my diocese we run in conjunction with Surrey Police a scheme called the Surrey Appropriate Adult Volunteer Scheme. Selected and trained volunteers come on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week basis to any police interrogation where parents or others cannot or will not attend—and without such a presence, there can be no legal interrogation and thus no prosecution, as some parents, I am afraid, are cannily only too well aware. Such a pool of volunteers, stressing partnership with the voluntary sector, is a precious resource of wise and skilful persons. Many, I know, would also wish to work with restorative justice schemes. A very modest investment in terms of financial resourcing can turn round lives and potentially hugely reduce the number of men, women and young people in our prisons—not by being soft but by being just.

My Lords, I intend to restrict my remarks to the matter of children and young people in custody.

There are too many children in custody; England and Wales have the highest rate in western Europe. In the last 20 years, the number of children sentenced to custody has risen by nearly 800 per cent. However, I am pleased to say that the number is declining. In March, the number was 416 less than the previous year. It is now the lowest since 2000, which is good news.

Prison is costly and does not work for most children. Each year, the Government spend £415 million on placing children in custody. Reoffending rates are high. Three-quarters of those released in 2007 reoffended within a year. These are children with problems and they are not being sorted out by locking them up. Half of them have spent time in care; 40 per cent of girls and a quarter of boys have suffered violence at home; one in three girls and one in 20 boys have suffered sexual abuse; and nearly one-third have mental health problems.

We cannot say that we have not had early warning about these children. Nine out of 10 have been excluded from school. That tells us that there have been severe behavior problems earlier in their school career. Children who behave like this need early intervention and help. If we do that, we will save them from having miserable lives on a downward path and we will save ourselves a lot of money. Violence in the home has a lot to answer for. What sort of example is that? Children learn from their parents—unemployment, offending examples and violent, disrespectful behavior. We need to intervene in these families for the sake of the children.

There is evidence that early intervention works. Parenting programmes and individual home-based programmes are very cost-effective, saving up to £160,000 per case by reducing reoffending. Family intervention programmes and youth inclusion programmes run by Catch22 and Barnardo’s are demonstrating notable and cost-effective impacts, which have been independently assessed, in reducing anti-social behaviour and criminal offending.

Many of these children should not be in custody at all. In 2007-08, 513 children aged 12 to 14 were sentenced to custody. Under the sentencing rules in place until 1998, only 48 of them could have been imprisoned— 48 out of 513. In any case, Barnardo’s has evidence that a lot of young people in custody had not met the threshold for the seriousness of the offence or for persistent offending. We must look at both the sentencing guidelines and the adherence to those guidelines.

We also need to use more non-custodial sentences. There are many effective alternatives. The new youth rehabilitation order is a generic order in which the sentencer can combine up to 18 separate requirements and tailor it to the needs and problems of the offender. It can include education, drug-testing and treatment, fostering, mental health treatment, and so on. However, there is evidence from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies that they are not always properly resourced, making them unavailable to sentencers. Therefore, the child goes into custody.

I very much welcome the recent statement by the Lord Chancellor that he wants to refocus the criminal justice system on what works. I suspect that his statement is not just a conversion to Liberal principles but a very pragmatic response to the straitened economic times in which we live, because the evidence is that high-quality and properly resourced non-custodial interventions are far cheaper and work far better than prison. Restorative justice programmes have been mentioned. They work better for the offender and give satisfaction to the victim. One of the problems with custody is what we do, or do not do, with the offenders while they are in custody. My noble friend Lord Addington mentioned that. Many education departments do their best, and some do a good job, but they do not have the young person for very long. In a survey of youth offending teams, only 6 per cent said that children had been able to continue education started in custodial units once they left prison. That must change. We must have joined-up thinking about the matter.

On top of that is the way in which the behaviour of young people in prison is managed. We have had the outrageous situation that children in private prisons have been subjected to painful restraint techniques, which breach their human rights and, in a few cases, have resulted in injury and even death. For years the organisation Children’s Rights Alliance for England has been trying to get hold of the instructor’s restraint manual in use in the country’s four privately run child prisons. Until recently, the Youth Justice Board resisted, claiming that full disclosure of the manual would threaten the safety of prisoners and custody officers. The parliamentary Human Rights Committee and the Court of Appeal have asked for that document to be released, but, until recently, the Youth Justice Board intended to appeal. It seems that it has now withdrawn its appeal and said that it will release the document. However, to my knowledge it has not yet done so, so I call on it to do so immediately. We have a right to know what is being done in our name, especially when there is strong evidence that it breaches the human rights of young people.

I turn to another matter. The Scottish Parliament has said that it will raise the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from eight to 12, so the English age of 10 is now the lowest in the UK and one of the lowest in the western world. In the Scandinavian countries, the age is about 14 and all young people up to the age of 25 are treated differently from adult prisoners. Offending behaviour is treated rather than punished. Rehabilitation is the norm. That is the way we need to turn in this country. I call on the Justice Secretary to review the age of criminal responsibility as part of his review of the system.

I now mention a group of children who are extremely vulnerable to being drawn into contact with the criminal justice system. These are the UK’s street children. We have all heard of street children in India, Africa and Latin America, but it happens here, too. The charity Railway Children has just conducted a piece of research, Off the Radar, where the researcher carried out in-depth interviews with 103 children and young people who had been on the street for at least a month. One had been on the street for five years, from the age of 12 to the age of 17. Those children are referred to as “detached”. They have run away from home, a foster home or a children’s home.

The police reckon that about 100,000 children a year go missing, but most researchers believe that many more are never reported. Their families do not care enough, or they do not want the authorities involved. They are the most vulnerable. Four of them were asked about crimes that they had committed in order to survive. Home Office figures were used to calculate the cost to the public of those crimes; the answer was £500,000 each, which is £2 million from just four children.

All that could have been prevented by early intervention. The common factors in the research were stark. The problems of all the children could have been spotted and addressed early if well resourced and trained professionals had been there to help them and their families. Indeed, it became clear that part of the problem was that nobody listened to the child. The researcher, in thanking the girl whom I mentioned who had been on the streets since the age of 12, apologised that she did not know what to recommend to her, so severe were her problems. “No, don’t apologise”, said the girl. “You’re the only person who has ever listened to me in my whole life”. That is a terrible state of affairs. If we do not listen and respond to our children when their families are failing them, how can we expect them to live normal, law-abiding lives? They have no example, no guidance and no protection.

