Question for Short Debate
My Lords, “appalling” was the word used by the Prisons Minister about what was happening in Birmingham over the summer. It is a very interesting expression: it was in “an appalling state”. There had to be an enormous amount of effort moving prisoners around out of Group 4’s prison. We cannot deny that. The five prisons run by Group 4 have a relatively good record on rehabilitation. There are pluses and minuses. On average, if you are in a Group 4 prison, you will cost the state about 25% less than if you were in an ordinary prison and about 45% less than if you were in a public/private investment programme prison. If you look at Group 4 and what it has brought to the table, on average it has increased the quality, to some extent, at a cheaper price.
We must commend the Government and Group 4 and thank the Prison Service because, if it has done one thing, it has kept our boys and girls locked up. It is pretty good at that. You have 83,000 very clever, thoughtful people, who on average are very astute, and you have managed to keep most of them banged up. That is an enormous achievement and we should thank Her Majesty’s Government for it. The problem is, of course, that since 2010 we have lost more than £500 million of investment in prisons. This year, we have had a 26% increase in attacks by prisoners on staff and a 19% fall in staff numbers in this difficult area.
What do we do with our young men and young women, our children, who fall by the wayside and get involved in crime and wrongdoing? In a civilised society, you do not just bang them up. If it was just about banging people up, we would have the best record in western Europe. We have a lot of people banged up— more than anywhere else in western Europe. We should congratulate the Government because, if you were to ask a victim what they would like to happen to the person who mugged them at the ATM, some would say, “Execute them,” and some would say all sorts of things. If you said, “Look we can’t do anything, but we can bang them up”, that person would probably—I certainly would—say, “Bang them up, hurt them, take them out of their family, make them suffer for what they have done to me”. Let us be honest: an eye for an eye works in certain circumstances. But then you have an even bigger problem, because the person goes in bad and comes out worse.
When they come out, because the investment in their transformation has been niggardly, small and shrinking over the years, you have a rather difficult situation. They often end up homeless, lost and broken with their family. They often end up a drain on the rates and the taxpayer. What we save in keeping them in a cheap jail is immediately destroyed because we have to pick up the cost socially and in other areas. If you take somebody who comes out of prison with no future, no education, no social training and no way forward, then you can probably look on them appearing in the public record again and again over many years. And they might end up costing over £1 million.
So what can the Government do about it? There has been a doubling of the prison population since 1993. We must remember that our friends on the Labour Bench introduced 3,600 new offences in the course of their time in government, so one reason why there might be more prisoners is that there are more reasons to bang people up. But let us not get into a party-political squabble. Since 2006, we have halved the number of community sentences, but we know that community sentencing works pretty well, and we know that short sentences do not work well—they are almost an introduction to a university of crime. Yet, since 2006, we have cut the number of people and look for an answer beyond custodial sentencing. We cut the link and the possibility of restorative justice and getting somebody who has been a naughty boy or a naughty girl to participate in the community. We have done that and brought in more short sentences, even though we know that they are not working.
We can play around with the facts and figures and throw around percentages. We can do all those things, but I am not here to do that. I came into the House of Lords to dismantle poverty. That means looking at the causes of poverty. Where does poverty come from? What can we do about poverty? If we take the boys and girls who were banged up and magnetise them and then get a big map of the UK and we magnetise the various cities where most of the crime, poverty, indolence and social failure is and we threw them up in the air, they would come down in particular pockets. We would have a social crime map of the United Kingdom. What are we doing as a nation, as a Government, as a political system to question the predictability of failure if you come from Moss Side? I bet a pound to a penny that there will be more criminals from Moss Side than Knightsbridge, although there is a different kind of criminal in Knightsbridge, obviously—they will not hit you with a stick, but they might get their hands on your pension. But we will not go into that because I do not want to be geographically snobbish.
Why do we always worship at the altar of today, and tomorrow is going to be another day? It will look just like today but worse. We need a Government who are involved in the full process of stepping back and saying, “Where do the problems come from? Where do the social illnesses come from?”. I heard the end of the NHS debate. Is it not wonderful that we could form a new super-government department made up of the NHS that would have prisons and unemployment in with it? Because they all figure together. They all bounce off each other. When on average 70% or 80% of people who end up in prison have mental health problems, is it a question of crime, social preparation, parenting, the street that you live in, or having a mum and dad earning at most £6, £7 or £8 an hour, who are run ragged and cannot give you the kind of guidance and opportunity you need to move away from crime?
