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Prisoners: Work

Volume 757: debated on Monday 8 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why there has only been a one per cent increase in the number of prisoners in England and Wales at work since 2010.

My Lords, the number of prisoners working in industrial activity reported by public sector prisons increased from around 8,600 in 2010-11 to around 9,900 in 2013-14, an increase of 15%. Over the same period, the total number of hours worked increased by 33% from 10.6 million to 14.2 million in public sector prisons. That excludes activity such as cooking, serving meals, maintenance and cleaning, and work placements undertaken by offenders on release on temporary licence.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. The derisory increase to 15% in the numbers working in prisons is matched by a decrease by 2% since 2012 in the numbers of those who get work on leaving prison. Despite all the rhetoric we have had, recently a prison governor was brave enough to tell a court of the effects of the imposed new way of working in prisons, which has resulted in staff cuts and not enough work for prisoners to do. Only last week, G4S told the Justice Select Committee in another place that the ability of governors to govern their prisons was being undermined by government policy. Furthermore, the increase by 69% of the numbers who commit suicide raises the possibility of a charge of corporate manslaughter. Can the Minister please tell the House when Ministers—with the notable exception of Simon Hughes, who has been brave enough to admit that there is a crisis in our prisons—will stop fudging the public about what is happening in our prisons?

My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord’s characterisation of what is happening in prisons. We have increased the number of working hours. Our aim is to replicate as far as possible the normal working week in the community, real work experience and the acquisition of skills, which support effective rehabilitation. As to deaths in custody, any death is a tragedy. We have a number of different ways of investigating them. A review chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is looking into the deaths in custody of 18 to 24 year-olds and we are expecting its report in April next year. We have a number of measures in place to ensure that those unfortunate incidents can be reduced.

On 27 November I asked about prison overcrowding and staff shortages. In an uncharacteristically peremptory tone the Minister replied that he did not share my gloom, that the work done in prisons is of a very high standard and that we have a dedicated body of prison officers. What is the ratio of officers to prisoners now compared to 2010? What is the Government’s response to the worrying report on work-related stress among prison officers and the well-being of prison officers produced by the occupational health and occupational psychology departments of the University of Bedfordshire?

We are always concerned for the welfare of prison officers, who do a very fine job indeed. Benchmark reports incorporate staffing resources for escorting and patrolling activity areas. We are satisfied that prison officers are enabling people to do the work, which was the subject of the original Question. We are recruiting more prison officers but we are satisfied that they are doing an excellent job.

I am not able to give an answer as to the number of writers in residence, but I agree with my noble friend that literature and writers can contribute very considerably.

My Lords, last week the High Court ruled that restrictions on books for prisoners introduced last year by the Secretary of State for Justice were unlawful. Mr Justice Collins further pointed out in his ruling that because of various cuts libraries can be inadequate in meeting prisoners’ needs. I declare an interest in that I was for many years a book publisher. Does the Minister agree that reading can be a vital part of rehabilitation and that improved literacy is crucial for future employment? Is it not now time to end the restriction on prisoners receiving books from family and friends?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. It was a surprising judgment. It related to HM Prison Send, which I recently visited with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, who sits two places away from the noble Baroness. We visited both libraries there and spoke to the librarian. We attended a readers’ group. Frankly, the provision of books was excellent. There were a number of books written by noble Lords or their relatives. There is no ban on books. There is only an attempt to restrict bringing in drugs, via parcels, inside books. If you are a prisoner you can get books.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. Does the Minister not agree that the most effective work in prison is that which leads to employment outside? Would he like to take this opportunity to commend those employers who have participated in Through the Gate training towards getting a prisoner a job after imprisonment as a means of rehabilitation and urge other employers to join this scheme?

I am happy to take that opportunity. The Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending, which includes employers such as Greggs, DHL and Timpson—the forum is chaired by James Timpson—is providing a valuable service. Halfords is also a recent addition. They offer employment, which is usually in prison, which can then provide a bridge into employment in the community. That is a very important contribution and I am happy to acknowledge it.