I will say a word about sport. I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Loughborough. She was telling me that specialist sports schools are the fastest-improving schools in our school system at the moment. Bear with me, as this is relevant to the subject that we are talking about today, and I will come to it very soon. For those of your Lordships who are not familiar with them, most secondary schools are now specialist schools. They have a specialism. They develop particular expertise in an area of the curriculum and are supposed to spread that among other local schools. Those who have taken sport as their specialism are using it as a platform for school improvement. If you think about it, that is not too surprising, because sport develops teamwork, good health, social skills, dedication, determination—all sorts of skills that are good for people in the world of employment. I used to teach teenage boys and I know that teenage boys do not like sitting still. I am sure that they do not like sitting still in prison. Will my noble friend consider using sport as a platform for prison reform, as well as for school improvement?

My Lords, I, too, thank to the noble Lord for calling this timely and important debate today. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, regrets withdrawing from the debate. She is attending a funeral today.

I shall follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and talk about how to keep young people looked after by local authorities out of the criminal justice system—how to avoid unnecessarily criminalising young people in local authority care. I highlight one critical point. We need to ensure that all children's homes have good-quality consultancy from an appropriate mental health professional. That is one thing that the Government could address and it would make an important difference to the number of young people from care entering prison. I hope soon to discuss that point with the Minister’s colleague, Mr Tim Loughton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education. I declare my interests, which are in the register.

Twenty-four per cent of adults in the criminal justice system and 40 per cent of children in custody have experience of local authority care. We need to do more to avoid young people entering custody from care. However, the vast majority of young people entering care do not go into custody, and many are very successful. Only 0.3 per cent of young people entering care have any experience of offending. The vast majority— 60 per cent—have experienced neglect or abuse, and a further 10 per cent have experienced family dysfunction, so the vast majority are there for their own protection. So is the fault that of the care system? Research on similar cohorts of children taken into care and not taken into care indicates that those taken into care will have better outcomes than those who have had no intervention, which suggests that it is not.

The previous Government made a significant investment in the care system. A number of initiatives, such as Quality Protects, were very welcome, and over the past 10 years there has been a 900 per cent increase in the number of children leaving care and going to university—a ninefold increase. The previous Government can be very proud of achieving that. There have been good investments, and the system is improving, but we are starting from a very low base.

In particular, there has to be concern about children’s homes. From memory, there are, very approximately, 6,000 children in children’s homes, which is about 10 per cent of the looked-after population. According to the 2004 report by the Office for National Statistics, 68 per cent of these children have a recognised mental disorder and in the region of 40 per cent of them have a conduct disorder that may involve a compulsion to thieve or other actions. They have a very high level of need. I say this not to stigmatise them, but to stress that it needs to be identified. These homes have improved. There are now minimum standards where there were none before. The training of staff has improved. The previous Administration introduced the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Childcare, which is a good step forward. However, we still have the “inverse care” law: our most vulnerable children are often being cared for by our poorest paid, most poorly supported staff. Many wonderful and committed carers are working in difficult circumstances. In recent years, the market in children’s homes has changed. Now it is dominated by private providers. While in the past there was a good yield on capital investment in children’s homes, that has dropped, so the larger providers have largely departed from the scene, which has left many owners who have worked in the residential care system and are committed to the welfare of their children finding that in a climate of recession with a lack of resources they are struggling to meet the needs of these children.

What needs to be done? Two things are essential. First, the specialist mental health services for children looked after by local authorities that have developed in some areas over the past 10 years need to be preserved. They are expensive to run, but the investment there saves money many times on later costs, and they need to be expanded. Secondly, the recommendation by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his report on children’s homes in the mid-1990s, Choosing with Care, needs to be implemented. He looked to the continent for the model to follow and found that children’s homes there consistently have an ongoing relationship with a mental health professional—a psychiatrist, a child psychotherapist or a clinical psychologist—who meets regularly with the manger and the staff to help them reflect on their work with their children. The noble Lord strongly recommended this, and I know that he regrets that it has not been fully implemented. I hope to speak to the Minister’s colleague, Mr Loughton, about these matters. Perhaps the Minister will acknowledge in this debate that we need to stop criminalising young people in care or coming out of care.

I warmly welcome the principle behind the review of short sentences and acknowledge the huge cost that they entail and the disruption to the lives of those being taken into custody, particularly women. However, I have some concerns, particularly about the credibility of any attempt to make a change and the light the Government and those who support the thrust of such a policy will be seen in. Iain Duncan Smith, the Centre for Social Justice, the Good Childhood inquiry which was instituted by the Anglican Church, and UNICEF’s report into child welfare put the UK lowest in the league in the developed world in terms of child welfare.

Many of our children are living in poverty, not only financial poverty but emotional and educational poverty. Experts such as DW Winnicott and Anna Freud pointed out that where there is insufficient caring in the home and an insufficient educational system, behaviours in adolescents and young people outside in society can be very disruptive. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, and her colleagues made very clear in previous debates on anti-social behaviour orders that young people’s behaviour can blight some communities, such as Durham or Nottinghamshire, where many families have generational issues of unemployment.

My concern is that we do not get this right and do not ensure sufficient investment. My noble friend Lord Low of Dalston referred to Germany and France. One important difference between them and us is that they have the professionals and the social workers. Social work is a high-status profession in France. They have what they would call éducateurs socials in France or pädagogen in Germany, who are specialist professionals who work with children and young people. We do not, I think, have that infrastructure. Any move has to be very well considered and gradual, and there needs to be investment in professionals to make it work, otherwise the approach may make the Government and those who wish for change lose credibility and there may be a backlash in which there will be a push for even more imprisonment. I hope that the Minister will answer that concern in his reply, which I look forward to.

My Lords, you took a very brave step in allowing a German to be introduced into your Lordships’ House just a few days after England’s defeat in the World Cup. The extremely generous-hearted way in which I have been received has, however, received a few knocks in my first week or so. Just last Friday, my noble friend Lord Lester, in his Defamation Bill, talked of the German ad hoc balancing law. I know the Liberal Democrats favour fair representation, but it made me wonder who I was to be balanced with. Then this week, in questions about your Lordships’ murals, there was a request for the German specialist to be brought in.

I realise that I am to be very careful indeed to observe the frequent exhortations coming my way, but I can tell noble Lords that this German is not German, and neither is he English. The name derives from a 5th century bishop called Germanus, who came from Auxerre; he was dispatched by the Pope to the western parts of this country to return the people to the authentic Christian fold and his followers took on his name. Spelling was not a strong feature of 5th century Britain, so many derivations of the name survive today. There is a street in London named after one of them—Jermyn —and there are Jermin, Germaine and the like. It is reported that the bishop Germanus won the people over to the Augustinian teachings of divine grace by using his superior rhetoric, so no pressure there.