We need not just a few clever little tricks; we need to rethink crime. We need to rethink prisons as opportunities for transforming naughty boys like me, who may even end up in the House of Lords. Thank you.
My Lords, as ever we are much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for speaking so powerfully about a critical issue in our society. The number of people in prison is disgraceful. It is an incredibly serious problem. The report over the summer on the situation at Birmingham was quite deplorable. The Chief Inspector of Prisons described a situation of widespread violence and bullying, pervasive drugs problems, squalid conditions, inadequate levels of staff control and prisoners so terrified for their personal safety that they resorted to self-isolation. I am pleased that he did not go down a sterile argument about prisons being in either private or public ownership. It is clear that HMP Oakwood is a magnificent example under G4S. I do not think that this is a question of public or private ownership—but it is an issue of culture in prisons and regaining control.
I will speak particularly about HM Inspectorate of Prisons, because it has a position of authority, power and integrity that is listened to by all. I pay tribute not only to Peter Clarke in his present role but to a particularly fine Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick. He did the job excellently. He showed a lifetime of commitment to the most disadvantaged in society, but also a cool head and a warm heart. He established the independence of HM Inspectorate of Prisons, which has been established for some time now.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, prisons operate in a wider context—the multiplicity of causation, the whole situation of health, mental health, homelessness and education. I read a paper only last week about rough sleepers. Those are all contributory elements, as we well understand, to how people end up in prison. But it cannot be an ideal place for them.
Two years ago was a dramatic period in which the Inspectorate of Prisons documented some of the most disturbing prison conditions we had ever seen—conditions that have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century. I am hugely encouraged that the commitment of the Minister for Prisons, Rory Stewart, to implementing substantial improvement is there for all to see. As a new MP, I had been a candidate on the Isle of Wight where there were three major prisons and I knew a lot about the situation there. I had an adjournment debate in the middle of the night. The then Minister of Prisons tried to coerce me into not raising the debate because really nobody was very interested and it would not do my career very much good at all. There is now a very different situation and I welcome that, led often by Members of this House.
We understand that organised crime in prisons is connecting two interlinked components—staff corruption and the use of drugs in prison. I call on the police to work very closely with prison officers to try to tackle the violence, disorder and crime. It cannot be done from prison alone: it has to be done beyond the walls.
Of course, there are many prisons doing excellent work and there are many valiant prison officers who are really committed, in spite of the odds. But there is an extraordinarily serious issue concerning staff retention. We have had the announcement of 2,500 more prison officers, but in 2010 only 1.5% of operational staff had had less than one years’ experience. By 2018 this was 22%. The real, underlying issue is the extraordinary rotation. People join the Prison Service and then leave. In other professions, there are programmes: for example, to look at how nurses can stay and hold on to their vocation.
Rory Stewart’s announcement of £10 million of government investment in the prison system and 2,500 prison officers is important, but we know that we also need investment in scanners, security, estate management, governor training and support for prison officers. Fortunately, the number of those in youth offender institutions is, quite rightly, significantly down from 3,500 to 883—almost all boys. We need to focus on education, but here again, with the new secure schools, I urge that HM Inspectorate of Prisons should continue to have a crucial place in inspecting the schools, because it was the inspectorate, after all, that discovered some of the abuses in the secure training centres. If there is an ideal example of these institutions, it is hard to find.
Let me echo the call by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, to find time for more enlightened approaches. We speak about restorative justice time and again. Let me commend Gerry Johnstone and Iain Brennan at the criminology department of the University of Hull, who are doing a fascinating piece of work comparing restorative justice in seven European countries. They will produce work that we should see and value.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird. I am convinced that the Minister takes this seriously. We must all wish him well in trying to ensure that our prisons set an example and do some good for the people incarcerated in them, instead of carrying on in their present deplorable state.
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for the opportunity to debate this important issue. My interest stems from being asked in 2014 by the then Minister for Prisons to review the 87 self-inflicted deaths of young people in prison between April 2007 and the end of 2013. Every one of the young people who died and whose cases we examined was someone’s son or daughter, sister or brother, partner or even parent. Each of the deaths represented a failure by the state to protect the young people concerned. That failure is all the greater when you look at the investigations into those deaths because the same criticisms occur time and again. Lessons have not been learned and not enough has been done to bring about substantive change.
