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Prisoners: Purposeful Activity

Volume 793: debated on Monday 15 October 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to ensure that every prisoner can participate in purposeful activity during their sentence.

My Lords, the introduction of offender management in custody and the associated staffing means that prisons will be better equipped to run fuller regimes with more opportunities for purposeful activity. Our education and employment strategy, launched in May, will create a system where prisoners are on a path to employment through increased opportunities to gain experience of work in communities while released on temporary licence.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. In Prisons Week, does he accept that continuous efforts must be made to ensure that our prisons are places of safety for those serving their sentences, and are places of hope for those who intend to avoid reoffending once released? Although I welcome the constructive use of additional staff through the promising new offender management in custody scheme, I invite the Minister to acknowledge the important role that chaplaincies, community chaplaincies, charities and churches can play in the rehabilitation of offenders.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a very good point about the need for rehabilitation and for safety in prisons to be as effective as possible. In addition to the strategy that she mentioned, we have launched the education and employment strategy, which will create a system in which each prisoner is set on a path to employment from the outset. We hope that governors will be in a position to deliver that strategy by next April. I confirm that there are chaplaincy facilities in all our prisons, of course.

My Lords, there has been considerable success in introducing theatre of all kinds and acting in some prisons. How far do the Government support those efforts and how far are they prepared to finance them?

My Lords, I understand that the introduction of theatre is part of the wider educational programme in prisons. I am not able to say that there is any identified or closed funding for that aspect of the process.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons reported in June that 38% of those in young offender institutions are locked in their cells for more than 22 hours a day. How on earth can they receive any proper training and rehabilitation if they are locked up for such lengths of time? Why has the Ministry of Justice repeatedly refused to collect data on how long people are locked up in prison? Is it because it does not want to know, or because it knows that it will not like the answer?

My Lords, on the last point, we do not have clear and identifiable data from all institutions that would enable us to determine how long prisoners actually spent in individual cells. That is clearly a matter for which individual governors have considerable responsibility. Regarding young offenders, the noble Lord may recollect the announcement made by the Secretary of State on 2 October about the introduction of the first secure school, which will open at Medway in 2020.

My Lords, it is a matter for consideration, but the collation of such data is a massive task and there are other, more immediate issues in our prisons to be addressed.

My Lords, one of the principal barriers to meaningful activity in prison is the unnecessary movement of prisoners between one prison and another. Courses and training are disrupted and the receiving prison frequently does not have the appropriate vacancy or the necessary course. Does the Minister acknowledge that problem, which is primarily caused by overcrowding in prisons? People are moved to create space and to wherever there is a space. That leads to a reduction in the amount of time that can be given to people to train and learn; when they leave they are without the appropriate skills.

My Lords, I do not accept that there are unnecessary movements of prisoners between prisons. There are reasons why prisoners have to be moved from one institution to another from time to time. That is dependent on the category of prison and the category of prisoner. From time to time there may be disruption to courses that prisoners are undertaking, but there may equally be an issue about preparing them for release on licence or about trying to ensure that they come into closer contact with their family, for support.

I return to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. I advise the Minister that this very afternoon my own daughter, as a professional opera singer, is in one of Her Majesty’s prisons in this city working with prisoners who are about to present a production of “Carmen”. Will he acknowledge that these interventions have a significant effect on the confidence and self-esteem of prisoners who are able to participate, but that not enough of them are able to do so? I ask him respectfully to reconsider the answer he gave and perhaps suggest that the Government put a little more effort into this.

I am obliged to the noble Baroness, although I do not seek to reconsider my earlier answer. I acknowledge the importance of the work being done; of course it contributes to self-esteem and to the re-establishment of sensible relationships required of those in our prisons. It is part of an educational process that leads some prisoners to a point where they are able to secure suitable employment when they leave prison.