I am privileged to join the growing number of Members of your Lordships’ House who have been Members of the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. I am the first Member of the National Assembly for Wales not to have been to the other place, and I look forward to using that experience to help the Assembly to develop and to questioning my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness on his new responsibilities for my country.

I wish to say something about my experience of prisoner education and the problems with it. There are two prisons close to my home. They are in the area that I represented until just a few weeks ago. One, at Usk, is a secure Victorian building that was built on the monastic level, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool talked about earlier. It houses many medium and long-term sentence offenders. The other, in nearby countryside, is an open prison. Both have the same management team, and both represent different ends of the spectrum of prisons in our country.

A few years ago I received a request from the head of training and skills at these prisons to assist them with the qualification structure of the training programmes that they could offer offenders, and to see whether they could be made more appropriate to the world of work. This was my first introduction to the link between reoffending and reintegration, and the importance of skills to that link. It soon became clear to me that much needed to be done to improve both reoffending rates and the level of ex-offender reintegration into the community.

For those who seek level 2 vocational qualifications and beyond, it is nigh on impossible to achieve them while in prison. The NVQ requires an element of work-based on-the-job experience that cannot be provided in a closed prison environment. These NVQs are needed to provide a ticket to a place of work. City and Guilds-type qualifications are used as a route to the NVQ, but no matter how well a prison can simulate the workplace, this will be insufficient to provide the necessary qualification.

On a visit to a very large prison in Doncaster, I saw a two-storey house that had been completely built from scratch by offenders inside a former aircraft hangar. It had fully functioning plumbing and central heating and a fully fitted kitchen, and it was tastefully decorated. After it had been built, it was completely demolished. Even the construction of the finished object was insufficient to gain an NVQ in any of the craft skills needed such as plumbing, plastering, carpentry, construction, electricals and so on. The examining bodies will not accept a fully constructed building in an aircraft hangar as appropriate on-the-job training.

The only solution to gaining these types of qualification is to get an appropriate work placement following release, and these are not easy to come by. As a report last year from the Prisoners’ Education Trust revealed, 87 per cent of offenders surveyed believed that few employers recruit ex-offenders, although there are notable examples of good practice such as National Grid Transco, which employs ex-offenders and takes them on on training programmes. The evidence from employers is clear; core skills are a very much needed element in the mix of skills to be learnt on the job, even though a start can be made in simulated surroundings. Punctuality, working with others, literacy and numeracy are key to success in holding down a job.

There is much research now on the nature of the support that is needed on release to lead to possible successful reintegration into society. In essence, it can be summed up in four words: family, roof, job, and cash—reintegration into some form of family life, a secure home, a job or work placement, and help to manage on a limited income. A Select Committee in the other place recommended:

“If the purpose of providing education and training in prisons is to reduce reoffending by enabling prisoners to gain secure employment, then the continuation of support and programmes on release is essential. The Government needs to: produce an overarching resettlement strategy for prisoners; commit to the continuity of provision of education and training on release”.

My experience was that much more needs to be done if we are to succeed in resettling ex-offenders effectively. For some, perhaps many, prison is not the right solution for reintegration. We are told that reoffending costs the taxpayer £10 billion a year, that there are no robust statistics on those who are successfully reintegrated into society, and that an overarching resettlement strategy will be expensive. This leads me to conclude that we must punish the wrongdoers, but we must also ensure that we help them to get on to the straight and narrow. Not doing so will contribute further to the fracturing of the social fabric of our country.

Finally, I thank all the officials, colleagues and Members of this House for the great kindness that I have been shown in the past few weeks. There is so much to learn, and everyone has gone out of their way to introduce me to the work and operation of this very kind and friendly place.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord German on his admirable maiden speech, and thank him very much for delivering it neither in German nor in Welsh. Wales is a nation that is famous for its singers and its orators. I know that he must be a fine singer, as his earlier career was as head of music in schools in Cardiff. He is certainly a fine orator, as I can vouch having heard him at many party conferences and again today. As a Member of the National Assembly for Wales from its inception until this year, he can among other things give us very good advice on coalitions, because he was a Minister in the Labour-Lib Dem coalition in the Welsh Administration from 2000 to 2003. I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece on her very moving speech, and I look forward very much to hearing both of them often in the future.

I will concentrate my remarks on the subject that I raised in a debate a few months ago during consideration of one of the massive criminal justice Bills which the previous Government used to introduce every six months or so—indeterminate sentences. Those sentences are known as IPPs—imprisonment for public protection. They were created by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and modified by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

For the most serious crimes, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment and is usually subject to release on licence. For crimes that are not quite so serious, there is an upper limit to the length of the sentence, or there was until the Criminal Justice Act 2003. That Act introduced IPPs, which are in effect a form of life sentence. They mean that prisoners who have been convicted of certain violent or sexual offences may be retained in prison beyond the maximum duration allocated to the sentence for that particular offence, and will not be released until they have served first the tariff prescribed by the judge and then until the Parole Board is in due course satisfied that the risk of further serious offences has been reduced to an acceptable level. That may sound worthy, but in practice IPPs have turned out to be an expensive failure. The figures are quite startling. As of 4 June this year, the number of people who are currently subject to the IPP was 6,189. Only 93 of these were released on licence; the rest remain in prison. As of 5 July 2010, 2,860 prisoners subject to IPP were still in detention even though they were past the end of the tariff period which had been allocated to them. Assuming that there were no significant differences between 4 June and 5 July, only 3.5 per cent of those eligible for release have been released, which is extraordinary. What is the reason for this surprisingly small number of releases?

In theory, it could be that prisoners on IPP are a particularly wicked lot, and with some of them that is true, but a very powerful report, published 18 months ago by the Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation indicated that there were several other causes. They include the difficulty in identifying which prisoners present a serious risk of repeating their crimes, with the result that a good many prisoners are on IPP who should not have been there to begin with; the difficulty of providing training courses which have to be undergone by prisoners before they can be released on licence; the frequent movement of IPP prisoners from one prison where training is available to another where it is not; the failure to provide adequate expert evidence to the Parole Board to enable it to reach fair judgments of the risk of release of a prisoner on licence; and, finally, the delays in bringing cases before the Parole Board.

I should like to pay again a short tribute to Dame Anne Owers after her nine years of exceptional service. She was a worthy successor to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who will be speaking in a few minutes. I have known her since 1990 when I was chair of a committee which appointed her the director of Justice, a job she filled with extraordinary success.