My review concluded that all young adults in custody are vulnerable. Some had chaotic lives and complex histories; others had been subjected to child abuse, exposed to violence or repeated bereavement; many had been in foster or residential care; and often their lives had been further compounded by mental health issues. In the 87 cases we examined, many of the young people’s problems and vulnerabilities, including mental health issues, had been evident from an early age. Why did so many of them end up in custody?
The cases keep coming. There have been 195 deaths in prison so far this year, of which 49 have already been designated as self-inflicted and another 66 are awaiting classification. That was in the first nine months of this year alone—that is a lot of deaths—and nine of those deaths were of young people aged under 24. It is worth emphasising something for those who believe in the myth of the prisoner’s holiday camp. Let us be clear: prisons and young offenders’ institutions are grim environments, bleak and demoralising to the spirit. The experience of living in a prison or YOI is not conducive to rehabilitation. What is more, when coupled with current impoverished staff regimes, this makes the experience particularly damaging to developing young adults.
Recent reports from the Chief Inspector of Prisons suggest that despite ministerial promises of more investment and better conditions, the current state of our prisons is getting worse. When I did my review, it was clear that young adults in prison were not sufficiently engaged in purposeful activity and their time was not spent in a constructive and valuable way. In many of the 87 cases examined, the vulnerable young adults were going through a period of particular distress that might have passed had they not spent so much of their time banged up in their cells with nothing to do other than stare at potential ligature attachment points. At the time of my report, the Prison Service centrally did not know how many functional safer cells, where ligature attachment points have been removed, existed. Does the Minister have that information now? If not, why not? Nor did the Prison Service know how many hours prisoners spend out of their cells on purposeful activity. Does the Minister have that information now? Again, if not, why not?
A central recommendation of my review was that a named individual should take responsibility for the individual prisoner and her or his journey through the prison—someone who would take personal responsibility for the health, education, social care, safety and rehabilitation needs of each individual prisoner. They would have a small enough caseload that they would know the individual prisoner and deliver the right package of services for their needs. Since my review, Ministers have talked about a 1:6 ratio. Could we have the figures? What is the current ratio of officers to prisons and do the officers concerned have the opportunity to develop a meaningful and sustained relationship with the prisoners whom they are supposed to be assisting towards rehabilitation?
The other central recommendation was that much more needs to be done to support young people long before they ever get into trouble. I repeat, these are young people whose problems had been evident from an early age, so why was nothing done before—long before—they ended up in custody? If we do not get this right, we will waste the billions of pounds referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and we will not secure lives or rehabilitate individuals. We will simply make the situation worse.
My Lords, let me add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for this debate. Prisons have four major purposes: retribution; incapacitation; deterrence, although over 60% of offenders reoffend within two years; and rehabilitation, on which we do not even meet the requirements of the Trade Descriptions Act.
The past two months have seen a series of reports from the Prisons Inspectorate that highlight truly dreadful conditions in a number of our major prisons. On 13 July, the inspectorate published a report into Wandsworth prison which stated that it was one of the country’s most overcrowded prisons, filled with many men with drug and mental health problems, many of whom were locked in their cells during the working day. On 20 August, we learned that the public sector was taking immediate direct control of Birmingham prison from G4S after the inspectorate had found the prison in an appalling state with high levels of violence, widespread bullying, squalid living conditions and poor control by staff. Then, on 4 September, the inspectorate published a report on High Down prison which found increasing levels of violence and a very low level of purposeful activity, with 47% of prisoners being locked in their cells during the working day.
These reports followed the publication on 11 July of the inspectorate’s annual report for 2017-18 in which the Chief Inspector said that his inspections during the year had documented some of the most disturbing jail conditions the inspectorate had ever seen, with violence, drugs, suicide, self-harm, squalor and poor access to education being prominent themes. Incidents of self-harm in prisons are at the highest level ever recorded. Serious assaults in prison are at the highest level ever. Assaults on staff have risen by 158% in the past four years. Sexual assaults in prisons have more than tripled since 2012. It is impossible to ignore the fact that the deterioration in conditions in so many prisons has followed a swingeing cut in the budget of HM Prison and Probation Service of nearly a quarter between 2011 and 2015. That led to a cut in the number of front-line staff of 25% between 2010 and 2017. I welcome the recent increase in spending and recruitment of prison officers, but the fact remains that our prisons are struggling to cope, with far too many prisoners with too few resources to provide them with safe, decent and rehabilitative regimes.
