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Prisons: HM Young Offender Institution Feltham

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many of the recommendations of the public inquiry into the murder of Zahid Mubarek in HM Young Offender Institution Feltham, published on 29 June 2006, remain unimplemented.

My Lords, the National Offender Management Service has fully implemented 71 of the 88 recommendations made in the report of the Zahid Mubarek inquiry. Two recommendations were rejected at the time of the publication of the report. The remaining 15 recommendations were either partially implemented or have become obsolete as a result of other developments.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Nineteen year-old Zahid Mubarek was murdered in March 2000 by a known racist psychopath with whom he had been paired in a cell by prison staff. Three and a half years later, your Lordships took the unprecedented step of directing that there should be a public inquiry into the murder, resisted until then by successive Home Secretaries. Its report was published five years ago today, following which, for two years or so, the Home Office convened regular meetings with the Mubarek family to update them on the processing of the 88 recommendations. These meetings have ceased. To demonstrate to the family and to others who are interested that improving the treatment of and conditions for black and ethnic-minority prisoners remains on the agenda, I ask the Minister if he would be kind enough to publish not only the details of how many recommendations have not been implemented but also what action, or inaction, has been taken on each one of them.

My Lords, I shall certainly do that. I have four or five pages of briefing on actions here and I shall put some of them in the Library. It is not a matter of inaction or refusal to implement; as I said in my initial reply, some of the recommendations have been bypassed by the implementation of other policies. It is certainly true that many lessons were learnt from this tragedy. Contact with the family continued, as the noble Lord said. The thrust and direction of policy that the inquiry initiated has gone on apace, in a way which, we hope, will avoid as far as humanly possible such a tragedy happening again.

My Lords, exactly what is the position with regard to overcrowding at Feltham, which is one of the reasons that lay behind the tragic events to which the Minister referred?

My Lords, I am not sure that there is overcrowding, unless one is talking about the ability to provide every prisoner with a single cell. That was one of the recommendations that could not be accepted, simply because the provision of single-cell accommodation would put such pressure on capacity that it could not be delivered. Both staff training and assessment before arranging cell sharing are much more thorough than before. As I said, we hope that this will avoid the kind of tragedy that the Mubarek murder revealed.

My Lords, the report revealed the most woeful state of the paper trail, as it is called, of the documents that are supposed to go with prisoners but very often do not—many of the documents did not arrive. The report said that an important contributory factor related to the Learmont recommendation, made in 1995, that a central electronic database for prisoner security information should be established. Has that been fully established and, if so, with what results?

I am not sure whether that has been fully established, but I will write to my noble friend on the specifics of whether the 1995 recommendations have been fully implemented. Sometimes with these reports, there is a gap between full implementation and actual practicality and resources. However, I know that, in terms of assessing prisoners for cell sharing, and indeed in dealing with prisoners during their time in custody, there has been much improved sharing of information among the various agencies. In the host prison, from the governor downwards, there is now as full as possible an assessment of the prisoner’s susceptibilities that would make it better or not for them to be cell sharers.

My Lords, following the suicide of failed asylum seekers, what assessment is there of the possibility of such suicides taking place?

My Lords, there is constant assessment of suicide risk for anyone who is held in custody. Certainly as far as I understand them, these assessments are very thorough in trying to avoid suicide. On the specific point, which goes slightly wide of the Question, I will look at the issue and write to my noble friend.

Can the Minister confirm that there has been a welcome reduction in the number of convicted prisoners in young offender institutions? Is it the department’s policy, over time, to try to achieve in so far as is possible single-cell occupancy by young offenders?

I do not think that I can make that commitment from the Dispatch Box. In part, that is because part of the advice that we get—this relates back to the suicide issue as well—is that the assessment made of young offenders sometimes shows that cell sharing could be of benefit in the circumstances, rather than leaving them in isolation. I make no bones about the fact that it is partly a matter of the resources that would be required for single-cell accommodation, but we also get strong professional advice that, in some circumstances, cell sharing can be of benefit to the young people concerned.

For example, some of the recommendations in the report related to cell furniture, which had already been changed by the time that the report came out. Part of the difficulty was that some cell furniture could too readily be used for violence. There were changes to the design of cell furniture—for example, bolting cell furniture to the floor so that it could not be so easily used—so that, by the time that the report came out, the recommendation on cell furniture was obsolete.