That however is not the only relevant report. Only a few days ago, the Prison Reform Trust published a report called, Unjust Deserts. The foreword to the report was written by my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell. That is a name of great distinction in this field because the noble Lord was an outstanding Home Secretary. The conclusions of the report state that the Ministry of Justice needs as a matter of urgency to review social and financial costs and benefits of IPP sentences; there needs to be much better provision of training courses for IPP prisoners; there must be additional resources for parole hearings to enable hearings to be held shortly after the prisoner reaches the tariff date and becomes eligible for release; and there must be training guidance for Parole Board members because the justice system needs to provide better public understanding about the levels of risk involved.

At present, IPP is not just a failure, it is an expensive failure. There are far too many people in prison at great expense who should never have had an indeterminate sentence to begin with or who should have been released on licence at an earlier date. To make IPP work properly would involve further expense, which could not be justified in present circumstances. There may be a case for keeping a small number of IPP prisoners where there is a real probability—not just a possibility—that they will commit serious offences if they are released. The Prison Reform Trust report recognises that IPP in its present state must surely go. It is clear that it was a great mistake in its form. It would be extremely expensive to set that form right. The only real solution for the time being is to get rid of it.

I am very glad that we have chosen the reform of the criminal justice system and its effectiveness as the subject for this debate. I am even more glad that the present Lord Chancellor has shown interest in reducing the number of people in prison. That is entirely different from the successive Home Secretaries of the previous Government who one after the other ratcheted up the length of sentences and invented new offences at every opportunity.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for initiating this debate. I am in gratitude to him for forcing us to come to a place where we address the issues that are filling the newspapers and troubling us on the airwaves at the moment. I am reminded that nearly four years ago in my maiden speech to this House I talked about that subject. I did so from the position of chairman of Crime Concern, of which I had been a trustee for 21 years and chairman for 15 years. Two years ago we merged Crime Concern with the Rainer Foundation, creating Catch22.

Putting two organisations together of equivalent size, both of which have been involved in crime prevention commitment—in the case of Crime Concern since 1988 and in the case of the Rainer Foundation for more than 100 years—created a very big charitable organisation. Even now—I declare an interest as vice-president of Catch22—we are but a tiny dent on the difficulties of the problem. I also declare an interest as an ambassador for Make Justice Work, a new organisation bringing together the themes of crime prevention and policing, and seeking to address a different route out of the problem.

When I made my maiden speech I spoke in a debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Turner, in response to his report on pension reform. My point then, and I will make the point again—it has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, in his opening remarks—was that the cost of the deficit in the pension problem identified by the noble Lord, Lord Turner, was about £23 billion. The cost of the intervention systems that we have at the moment that fail so miserably, according to the 2007 figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, was £22.7 billion. There is a correlation between issues that need solving in wider society and the costs that we spend on failure, and how we are prepared to address those two things.

I will not add in any way to the spray of statistics that we have had in this debate. It has been illuminating. Anyone reading Hansard will discover every conceivable nuance of the issue. I shall focus on one option as an alternative and then make some suggestions. I was taken by an article in last week’s edition of Time magazine entitled “Sentence to Serving the Good Life in Norway”. For those who have not managed to read it, I am sure that it would be available through the Library. It is a review of Norway’s criminal justice system. We have already had reference from the noble Lord, Lord Low, as well as from others, that we might learn wisely from the ways in which our continental partners, particularly the Germans and the French, manage to keep many people out of prison. The article on Norway’s criminal justice system looked in particular at its open prison system.

It is important for the sake of the House if noble Lords would bear with me while I read a small part of this article because it is extremely illuminating. The principal point is simply that treating inmates humanely causes them to come out better people. The article states:

“In an age when countries from Britain to the U.S. cope with exploding prison populations by building ever larger—and, many would say, ever harsher—prisons, Bastoy”—

the leading Norwegian prison—

“seems like an unorthodox, even bizarre, departure. But Norwegians see the island”,


“as the embodiment of their country's long-standing penal philosophy: that traditional, repressive prisons do not work, and that treating prisoners humanely boosts their chances of reintegrating into society. ‘People in other countries say that what Norway does is wrong,’ says Lars, who is serving a 16-year sentence for serious drug offenses. ‘But why does Norway have the world's lowest murder rate? Maybe we're doing something that really works.’

Countries track recidivism rates differently, but even an imperfect comparison suggests that Norway's system produces overwhelmingly positive results. Within two years of their release, 20% of Norway's prisoners end up back in jail”.

I shall repeat that—20 per cent.

“In the U.K. and the U.S., the figure hovers between 50% and 60%. Of course, Norway's low level of criminality gives it a massive advantage. Its prison roll lists a mere 3,300 inmates, a rate of 70 per 100,000 people, compared with 2.3 million in the U.S., or 753 per 100,000—the highest rate in the world”.

We all know the figures for our own here in the UK.

What is the core of the answer? The article illuminates it extremely well. The men and in a very few cases the women who have to become necessary prisoners—we have all discussed the difference between what is necessary detention and what is casual detention for the sake of a failing criminal justice system—with harsher, long-term sentences for more serious crimes, are treated as the citizens whom they will become in wider society after their sentence. The whole point of the Norwegian prison system, exemplified by the new prisons that have been built, is that it humanises the prisoner. It deals specifically with aspects of mental health and drug addiction, absolutely locks in on prevention and care for the offender beyond prison, and deals with skilling to enable the prisoner to succeed outside. That humane approach, which may have its critics upon analysis, is one dimension that I suggest we need to look at.

I just want to put before your Lordships seven additional options for thinking about this problem, many of which have already been addressed in our debate. First, we should agree with and enable the Lord Chancellor to end custodial sentences of under 12 months and we should mandate community sentences, where reasonable. Secondly, we should aim to institute reparations for victims by offenders and institute restorative justice. Enough debate on the issue has taken place. We know it works and we just need to do it. Thirdly, we should get serious about mental health and drug treatment intervention outside as well as within prison, and we should know how to deal with those issues by making the investment necessary in our mental health and care services in advance of an offence.

Fourthly, as has already been pointed out so brilliantly by the right reverend Prelate, we should invest in front-line NGOs like the Catch22s, the Nacros and a long list of many others who have been dealing with these issues from a preventive position for generations—but know their minor place, feel their scrabble for resources, fight for their voices to be heard, and consistently address the issues with Ministers who always say how vital they are and then bypass them to the standard solution. The time has come to stop messing around with the importance of front-line NGOs and charities, to see the dignity of their offer and to get serious about crime prevention activity. It is far better to stop the crimes than worry about the problems of prisoners afterwards, but both must be taken into account.