There are two main reasons why so many of our prisons are severely overcrowded. The first is that we use prison too much for minor offences. In 2017, nearly half of the 65,000 sentenced prisoners entering prison were given sentences of six months or less. Research shows that community sentences are more effective than prison in reducing reoffending, yet the number of community sentences has halved in the last decade. The second reason for overcrowding is that sentence lengths are getting longer. For indictable-only offences, the average sentence length is now 57 months, compared with 32 months a decade ago. The result is that we have 141 prisoners for every 100,000 people in our general population, compared with 78 in Germany. We are not twice as criminal as the German people, so why do we need to imprison twice as many people as they do?
I would be grateful if the Minister could answer a number of questions. What plans do the Government have to reduce the unnecessary use of prison? Will they consider legislation to introduce a statutory presumption against the imposition of short prison sentences? Will they consider legislation to require sentencing guidelines to take account of the capacity of the prison system? Will they consider removing prison as an option for low-level, non-violent crimes? Will they consider prohibiting courts from using prison, except for dangerous offenders, unless they have first tried an intensive community supervision sentence? Finally, will they legislate to convert the sentences of existing IPP prisoners into determinate sentences once they have served a period equivalent to double their tariff? If not, what other plans do the Government have to eliminate prison conditions that have no place in any civilised society, let alone a developed country in the 21st century?
My Lords, this is a popular debate taking place within a challenging timeframe and there is a noble Lord who wishes to speak in the gap. If the Minister is to have adequate time to respond to the many important points that are raised we need to keep well within the four-minute time limit.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing this debate—it is clear that many of us here care about it—and on his masterly delivery of his introductory speech. I have never been to prison, but as a green campaigner I can obviously never rule it out. There are many issues here that I would like to pick up, but today I am going to talk about an initiative where, although I think the Government have potentially got the right idea, some adjustment could improve it enormously. It is a scheme that places probation officers inside the prison; it has proved a success and is now being rolled out across the country. Their clients get to attend meetings regularly and can plan their rehabilitation properly. I understand that such meetings outside prison can fail because the client may not attend. In addition, the probation service loses money if they do not attend, so they do not report meetings that do not take place and we do not know how many such meetings actually happen and how much rehabilitation can be offered.
There are the 2,500 extra prison officers being employed and their remit is going to include 45 minutes a week of one-on-one time with prisoners to establish a relationship. It is hoped that they can communicate problems and issues and identify any help that the prisoner might need. However, these prison officers are not trained in relationship building: it is simply not part of the prison officer culture. That is why there needs to be a connection between what the prison officers are doing and what the probation teams are aiming to do. To give prisoners a sense of there being a future—a way forward, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, described it—there has to be the hope of a better life. There is a need to bring the two cultures closer together: the probation officers’ soft skills and the security-oriented approach of the prison officers.
Prisons are currently, as we have heard, overstretched and collapsing due to a perfect storm of austerity, induced early retirements and the emergence of the drug Spice. It is easy to see how security can take priority over relationship building and rehabilitation, but without these things prisons will be harder to control, ex-offenders will become offenders again and the prison population will continue to rise. I urge the Government to give training to the new prison officers so that they can become part of the solution and not part of the problem.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing this important debate today. It is encouraging to see some new energy in the Ministry of Justice, and some recent government announcements have been very encouraging, not least the female offender strategy. However, as has been said, it is important to acknowledge that so often prison will not be able to meet the rehabilitative needs of the people who are sent there. Many women are often in prison for only a few weeks and very often this exacerbates other issues, not least that of children separated from mothers, while also not enabling any meaningful work or rehabilitation to be engaged with. Alternative provision for vulnerable people must be available, well funded and trusted by those making sentencing decisions. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Vere of Norbiton, will be able to assure me that the Government will make a long-term commitment to funding community-based solutions, both for vulnerable people at risk of offending and for individuals who would be better served by community-based sentences.
I turn to the issue of those serving prison sentences. Safety and rehabilitation do not operate independently; they are mutually reinforcing. Problems with security and drugs are fuelled and exacerbated by boredom and frustration. Purposeful activity and meaningful work are not just essential to the broader goal of rehabilitation, they are necessary for the safe and effective operation of a prison. The Government’s recent announcements on security and training for staff are encouraging, but I fear that they have overlooked a key element, and that is hope. Meaningful activity is important—indeed, essential—because it provides hope: hope that today will bring something more engaging than the sight of a cell door; hope that this week may contain something more interesting, the possibility of building something good for the future; hope that, over the arc of a sentence, there will be an opportunity for key issues to be addressed; a meaningful path away from offending.
