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Prisons: New Prisons

Volume 744: debated on Wednesday 20 March 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that all new prisons are environmentally sustainable.

My Lords, the Building Research Establishment environmental assessment method—BREEAM—sets the standard for best practice in sustainable building design, construction and operation, using recognised measures of performance set against established benchmarks. All new prisons are required to be BREEAM-assessed to a standard of excellence.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very encouraging reply. Does he recognise that sustainable prisons, with productive gardens, workshops and even small farms, can help with rehabilitation and reduce reoffending, especially among the very high proportion of prisoners with mental illness?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is correct, and that is why new prisons are designed to be able to facilitate opportunities for work, education, training and rehabilitation. That is the benefit of a new-build policy.

My Lords, will the Minister ensure that in addition to being environmentally sustainable, new prisons are located in places that are not too far removed from the places whence the prisoners have come and where they might find jobs after their release?

My Lords, as part of the rehabilitation revolution we are looking at a release programme for prisoners whereby they can be located in a prison that gives them a chance for suitable training and, as I think I have mentioned before, with an emphasis on “through the gate” support after they leave prison, if possible in locations close to where they are going to live thereafter.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the new building programme will eliminate or reduce the problem of churning, which causes such distress to prisoners’ families?

If we can get a secure, stable estate and a prison population that is not overcrowded, certainly. A lot of attention is given by prison management to locating prisoners close to families. As my noble friend will appreciate, there are other matters that have to be taken into consideration in ensuring that each prison is stable and well managed.

My Lords, with an ever increasing prison population—there are more than 84,500 men, women and young people in our estate—and with 46% of adult prisoners having 15 previous convictions or cautions, it is clear that prison is not working. Rather than building new prisons, what action are the Government taking to divert people from the prison estate in the first place?

Indeed. I have drawn attention before to the very high number of people in prison. While we are building new prisons, we are also closing old prisons. Our older prisons are ill equipped for rehabilitation. I hope that the proposals that we will be bringing forward on the rehabilitation and management of offenders will address some of those issues. I could not agree more that there are better ways of spending taxpayers’ money than on circulating repeat offenders through our prison system.

My Lords, may I stretch the words of the Question a little further to include farming? Farming was formerly part of a prisoner’s range of choices, particularly with a view to future jobs and a lifestyle. Apart from that, the meat that they provided from pigs and cows was fed to the prisoners and was perfectly delicious, as I know from Pentonville prison.

I think it was possible to have prison farms in the past. My noble friend is right about both the sustainability of such regimes and the benefit to prisoners. I am not sure that present circumstances would allow that, but I recently visited a prison in the north-west that had opened up a section of the land to develop an under-glass market garden. That was being very well used by the prisoners, who had gained great benefit both from the training that they received there and the personal satisfaction that such work gave.

My Lords, my noble friend acknowledged the value of rehabilitation. Will he acknowledge the even greater value of people being prevented from getting into crime and say what plans there are to start skewing the budget away from punishment and towards prevention?

The Government’s whole policy is to try to divert people from crime. We are looking to develop many more mentoring schemes to enable people who are vulnerable to be helped with their addictions and problems in a way that will divert them from crime.

My Lords, can I ask the Minister from the Cross Benches whether he is aware of the excellent example set in this regard by Wetherby young offender institution, where the young men have dug out a pond, tend their animals and can fish? It seems an excellent achievement by that institution.

I am aware of that scheme, although I have not had an opportunity to visit it. However, it illustrates the wisdom of the right reverend Prelate’s follow-up point: that in the environment there are many possible solutions to reoffending and for rehabilitation.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that a great deal of international experience supports the right reverend Prelate’s point? In Hong Kong, there is a new 1,400-bed women’s prison, and a large number of units in the United States. Initial evidence shows that in such prisons there are important human, behavioural and social benefits as well as the obvious financial and environmental ones.

I agree with my noble friend. Despite what the reports say in certain sections of our media, there is a far better chance of rehabilitating people in decent and humane conditions than in antiquated and inhumane ones.