Fifthly, we must dignify our necessary prison system. I have visited a number of prisons over many years. Some look good and others are places of despair and desperation. We all know that, and we need to reform what “Her Majesty’s pleasure” really means and looks like. We need to be prepared to invest in humanising the way in which we treat criminals. That is an uncomfortable message but, from the experience of other countries which all of us could learn well, I can tell the House that if we treat prisoners as potential and in fact actual future citizens of our society we could have them as effective future citizens of our society. Sixthly, we definitely need to enshrine family-based intervention at the earliest possible point. Building the big society means recognising intelligently who all the social service modelling tells us the problem people and communities are, and gathering together the resources of voluntary agencies and statutory organisations to make the interventions necessary because of the benefits they bring.

Lastly, we must allocate the necessary resources now and invest up front in order to cut costs in the long term, and to give back to society the sense of freedom of knowing that the criminal justice system is there both for the protection of those who are potential victims and for the preparation of those who have been criminals to be normal citizens of the future. That investment is small-scale when compared with the costs of failure.

My Lords, I too welcome the debate, the sharing of thoughts and a trail, perhaps for the future, by the Secretary of State for Justice. It is no surprise, given how much in tune it is with the thinking of my colleagues, that there have been such splendid speeches from these Benches, particularly of course by the two maiden speakers. Kenneth Clarke will not be surprised about being attacked by the press for his thoughts. I wrote down the Daily Mail this morning, but immediately one should say the Daily Telegraph, and the attack by Stephen Pollard. I do not know whether Mr Clarke was surprised to read of the attack not just on him, but on the Thatcher and Major Governments, which were described as a “penal liberal’s dream”. That is not an analysis that I could easily come to.

Imprisonment has a place, but one thing that I am both instinctively and, I hope, logically opposed to is building more and larger prisons for containment. It is obvious that crime prevention is desirable, and shortly we will have a debate on the funding of the police in which their role in prevention will be discussed. It is also obvious that a thoughtful approach does not mean going soft. I declare an interest as a past chair of Refuge, the domestic violence charity. It has talked to me about the need for education and early intervention through appropriate training as key to preventing domestic violence happening in the first place. It states that it knows that,

“rigorous arresting, charging and sentencing, in accordance with the crime, acts as an effective deterrent … and sends a strong public message”,

because domestic violence is of course a crime. The charity,

“has found that encouraging clients to write a Victim Impact Statement has in some cases resulted in more appropriate sentences”,

and urges the Government to,

“collate and evaluate data on the types of sentence”.

It goes on to say that the probation service does,

“not seem to have integrated this data to produce any meaningful outcome measures”.

I could have talked at greater length about the work of Refuge, but I am sure that there will be other occasions to do so.

I have no doubt that the need for savings was one of the prompts for the remarks of the Lord Chancellor and it is one of the prompts for the Government’s work. Not only does the cost of imprisonment exceed that of an Eton education, it provides an excellent education in all the wrong things. Reference has been made to the voluntary and private sectors which do such good work, and I was delighted to see that this has been acknowledged by Kenneth Clarke. He has said that they will be crucial to success and that the Government want to make far better use of their enthusiasm and expertise to get offenders away from the revolving door of crime and prison, which has already been mentioned.

I want to applaud the work of one of the organisations, conscious that it is almost invidious to single out just one, but I will do so. I refer to the St Giles Trust which,

“aims to break the cycle of re-offending. It creates safer communities by turning lives around and preventing the children of offenders becoming the next generation involved in the criminal justice system. It puts offenders at the centre of the solution and believes they have the power and will to change, given the right support”.

A recent piece of work by the charity, Through the Gates, was funded for one year by London Probation and offered intensive one-on-one support for people leaving prison to help them settle back into the community and stay away from crime. It worked with individuals returning to 14 London boroughs—that is almost half of the London boroughs—from prisons across the UK. During the 16 months it was running, it worked with more than 1,500 people, housed more than 1,000 and assisted many more with other issues such as sorting finances and accessing other services. The work of helping the difficult transition from custody to community was largely carried out by case workers—many of them trained—who were reformed ex-prisoners. In the crucial early days they helped, as I have said, with accommodation, finances, employment support— all factors which affect the likelihood of someone reoffending—training and education, access to support to deal with drugs and alcohol, meeting licence restrictions and reintegration into the community. Ex-offenders were credible to those leaving custody and were trusted by them.

Clearly this was of huge importance to the many individuals concerned, but its impact was far wider. Through the Gate was assessed by Pro Bono Economics, working with Frontier Economics. Pro Bono Economics encourages economists to work pro bono, as one would expect, in the charity sector, helping charities, for instance, to measure performance and results in a way which ensures that resources are allocated efficiently and to secure funding by demonstrating effectiveness. The CBI has estimated that crime committed by ex-prisoners costs the economy at least £11 billion a year. So the maths are that reducing the reoffending rate by 10 per cent could save more than £1 billion for the UK economy.

There is not time to go through the report in detail but, as well as describing the services rendered to reduce reoffending and assessing the reduction in the reoffending rates of Through the Gate clients—40 per cent lower—the report gives a rigorous analysis of value for money. I recommend it to my noble friend on the Front Bench. Meeting clients at the prison gates and, as it were, holding their hand through the first few days to ease the transition—literally sticking with them for the first 24 hours if necessary—not leaving anyone homeless or unsupported and keeping them away from old associates and negative influences should, as well as satisfying the bleeding hearts—which is by the by—also satisfy the hard heads.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for obtaining this timely debate, coming as it does between the landmark speech by the Secretary of State for Justice on 30 June and the promised Green Paper setting out how his aims are to be achieved. Since that speech there has been a noticeable smile on the faces of those who take an interest in the criminal justice system, alongside optimism among those who have had meetings with the new Minister for Prisons and Probation, Crispin Blunt, because it appears that notice is being taken of the voices of practitioners. That is not to say that all that the previous Government did was bad. However, they did pass on two millstones—a system that, while not necessarily broken, was failing to protect the public; and a dire financial situation.

Perhaps I may make a small diversion before moving to my contribution. On Tuesday evening, in her valedictory speech at the end of her most distinguished time as Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers— I join others in paying credit to her—said:

“The political game of ‘my prison system is bigger than your prison system’ has been profoundly unhelpful”.