I am delighted that women’s prisons have now adopted a trauma-informed approach. At HMP Eastwood Park, in my diocese, prison officer numbers are being boosted, under the offender management in custody initiative, in order to implement key workers, which will allow more work directly with women. What cause do prisoners have for hope? Can the noble Baroness assure me that resources for appropriate rehabilitative engagement and meaningful work will be a cornerstone of the Government’s plans? Though it is coming from a bishop’s mouth, hope here is not an intangible concept or even a faith-based one: it is a very practical, on-the-ground concern about how prisoners approach and experience their sentences. It is a concern about rampant drug use and self-harm. Hope gives the motivation to be constructive rather than destructive. The Secretary of State has promised a new vision for prisons, which I hope will give each person in custody hope and a vision for their sentence.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing this important debate as concern is rising about the state of our overcrowded prisons, especially the growing violence fuelled by drug use. The independent review of sport in youth and adult prisons by Professor Rosie Meek of Royal Holloway College examines the current provision of sport in justice, with a particular focus on health, reoffending and youth custody. Her excellent review, published last month, has met with a positive response from the Government, and I wish to highlight some of her important findings that could affect safety and rehabilitation.
Meek argues that sport, and the relationships that sport can foster, can motivate young men with complex offending histories—some with especially challenging and disruptive behaviour—to change their attitudes, behaviour and lifestyle. It can improve mental and physical health, reduce violence and tackle reoffending. We know that effective rehabilitation is key to tackling reoffending, and more creative thinking is necessary if we are to overcome the revolving door whereby 29% of adults and 42% of children reoffend within one year of release. Professor Meek found that the use of sport across prisons and youth custody is inconsistent and underdeveloped, although good practice does exist, which proves that it can be achieved. All prisons should devise an integrated physical activity and well-being strategy, which requires a partnership between gym departments and healthcare, education and wing custody staff, underpinned by an establishment-wide commitment to improving mental and physical well-being.
However, as with staffing levels for prison officers, there is concern about the number of physical education instructors, which dropped from 743 in 2013 to 647 in 2017. I welcome the Government’s intention to increase the number of PEIs across all YCS establishments, but it must be urgently implemented. Effective rehabilitation cannot be achieved if prisoners are kept in their cells for most of the day without productive and worthwhile activity. Last year, more than one-third of young adult prisoners aged 18 to 21 reported being locked in their cells for at least 22 hours a day. To effect real change, Meek recommends that prisons should offer nutritional advice as part of their physical activity and well-being provision and promote a readily available range of healthy eating options. Diet and nutrition have a direct impact on behaviour and mood and could help cut the chaotic and violent atmosphere in these institutions.
One recommendation that, sadly, the Government have rejected, is to reconsider the national martial arts boxing policy and pilot targeted programmes that draw on boxing exercise qualifications and associated activities. Professor Meek has shown that where these boxing-related programmes are offered, they are highly valued, both as a behaviour management tool and as a vehicle to facilitate education, discipline and communication. There should be more creative, targeted interventions to help harness people’s passions and interests and to encourage hope and greater self-esteem, in order to equip them for life outside.
The report also calls for the development of a physical activity strategy for women and girls in prison, to meet their unique and particularly complex needs, which takes into account the high levels of trauma that often they have experienced before entering custody. Greater use of release on temporary licence could mean that more offenders benefited from work and training placement opportunities in the community.
We have a chance to improve the lives of those in prison by encouraging effective rehabilitation in a safe environment. That will cut reoffending and ultimately the numbers of victims of crime, thereby saving public money.
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend for introducing this important debate. I will focus on the needs of people with learning disabilities, who make up a surprisingly high number of prisoners, given the low prevalence of learning disability in the population at large. I declare an interest as the founder and chair of Beyond Words, a charitable social enterprise, and as president of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.
Prison is a confusing and frightening place for people who may not understand how the system works. Not being able to read contributes to such feelings and fears. There are many reasons for low verbal literacy, including dyslexia, adverse childhood experiences and more complex developmental disabilities. But people who struggle with words may have good visual literacy skills and will look for visual clues to help them make sense of their environment. Reading prison information, filling in forms, remembering and following instructions and rules can be impossible. Staff in prison may use unfamiliar words or words that mean something different from their usual meaning outside prison. It is not easy to ask for help, and people with literacy difficulties often try to hide this for fear of being ridiculed or bullied. We do not know for sure how many people in prison have a learning disability, and they are not easy to identify. One estimate is that up to one in 10 adults in prison has a learning disability. And they have very high reoffending rates—one estimate is 40%.
