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Prisoners: Treatment and Conditions

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 18 July 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to improve the treatment and conditions of prisoners in England and Wales following the publication on 11 July of the annual report of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons is independent and impartial. We welcome his report, and we accept that there are significant challenges ahead of us. We are facing up to these challenges. We are clear that we must get the basics right. This means prisons that are safe, decent and secure, with clean wings and humane living conditions.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. When I was Chief Inspector of Prisons and published a bad inspection report, it was invariably accompanied by a statement from the director-general of the Prison Service saying that after the inspection things had improved. I note that, after last week’s dreadful annual report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the chief executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service claimed that he had a “robust and coherent strategy” to improve the situation. Will the Minister therefore write to me setting out what that coherent and robust strategy actually is, and put a copy in the Library?

My Lords, this could be one of the easiest questions I have ever had to answer: I would be very happy to write to the noble Lord. Last week, the Lord Chancellor announced £30 million of immediate additional funding for safety, security and decency across the estate. Included in that is £16 million to improve the fabric of our prisons. There will be packages for remedial work to cells at some of our worst prisons, such as Liverpool, Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs.

My Lords, among many worrying concerns raised in the chief inspector’s report is the revelation of a growing increase over the last five years in the proportion of the inspectorate’s recommendations not being achieved, from 35% to close to 50%, with only 38% being fully achieved. What steps are the Government taking, and over what period of time, to address this lamentable situation?

My Lords, we are already taking steps in this regard, because we are absolutely committed to ensuring that prisons address the issues raised in inspections and that they develop robust action plans to deal with them. The length of time that prisons now take to produce an action plan has been reduced. The Government are now making sure that these action plans are published, so that there is greater accountability. Finally, we have created a specific unit, an assurance unit, that monitors progress against the action plan and holds governors to account for the implementation.

My Lords, the report from the chief inspector is very disappointing indeed, not just for the increase in the number of recommendations year on year which are not being put into practice. In fact, the chief inspector says that this report, like others, may well be put on the shelf and ignored—I hope that the Government are not intending to do that. More importantly, one of the big recommendations from the chief inspector is that people’s life chances are being denied: they cannot turn their lives around because of the quality of the services being provided for resettlement. Do Her Majesty’s Government have some plan in place that will make sure that the recommendations of the chief inspector actually happen and that people will be given the opportunity to turn their lives around and reduce reoffending in this country?

My Lords, absolutely—this report will certainly not be shelved. We are working on many different areas of the recommendations that the chief inspector made. On people turning their lives around, reducing reoffending is, of course, critical: it costs this country £15 billion a year. The noble Lord may have seen that the department published the Education and Employment Strategy earlier this month. It puts governors in control of the opportunities, vocational training and potential jobs within their prisons, so that they can tailor the offerings and services within their prison according to their prison population and the local community.

My Lords, prior to the tenure of Chris Grayling as the Secretary of State, no prisoner serving a sentence of less than 12 months was subject to probation. Since then, anyone who has even served two weeks is subject to probation. What is happening is that people who, for example, miss a bus find that they are straight back in prison because it is a breach of their probation. There are a lot of women now who are stuck in this revolving door. Have the Government taken any decision to reverse this ridiculous position? Has anyone thought of the effect on the children of these women?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that we published our Female Offender Strategy on 27 June, and there was a wholesale review of the services available to female offenders. Some £5 million has been put in over two years for community provision, and we will be looking at this so-called revolving door. The flip side to that is that we must remember that to have people come out of prison with no support at all is simply not good enough. We must make sure they have the support and supervision they need.

Does my noble friend agree that the real problem is that we have too many people in prison? Why is it that we are so much more wicked than the French or the Germans, so that we lock up nearly twice as many as they do? Surely we ought to look at this fundamental question.

My Lords, that is indeed a fundamental question and also a very complex one, which takes into account many factors, those being the laws passed in your Lordships’ House, the sentencing guidelines and the reasons that people go to prison. We face a significant issue with drugs, with almost 50% of male offenders having a drugs problem, and they are particularly likely to reoffend and come back into the system. I would like to reassure the noble Lord that the Lord Chancellor is cognisant of this and is looking at ways in particular to reduce short-term sentences, which sometimes do no good at all.

Is it possible to look upon somebody going to prison as, in fact, an educational crisis, rather than looking at it in any other way? As about 80% of people in prison have failed at school, is it not therefore time to do a bit of joined-up thinking, with your department working with education, to prevent the ridiculous situation of the predictable failure of these children of ours?

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bird. He is of course right: often, people end up in prison because of a failure of education or a failure of all sorts of different reasons. We recognise this across government and, therefore, have set up a reducing reoffending board, which includes the Ministry of Justice, Home Office, Cabinet Office, the Department for Education and DWP. All government departments need to work together to make sure that people who end up in prison have not been failed by the system as a whole and simply fallen through the cracks. In terms of education within prison, information, advice and guidance are now in the hands of governing governors, so they can make sure they provide it for their prison population.