All too often this is expressed in terms of how much more money has been put into something than the previous Government provided. In terms of outcomes, that is meaningless. Perhaps I may therefore respectfully ask the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, not to repeat her remarks about the 70 per cent increase in probation funding, because whatever it was spent on, it was not spent on face-to-face time with offenders. That has gone down to 24 per cent, including time on the telephone, which means that probation officers can spend only 10 to 15 minutes per week with medium-risk offenders and none with low-risk offenders. Frankly, I would keep quiet about the spending of money on such an outcome.

The criminal justice system is made up of four separate parts, each of which has its own distinct role—the police investigate, the courts sentence, and the prisons and probation administer that sentence. I shall limit my contribution to the reform of the latter two, which are currently called the National Offender Management Service but which I hope will be renamed the national offender management system, as that is a better description of what it is.

I start with the aim. If I understand Ken Clarke correctly, by announcing the “rehabilitation revolution” he means that he has changed the aim of the criminal justice system to one of protecting the public by preventing reoffending. One of the lessons that I was taught early in my Army career was the need to turn disadvantage into advantage. Were I a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, I would let everyone know that there are no sacred cows in the criminal justice system and that every function and job is to be examined against the criterion of whether it contributed to achieving that aim.

One of Ken Clarke’s announced intentions is to reduce the numbers in our overcrowded prisons. I have always equated the position of prisons in the criminal justice system to that of hospitals in the National Health Service—they are the acute part where treatment takes place, and no one should go there unless they need the treatment that only prisons or hospitals can provide. Although neither has any control over who comes in, both have to make people better, always conscious of the fact that the treatment will never be completed in the prison or hospital but will have to be continued in the form of aftercare. Today’s debate is about the alternatives to custody, the subject on which I shall now concentrate.

If he is to achieve this aim, Ken Clarke must find alternatives for those whom he seeks to get out of prisons, including women, children, the mentally ill, asylum seekers and immigration detainees. He must also ensure that there are sufficient alternatives to custody in which the public have confidence. One way to do this would be to give both prisons and probation the same aim and require them to do the same things with and for offenders. Therefore the aim of the national offender management system should be to help those committed by the courts to live useful and law-abiding lives. This would unite the 1983 Prison Service statement of purpose and the original purpose of probation, which was to assist, advise and befriend.

Armed with the same aim, both services should carry out the same sequential activities with every person they are required to help. First, they should assess what it is that has prevented them from living a useful and law-abiding life thus far. Secondly, they should turn that assessment into an individual programme, prioritised by the severity of the symptom and the time available. An assessment of law-abiding will include an assessment of risk as well as of criminal tendencies. An assessment of usefulness should include five subjects: first, education, including reasons for low attainment; secondly, job skills, including an aptitude test; thirdly, personal skills, including an assessment of the person’s ability to look after themselves and their dependants; fourthly, mental and physical health; and, fifthly, substance abuse. Such assessments should be standard to both services because there is no reason why such programmes should not be conducted in the community. Indeed, the best youth programme I saw in America, in the state of Massachusetts, had offenders spending half the day on education, including physical education, and half on community reparation, of which more later. The third sequential activity is that they should plan and implement transition programmes from prison to probation or the community, and from probation to the community, with the aim of continuing whatever treatment has been begun.

What I am describing boils down to nothing more nor less than putting appropriate and trained helpers face to face with people in need of their help. Those helpers, who can come from the public, private or voluntary sectors, need to be trained and resourced to carry out their tasks and require an organisational structure to deploy and support them. I suggest that all current managerial structures be examined and ruthlessly pruned to eliminate any parts that are not contributing to that purpose, such as those departments which are responsible for measuring process and overwhelming practitioners with unnecessary bureaucratic demands.

To take advantage of the savings that will inevitably accrue from this process and exploit the added value that comes from including local people and organisations in the resolution of their own problems, I recommend consideration of the following: first, the abolition of the post of chief executive of NOMS and the reappointment of separate directors-general of the prison and probation services, who will be responsible for professional leadership of their services and professional advice to Ministers; secondly, the appointment of regional offender managers who will be responsible for co-ordinating prison and probation services in their region, each with prison and probation deputies, but also with responsibility for population management and deciding when and where prisoners should move—this will save literally millions of pounds and ensure that people are not moved in the middle of courses or to places where courses do not exist; thirdly, the regionalisation of prisons so that, with the exception of high security, prisoners never leave their region; fourthly, the appointment of directors of each type of prison and prisoner to ensure consistency of treatment and conditions in every prison of the same type throughout the country, and with responsibility for turning good practice somewhere into common practice everywhere; fifthly, the giving of set aims to every prison, allowing them to concentrate on particular activities rather than requiring them to do a little of everything, which can mean that too much is not done very well; sixthly, the localisation of probation within regions, including the introduction of adult offender teams, male and female, alongside youth offending teams—each local area should be responsible for determining the community reparation part of every community sentence appropriate for that area; seventhly, the appointment of criminal justice system voluntary sector co-ordinators in every region and co-ordinators in every prison and probation area; and, lastly, laying down the principle that all contracts involving the voluntary sector should be for not less than three years, and preferably for five years, to allow investment.

The benefit of prison and probation using the same programmes is that the public are more likely to believe that they are appropriate alternatives to custody. As someone who strongly supports Ken Clarke’s intent and wants it to succeed, I know that there are sufficient motivated people and organisations to enable it to happen, but they need to be welcomed and helped to help, which means eliminating many of the impediments that are currently in their way.

My Lords, I thank the House for allowing me to speak in the gap. After listening to the very interesting speech given by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the very informed debate that has followed, I should like, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, to address a somewhat naive question to the House.

Is it not the moment in time to bring back sin—yes, sin? No matter whether one is a believer or a non-believer, there is no doubt that by following the guidance of the code of practice as outlined in the 10 commandments, we could help to reduce crime and almost make prisons redundant. I know that this sounds like a very simple plan, but if we look around we will find that there is no code of practice for the treatment of prisoners around the world. I suggest that your Lordships give some thought to my question.

My Lords, I must declare my interest as patron of the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence and as the current chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for initiating a fascinating debate. I listened particularly to my noble friend Lady Kennedy of the Shaws. I am sure that the House agreed with her about the noble Lord’s elegance and attraction, particularly perhaps to his noble kinswoman Lady Walmsley.

I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and the noble Lord, Lord German, on their fine maiden speeches and welcome them from these Benches to the House. I am sure that they will make an invaluable contribution and that all of us look forward with interest to everything that they will say. I also join those who have thanked Dame Anne Owers for her contribution and sterling work as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons.