Prison staff should notice if a prisoner needs extra help. Someone may be very quiet or get picked on or bullied by other prisoners. They might not look after themselves properly. Not getting the help that they need may mean that they are often in trouble. Prisons have duties under the Equality Act to make sure that people with protected characteristics are treated fairly by making reasonable adjustments to the way services work. The adjustments needed will vary from person to person. This means that every department in the prison must adapt what it does.
I suggest that there are a number of low-tech ways in which prisons could make use of a person’s visual literacy to build their understanding, empathy and co-operation with prison life and rehabilitation programmes, and to help them keep safer. In the reception area, presenting information in pictures to explain the strip-search procedure might help to reduce anxiety. In the education department, a choice of picture books to read—comics, graphic novels and wordless books such as those created by Books Beyond Words—would provoke less anxiety than offering just written materials. Such books could also be offered digitally through the Virtual Campus, and used therapeutically.
Some more able prisoners volunteer, in schemes such as Toe By Toe, to teach people to read. Such volunteers could also introduce wordless books, including ones that address aspects of both prison and community life. Picture books about how to get and keep a job could be useful to probation officers and to occupational therapists— who are increasingly playing a role in prisons—working with individuals on specific rehabilitation goals.
I am grateful to officials from the Ministry of Justice who met me recently to discuss some of these ideas. I ask the Minister: do the Government have any plans to improve the rehabilitation outcomes of this particularly vulnerable group within young offender institutions and prisons?
My Lords, I am grateful to be allowed to speak for a minute in the gap. Muslims are thought to represent between 4% and 5% of the UK population. In prisons, sadly, that proportion is between 14% and 15%, which is very alarming. The Muslim community—the parents, wives and children of offenders—are crying out for help to get their family members out of this vicious circle, as many of these prisoners are reoffenders.
I ask the Minister: what will the Government do to help those families reduce the number of people getting into prison in the first place and, even more importantly, to reduce the rate of reoffending in that community and bring the numbers down to something approaching the proportion of Muslims in the population, rather than being three or four times higher?
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for introducing this debate, which has demonstrated near unanimity on what the problems are with our penal system and on the outcomes that we need to achieve. Yet the ever-worsening crisis—to describe it in this way is more understatement than exaggeration—is not being addressed in practical terms. In prisons we have unacceptable and increasing levels of violence, assaults by prisoners on other prisoners, violence between prisoners and staff, homicides, suicides and self-harm. This was the central point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and it was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, with all his experience.
Overcrowding—cell and prison capacities being exceeded, or, which is just as bad, being massaged upwards—continues to rise. Understaffing, as my noble friend Lord Dholakia said, leads to prisoners being locked in their cells for completely unacceptable periods of time—the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, made the same point. Purposeful activities—work, education and training—suffer, often because there are insufficient staff to organise movement around prisons, leading to lack of employability and more reoffending.
The facilities for addressing mental health issues and drug addiction are still poor. Insufficient attention is paid, still, to issues that particularly affect women, including those with children. Peter Clarke summarised it, in words that have been quoted in this debate, at the beginning of his third annual report:
“The year 2017-18 was a dramatic period in which HM Inspectorate of Prisons documented some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen—conditions which have no place in an advanced nation in the 21st century”.
I agree with the emphasis that the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, put on the importance of our inspectorates.
However, we are not tackling overcrowding. Prisons Minister Rory Stewart must move from expressed desire to genuine determination to cut the number of short sentences and to combat sentence inflation—something considered in July by the Justice Committee—even in the face of sections of the media and public opinion. We must release IPP prisoners kept in custody well beyond their tariff dates. We need to look at greater use of early release and home detention curfews.
Young offender institutions suffer from all the problems of adult prisons, compounded by a shortage of educational and training opportunities, as highlighted in Charlie Taylor’s review. Children with little schooling, often those who have been in care, suffer worst. Charlie Taylor’s review put education first. He summarised it as treating young offenders,
“as children first and offenders second”,
in a system,
“in which they are held to account for their offending, but with an understanding that the most effective way to achieve change will often be by improving their education, their health, their welfare, and by helping them to draw on their own strengths and resources”.
These were all points well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. Will the Minister report on progress in implementing Charlie Taylor’s recommendations?
