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Prisons: Rehabilitation

Volume 796: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the case for ensuring that prisons are places of rehabilitation.

My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that prisons are places of rehabilitation, which ultimately reduces reoffending. Evidence suggests that former prisoners who have undertaken learning in prison are materially less likely to reoffend. We are making ambitious reforms to the prison education system to ensure increased offender attendance, routine performance measures, and greater governor responsibility over the commissioning of education.

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that response. When an offender is released from prison, they are much less likely to continue committing crime if they have a job, yet only 17% of ex-offenders are in work a year after coming out of prison. Education, training and work are essential to prisoners turning their lives around. What more can the Government do to support our prisons in delivering these vital skills and opportunities?

My Lords, we absolutely agree that education, training and work are central to prisoners turning their lives around and we believe it is right and sensible for ex-prisoner employment to come from a number of different sources. The corporate social responsibility agenda has an important place here. We have also launched the New Futures Network to engage and persuade employers to take on ex-prisoners and are developing a new policy of release on temporary licence to increase the opportunities available to prisoners to gain experience in the real workplace.

My Lords, next week I am going to a wonderful literary festival in Erlestoke prison. It is a brilliant idea and, even though there are problems of money, it shows that, if you have leadership in prison among governors, you can turn things around. It is called Penned Up, it is next week and I would love all noble Lords to come.

My Lords, I might prefer to be there next week—I might even be available. Be that as it may, the noble Lord makes an extremely good point. That is why, from 1 April, one change we are bringing in is the delegation of responsibility in these areas to individual governors so that they can take this sort of initiative forward for the benefit of all prisoners.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the drug problem—and prisoners going in and going on to drugs—is one of the most difficult that we have in prisons? Is not getting prisoners off drugs the best help we can give with rehabilitation? Does he know the organisation Narcotics Anonymous? Some of its members are ex-prisoners who have recovered from drug addiction and go—or endeavour to go—back to prisons to help prisoners get off drugs. Is he aware that many governors will not permit them to go in and do this voluntary work? Will he explore this and invite representatives of that organisation to discuss with him how, voluntarily and free of charge, they can help prisoners to get off drugs?

The noble Lord makes a very good point: the scourge of drugs in prisons is one that we must meet if we are to improve conditions for all prisoners across the prison estate. It undermines other efforts made in regard to education and rehabilitation—there is no question whatever of that. I am not familiar with the work of the particular body that the noble Lord referred to, but I will make inquiries about what the position is with regard to its initiative. Ultimately, it will be for individual governors to determine how this matter is taken forward, but, as I indicated to the noble Lord, I will look into how we respond to those initiatives.

My Lords, given the recent publication by the Ministry of Justice of figures showing a record level of the incidence of self-harm by prisoners, a record level of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and a 29% rise in assaults on prison staff, will the Minister acknowledge that we need not only a major reduction in the size of the prison population but increases per capita in resources on a scale not yet contemplated by Her Majesty’s Government? This would give rehabilitation the priority that many now see as an absolute imperative.

The right reverend Prelate is quite right: safe and decent prisons are the foundation of any initiative that we wish to take in rehabilitation and the reduction of reoffending. There are very real challenges there, particularly in the context of prisoners who are inclined to violent behaviour. However, it has to be understood that we are dealing with a very difficult cohort of people and that control over that cohort can be demanding. We have increased the number of prison officers over the past two years by more than 4,700. It would be fair to say that more can always be done in the face of such challenges, but we are seeking to do what we feel is appropriate to improve matters and, as I said, we believe that the delegation of more direct responsibility to individual governors will also be a step in the right direction.

My Lords, the evidence that one can find shows that short-term prison sentences, rather than tough community sentences, lead to far more reoffending. Our prisons are overcrowded and prisoners are often moved from one prison to another, thereby breaking the training programmes that they may be engaging in. Meanwhile, the third sector is being locked out of the vast amounts of money that have been made available to it by the Government. Given these issues—I know that the Government are thinking about them—could the Minister tell us when the Government will bring forward the proposals on sentencing and reducing overcrowding in our prisons, so that we can have a new programme that will reduce reoffending and save the public some money?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right that sentencing policy clearly has an impact on the numbers in prison. He is also right that we are looking at short-term sentencing in that context. I cannot say by what date we will have concluded our consideration of the matter but, clearly, it is important. However, it is also important that we should give confidence to the judiciary and to the public in general about the effectiveness of non-custodial sentences, so this cannot be looked at in isolation. It is necessary to look at the wider picture to arrive at a workable solution.