This debate has formed around a great deal of consensus. I say straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that his plea for a “what works” model was adopted and applied by the previous Government. Much of what he called for was—as I am sure he will acknowledge—done. The transfer of responsibility for education and health from the Prison Service to the Department of Health and department for education was an important step. A number of noble Lords have commented on its importance. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his comments about what the previous Government tried to do.

We learnt a number of very valuable lessons. Education, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned, has to be meaningful to those who are invited to engage. The need for employment is of critical importance. All noble Lords have spoken about the need to work together. The three alliances that were created in 2005—the corporate alliance, the social alliance and the faith-based alliance—to reduce reoffending have all played their part. I commend what was said by the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Liverpool and the Bishop of Guildford about the importance of allowing those in the private sector, the third sector and the faith groups to walk with those who have transgressed so that they can be healed and return to the fold.

However, it is important for us to acknowledge that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. When we look at “what works”, we have to look at the results and the outcomes, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would ask us to do. A number of noble Lords spoke about initiatives. The creation of initiatives such as the Diamond Initiative, which was succeeding in addressing the issue of those sentenced to less than 12 months with no statutory intervention, has brought about significant reductions. We know that reoffending was reduced by 47 per cent in the first year. Figures released today show that investment in the criminal justice system by the previous Government has resulted in the lowest level of crime since 1981. That is according to all the surveys. I hope the Minister will take this opportunity perhaps to apologise for the misuse of the previous crime figures. Crime overall is down by 43 per cent. Year on year, it is down by 9 per cent in every category. There has been no recession-led crime. The increase in police numbers and the safeguarding of front-line services has undoubtedly had a beneficial effect. Alongside the increased investment in police, probation, the Crown Prosecution Service and prisons, we have also radically changed during the past 13 years our approach to the way in which we reduce crime. I am sorry to have to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in saying that the increase in the Probation Service between 1997 and 2008 by 70 per cent was very important. Without those increases in services, I very much doubt that we would have been able to make the reductions that we have seen.

I ask the Minister at this stage to clarify whether what we have read in the Guardian today is true and that it is proposed to cut the money given to the Crown Prosecution Service. I read with some alarm that the CPS told the Attorney-General’s office that its 25 per cent budget cut would damage front-line services and delay and possibly deny justice, according to a draft submission that has been given. I would very much welcome the noble Lord’s comments on that.

How can crime be reduced? Certainly, through our time, we knew that government could not do it alone but must work hand in hand with local authorities, the third sector, business and faith groups if it was to make the improvements that it sought. Early intervention was, rightly, touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. The multiagency response is crucial if we are to save money and lives. But working together has to have a structure. Noble Lords will remember that we created the National Crime Reduction Board, the National Criminal Justice Board, strategic and local partnerships and the multiagency risk assessment conferences for domestic violence. All that working together was what worked. Under Labour, we saw a reduction in burglary, vehicle-related crimes and all household crimes. Domestic violence was reduced by 64 per cent. The number of first-time entrants under 18 was reduced by 20.7 per cent over the past two years. The number of young people in custody was reduced by more than 25 per cent since the end of 2008. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for acknowledging those changes.

Domestic violence is one of the starkest crimes. It is at the root of much family dysfunction, which in turn affects adults and children. Domestic violence is still the greatest cause of morbidity in women; 70 per cent of female homicides are committed by a partner or ex-partner. There are an estimated 120,000 high-risk victims in the United Kingdom and 70 per cent of them have children. Domestic violence in this country now costs £16 billion, down from £23 billion in 2001. So although we have saved £7 billion, there is much more to do. But this has resulted from proper specialist service provision. Domestic violence, despite the serious and significant impact that it has on our society and the criminal justice system, did not receive one mention in the coalition agreement. Will the Minister assure the House that the significant achievements over the past seven years to combat and reduce the instance of domestic violence will not be reversed under the new Government, despite omitting to mention it in the coalition agreement?

Your Lordships will know that we made a commitment when in Government to complete the 80 multiagency risk assessment conferences—we already have 220—so that there is national coverage. Will the Minister say whether that commitment will be retained? For every £1 spent on a MARAC, the services save £6 in direct costs, potentially saving us £740 million every year. The work committed to by noble friends such as my noble friend Lady Corston is incredibly important. Will the Government continue the commitment to the violence against women and girls strategy, and will it be fully implemented? Corston sets a way forward as to how we can help those women who are in prison to find a better way forward. Implementing their recommendations, as the last Government intended to do, will be of critical importance.

So much has been said by so many, much of which I wholeheartedly agree with. I am conscious that times are to be held to, so I shall not comment on all the other matters, but noble Lords will anticipate that I shall return to them on other occasions.

My Lords, I found the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, in a strangely combative and defensive mood today. I shall not follow her. I think that it is probably best to let history and the memoirs decide on the record of the Labour Government. We will certainly remain committed to the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston. Of course, in many of the areas that the noble Baroness raised, we are dealing with a spending review and it is not possible for Ministers to deal with every pre-emptive strike via a leak to the Guardian or wherever to explain what terrible things will happen to this or that service. I was listening to a similar exercise by the police service this morning. We are carrying out an exercise to try to bring public spending under control. Certainly, in all aspects and departments of government, matters are being reviewed.

I was delighted by the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, because in an earlier debate and in her usual very gentle, quiet way she said, “My Lords, if prison worked, wouldn’t we be building fewer of them rather than more?”. It was one of those questions that stick in the mind.

I was also pleased by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, welcoming the launch of this great debate by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor. I can only say that I feel proud to serve in the Ministry of Justice at this time. This is a “seize the moment” moment. Certainly, the economic situation has caused a rapid revaluation of policies and programmes, but this is driven by other factors, too, which I welcome. I look forward to using this debate for the thinking that will carry forward to the Green Paper that has been promised in the autumn.

The twin responsibilities of this or any Government are defence of the realm and protecting the public. The public rightly expect to feel safe in their homes and on their streets. They expect to live a life free from crime and the threat of crime and they expect criminals to be punished. We want a criminal justice system that is effective in protecting the public and punishing offenders and, as part of that, in preventing crime and cutting reoffending. We also have to be realistic. These are difficult times and any changes that we make have to be set within the context of the public finances. Cuts will have to be made and, in some instances, they will be painful. However, we have no intention of cutting indiscriminately. We want policies that are properly thought out and that make sense in light of the evidence. The test of an effective criminal justice system is not how much money is poured into it but whether it achieves what the public want and expect it to achieve. Having less money is clearly going to mean making some difficult decisions, but it also helps to concentrate the mind and gives us a good opportunity to think from first principles about how we deliver public services most effectively and what it is that the taxpayer should be paying for. It is an opportunity to transform the criminal justice system in this country.