In the probation service, there is complete demoralisation at the failure of the community rehabilitation companies—the CRC. While the remaining National Probation Service, though underresourced, performs its function moderately well, the CRCs are failing miserably. Underresourcing, redundancies, inadequate contract management and unhappy staff have led to a failure to deliver on the Government’s transforming rehabilitation programme. Through-the-gate supervision of prisoners on release has almost entirely failed. As Dame Glenys Stacey put it:
“In those cases we inspected, only a handful of individuals had received any real help with housing, jobs or an addiction, let alone training or else getting back into education, or managing debt”.
“CRCs are too often doing little more than signposting and form filling”.
We have failed to increase the involvement of the voluntary sector and what we must now do, I suggest, is to increase co-ordination between the prison and probation services, but not by renationalising all CRCs. It is outcomes that count, not ownership. Prison services, the youth justice system, all the probation services and the voluntary sector must work far more closely together, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, argued. All noble Lords have concentrated on rehabilitation, with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester expressing that in terms of hope. Rehabilitation saves money, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, but much more importantly it turns around lives.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on successfully securing this debate. It is both timely and important. As his Question implies, one of the key purposes of prison is rehabilitation. Virtually all prisoners are released one day, so one key job for our criminal justice system must be to do its best to ensure that they do not reoffend. As part of that process, while prisoners are in the care of the justice system they should be safe—not just because that is right but because a dangerous and hostile environment increases reoffending. We would not be discussing this now if the system were working well. It is not.
Thousands of prison officers have been axed since 2010 and the recent turnaround and promised increase is too little too late, while we lose the institutional knowledge and experience of those staff who have left. The staffing shortage has driven the crisis in our prisons, exacerbating levels of violence, undermining officers’ ability to deal with a surge in drugs and affecting levels of prisoner care. Prisoners are spending more time in their cells and less time on useful activities that aid rehabilitation and reduce reoffending rates. It is widely acknowledged that the record levels of violence and self- harm in our prisons are largely a consequence of the significant cuts to prison staffing levels in recent years.
Overcrowding in prisons undermines rehabilitation. Prisoners are held in degrading conditions and often moved far away from families, jobs and other support networks, which are essential to effective rehabilitation. The Government previously announced a £1.3 billion plan to build 10,000 new prison places. Despite repeated questions from Labour, the Government have failed to explain how these places will be funded. Sixty-five per cent of prisons and young offender institutions have learning, skills and work activities that are deemed not good enough by Ofsted. Were this the school system, there would be a national outcry.
Our prison system is suffering an epidemic of mental health problems, with self-harm and suicide at record levels. The figure of 300 deaths in prison custody in the 12 months to September 2017 was up more than 50% since 2010. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says this is in part due to,
“failures in reaching prisoners who need general medical and specialist healthcare”.
Those 300 deaths in custody should be a matter of shame for us all. We have a duty of care to these people; they are human beings and citizens. They may be offenders but, at the end of the day, we have that duty of care. If they were workers, they would fall under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; society would have a duty to reduce the risk to as low as is reasonably practical. We clearly fail that. Something must change, and soon. We must rid this shame from our society.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing this debate and I greatly appreciate all contributions made by noble Lords. My officials have been very busy in scribbling answers. I have not a hope of getting through them all but I will make sure that all questions asked today are answered in writing.
Turning first to safety across the adult estate, particularly in male prisons, our first duty is to keep our staff and the people in our custody safe. To do this, we need to provide full and supportive regimes in a calm and civil environment. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester that perhaps there might even be a culture of hope. At the heart of this is the relationship between staff and prisoners. Prison officers must have the time and skills to support and incentivise the right behaviour, and to challenge and disincentivise poor behaviour. The second key factor is the availability of drugs, including new psychoactive substances, in our prisons.
On staffing, we have invested £100 million and we had hoped to recruit 2,500 new prison staff. We have not done so; we have recruited an additional 3,650 prison staff. Another 2,096 have job offers or are booked in for training. Furthermore, we are working hard on retaining and recognising our more experienced staff by making better use of financial incentives, including an above-average pay increase of 2.75%, improving opportunities for promotion and reviewing and strengthening learning and development opportunities for governors and, indeed, all officer grades. Having the right number of staff with the right skills and experience allows prisons to run full, high-quality regimes. It also means that we can more quickly roll out the offender management in custody scheme. OMiC provides each prisoner with a key worker model: a trained prison officer who meets with the prisoner one-to-one to discuss their opportunities for meaningful activity and any challenges they may be facing.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that all prisoners are somehow vulnerable. It is my belief that the OMiC system will help to identify those vulnerabilities and give those prisoners the support they need. They will have a named individual and the meetings will be regular. I would disagree with the comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that prison officers do not have soft skills. They really do; furthermore, they are trained in those areas. There are 116 prisons in the country. OMiC has been fully rolled out in 10 of them and is under way at a further 50, so we are over halfway. Early and anecdotal feedback from prisons that have rolled this out completely, such as HMP Liverpool, is extremely positive, from both the staff and the prisoners.
However, safety is also impacted by the availability of drugs. We must spare no effort in rooting out this scourge because it impacts behaviour in our prisons. We have to tackle the use of drones and are investing in physical security countermeasures, such as netting, to frustrate their progress. We have to stop drugs being brought in on the bodies of visitors and are investing in high-tech body scanners. We have to find the drugs already in prisons and we have 300 specially trained sniffer dogs. We have to monitor ongoing drug use so we have introduced mandatory random drugs tests, including testing for psychoactive drugs. This is the first time that has happened in any country in the world. To smash the organised crime networks responsible for so much of the supply, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Bottomley, we have specialised intelligence and disruption teams, which work very closely with law enforcement, and mobile phone blocking technology to prevent communications from inside the prison and those from the outside. Related to this, our corruption prevention units work very hard with local law enforcement to root out corruption among prison staff.
Over the summer our Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart, announced a number of initiatives. This was mentioned by many noble Lords. These included a flagship programme targeted at our 10 worst prisons. We are using these 10 prisons as a pilot group and investing £10 million to fight the scourge of drugs in them. They will serve as models of excellence, which we will roll out across the rest of the estate.
On rehabilitation, it is critical that we have full and supportive prison regimes in a calm and civil environment if rehabilitation is to be successful at all. We want prisoners, while in custody, to be able to learn and gain experience that will lead to them securing a job on the outside. No prisoner should be left behind. We should make sure that we do not leave behind even prisoners with learning difficulties, who perhaps cannot read, write or do basic maths when they get to prison. We must make sure that they are included in the learning and employment activities that we are now able to offer. We want them to have access to health providers, including drug rehabilitation services so that they can lead healthy, drug-free lives. We want them to maintain their relationships with their families and friends. We want them to get settled in accommodation and play a full and positive role in the community.
In the area of learning and gaining experience, in May we launched the education and employment strategy. It creates a system in which each prisoner is set on a path to employment. This is not a top-down, “every prison needs to do exactly the same thing” programme; we are empowering the governors and giving them responsibility for creating their own education and employment strategies locally. It will not work unless governors can engage with local employers and ensure that people have the skills for their local communities. So when people say, “Oh, there’s no strategy for the prisons”, in fact there are—the governors will make the strategy for their prison because that is right and they will have control of the budget.
On living a healthy and drug-free life, many noble Lords will know that the National Partnership Agreement for Prison Healthcare in England has recently been updated and is much more cohesive now. Health services in prisons and outside in the community work much more in co-operation. We recognise that suicide and self-harm remains a major challenge, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Prison staff are receiving revised and improved suicide and self-harm prevention training. This is under way and has been completed by 17,000 staff to date. It is also important to note that we have acted on the vast majority of recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s investigations of deaths in custody. Any death in custody is a tragedy, even more so if we do not learn from it.
On transitioning from prisons, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, the community rehabilitation companies have had mixed results. We are taking that bull by the horns and looking at the future and the way we work with them on their contracts. I am fairly sure that there will be more on that in due course, as we finalise exactly what we will be doing in future.
I turn briefly to young offender institutions. Many noble Lords have noted that the number of children and young people in those institutions has fallen dramatically. That is commendable but improvements still need to be made. We have the youth justice reform programme, which was launched in January last year. Again, we know that since then Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has highlighted improvements in all the under-18 sites that it has inspected. We are also recruiting 120 extra staff into these institutions, including sports instructors, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Healy.
I am afraid I do not have time to go into great depth on the issue of women now but I will do so in my letter. The Female Offender Strategy was published in June and I will be able to provide much more information on that.
There is much more that I should like, and indeed need, to say, so I will set it out in writing. This is my third debate on prisons. The first was probably four and a half hours long. I never tire of this debate as it is an important subject. I am proud of the work that the Government are doing, and I hope noble Lords will have heard that we have lots of plans in place. We now need time for these plans to bed in, and I am confident of improvements. Once again, my heartfelt thanks to all contributors and, most of all, to the noble Lord, Lord Bird.