Short sentencing has been a recurring issue. Of course, anyone who read my right honourable friend’s speech will know that he did not rule out short sentencing under all circumstances. When we had a debate on this the other night in the Moses Room, one of the contributors made a point that a number of others have made: the impact of a short sentence can often be extremely useful in breaking the cycle of domestic violence. It is not, as has sometimes been suggested, that the Lord Chancellor is throwing the prison gates open.

Noble Lords have mentioned the Telegraph and the Daily Mail. This issue is an example of how difficult it is to get a proper and rational debate in this country about the criminal justice system, given the media. I presume that what appears in the media is written by well educated men and women, yet editors, journalists and newspaper owners seem to condone an approach to this issue that is crass in the extreme. The knee-jerk reaction to any proposed change to the system is to find a recent victim of crime and to get them to say how terrible it would be to let prisoners out. That becomes depressing. I often wonder whether, when they have done their day shift on the newspaper and gone back into the real world, journalists think sensibly about the kind of emotions that they are stirring up and the rational debate that they are preventing on these issues.

My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford opened this debate with the kind of wide-ranging and authoritative speech that I have come to know and appreciate. He raised a number of issues that were repeated throughout the debate—restorative justice, drug and alcohol programmes and mental health problems. Although I have just been complaining about the media, my approach is that the antidote and counterpoint are the kind of debates that we have in this House, which draw on the vast experience here and can feed back into departmental thinking. I assure noble Lords that that is particularly true of this debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, reminded us of the important matter of the number of women in prison. We are certainly looking at that as part of the sentencing review and in response to the Corston report. It will be dealt with in the Green Paper, as will the issue that she raises of the 14 to 25 age group, which is when most people come into the criminal justice system for the first time. I noted the noble Baroness’s point that we cannot have a Dutch auction on this. I hope that we can approach this matter in a cross-party way. Anyone who has ever dealt with this system knows that any political party claiming a monopoly of wisdom on it is treading on dangerous ground. We must learn from things that have worked. We must look abroad and see what is working well and what lessons we can learn. We must deal with this in a rational way as far as is possible.

I share many of the concerns that have been expressed about how we deal with young offenders. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, mentioned that in her speech. The idea of getting judges out to look at the alternatives to sentencing should certainly be encouraged. We all tend to get imprisoned by our jobs and I am sure that judges are no exception. The more they can go and look at alternative programmes in relation to drugs, domestic violence and such, the better.

The noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, gave us some frightening statistics. He should not apologise for putting them on the record. The Hansard of this debate will prove to be a valuable input for the department as it moves towards a Green Paper. The noble Lord was one of the first to raise two recurring themes. The first is the debt that we owe to Dame Anne Owers, a sentiment that I certainly endorse. The other, which I have always worried about and which was also mentioned by my noble friend Lady Walmsley and others, is the worrying failure with regard to children who are held in care and who then go out into society and enter into criminality. It is extremely worrying. The noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, said in her excellent maiden speech that we are their family. We have ultimate responsibility. We want to look carefully at how we might break that cycle.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool raised a recurring issue that will be a major theme of the Green Paper: how, in a time of public expenditure restraint—but not only because of that—can we involve the voluntary sector in addressing these issues? A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, as well as to the right reverend Prelate, pointed out that we have an amazing range of capacities and experience in the voluntary sector, which we may—force majeure—have to turn to now, but which it is also common sense to turn to anyway.

My noble friend Lord Addington raised the interesting issue of whether dyslexia and similar challenges are being properly addressed. We have followed the review of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, and are trying to ensure that in young offender institutions, and elsewhere, there is a broadening of the assessment when people come into contact with the authorities. Indeed, a new screening tool is being developed by Dyslexia Action to see whether we can identify this problem earlier. Returning to this area, we see that the link between illiteracy and crime is so overwhelmingly clear that we must look at it.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford reminded us how many of the women in prison are not there for any kind of violent crime. Many are drug mules or in prison for debt-related reasons. When we debated drugs a few weeks ago, the link between drugs, prostitution and criminality was sadly clear. We must look again at different ways of addressing the issue.

Restorative justice was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. The Government recognise the value of restorative justice; we want to see more offenders making practical reparation for the harm that they have caused.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, raised the issue of indeterminate sentences. There is no question but that we must protect the public from the most dangerous criminals in society. The sentencing review will certainly look at this. There has been widespread criticism of the IPP system. NOMS has implemented a range of measures for the prisoners, including £3 million of support work to improve assessment and access to interventions. The issue raised by the noble Lord is certainly taken to heart.

I want to give the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, a chance to respond. Since I have, as usual, another half-hour’s worth of points raised to answer, I assure those who have spoken that every word of this debate in Hansard will be studied in the department. I have found the contributions that have been made very helpful. We have an agenda. As I have indicated, we carry forward some of the work that was done by the previous Administration, although we deal with it in the context of a constrained financial climate, as any Government would have had to. I hope that the Secretary of State has demonstrated in his two interventions—one to the judges the other night and his earlier lecture—that he wants to initiate and spur on a debate in this area and hear fresh ideas and thinking to enable the Green Paper in the autumn to be a platform for real reform. In this respect, this debate will have fulfilled all his desires and expectations. I thank all noble Lords for taking part.

Finally, I thank the two noble Lords who made their maiden speeches—the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and the noble Lord, Lord German. It makes me, in my other capacity, feel that I have a couple more stars of the future on the team.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords who have contributed to this wide-ranging and fascinating debate. We have covered many topics, particularly in relation to the problems of women and young people in prison. We have listened to the plan of action of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, which I commend to the Government for their consideration. We have heard from people with great experience of all sides of the criminal justice system. I also commend my noble friends Lady Hussein-Ece and Lord German for their maiden speeches. I have known the noble Lord, Lord German, for more than 30 years. He is a great addition to the Welsh voices in this Chamber and we look forward to hearing more from him. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, with her great experience in local government, will have a great deal to say.

The Minister called for rationality in criminal justice policy. That is what we need. That is what we have been after. We want to get away from the red mist that arises among newspaper editors and sometimes the public. It creates a climate of fear. We live in a country that does not need fear of crime. We should be able to deal with the problems that arise; we should cope and not for ever be worried about the risk that somebody will do terrible things to us. It has been a great debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion in my name.

Motion withdrawn.