Motion to Take Note
My Lords, one has only to read recent reports from the quality assurers of the management and treatment of offenders in prison and the community—the chief inspectors of prisons and probation—to realise that all is not well with how they are currently being conducted. Quite apart from the number of prisons that are in special measures, the appalling reoffending rate, the wilful cuts to staff numbers, estimated to amount to 80,000 years of operational experience, the amount of violence against staff, the prevalence of drugs, the amount of self-harm and suicide, the number of prisoners with untreated mental health problems, and the number who spend all day locked up in their cell because there is no purposeful activity to occupy them should all sound alarm bells to any Government who take seriously their responsibilities for protecting the public.
As far as the management and treatment of offenders in the community are concerned, those involved in sentencing have lost confidence in how community sentences, the only alternative to custody, are being delivered. What is extremely concerning is that this situation has got worse, rather than better, over recent years.
Any regret that I may have had about tabling this Motion was eliminated by the Prime Minister’s announcement last month that he proposed to invest £2.5 billion to provide another 10,000 prison places. The dictionary definition of a strategy is the projection and direction of a campaign. The task of the prison and probation services, to protect the public by their management of offenders, is akin to any other campaign in that it needs a strategy. The absence of any to which the Prime Minister’s investment can be related reminded me of the berating I once received from a senior Home Office official, who said, “I wish you would stop talking about strategy. We don’t need a strategy; all we need is strategic direction”. When I asked her what she meant, she replied, “Top down, of course”.
In the 24 years I have been involved with the criminal justice system, there have been 11 Secretaries of State and 13 Ministers responsible for prisons and probation. All have given top-down direction not related to any strategy, with 278 policy undertakings on prisons alone since 2016. 1 suspect that Jack Straw would claim that his introduction of the National Offender Management Service—and Kenneth Clarke and Chris Grayling would claim that their rehabilitation revolutions—had strategic intent. But the fact that they have all been discontinued shows how fragile they were as meaningful, long-term strategies. Without an overall strategy that has been costed so that Ministers can know the size and implications of any shortfall, it is impossible to give policy direction to operational staff.
The only time in recent years when there has been an attempt at a strategy, certainly as far as prisons are concerned, was when the then Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, now the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, published a White Paper on prisons, Custody, Care and Justice, in September 1991. This set out 12 ways ahead for the Prison Service, none of which has been implemented. White Papers used to be carefully researched statements of government policy. In this case the Home Office was able to draw on the masterly report of my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf on the causes of the worst riots in prison history, which had taken place the year before.
Comparing its content with the only other White Paper on prisons, the rushed Prison Safety and Reform, published in November 2016, which contained intent but no direction, is to compare chalk with cheese. As I have called on every Secretary of State in my time to study and update what was laid down, perhaps I may remind noble Lords of the Baker “ways ahead”. These were: to improve necessary security measures; to improve co-operation with other services and institutions by working closely with the probation service and by membership of a national forum and area committees; to increase delegation of responsibility and accountability to all levels, with clear leadership and a published annual statement of objectives; and to improve the quality of jobs for staff; to recognise the status and particular requirements of unconvicted prisoners; to provide active and relevant programmes for all prisoners; to provide a code of standards for conditions and activities in prisons, which would be used to set improvement targets in annual contracts made between prison governors and their area managers; to improve relationships with prisoners, including a statement of facilities for each prisoner— sentence plans, consultations, reasons for decisions—and access to an independent appeal body for grievances and disciplinary decisions; to provide access to sanitation at all times for all prisoners; to end overcrowding; and to divide the larger wings of prisons into smaller, more manageable units, wherever possible; and, finally, to develop community prisons, which would involve the gradual realignment of the prison estate into geographically coherent groups, serving most prisoners within that area.
Since Kenneth Baker’s day, other than NOMS and the rehabilitation revolutions, there has been no attempt at an overall strategy. The main point at issue has been whether the emphasis should be on punishment, as populists advocate, or rehabilitation, as public protectors advocate. In wishing that this issue could be resolved once and for all, I also wish that the management and treatment of offenders were removed from party politics, along with the temptation for anyone to be seen as tougher than another. Lawbreakers will have to be dealt with whichever party is in power, and it is the responsibility of all Governments to ensure that that any resulting sentences, in prison or the community, are properly resourced.
I have often thought that the aim that Tony Blair gave the criminal justice system when he became Prime Minister in 1997—to protect the public by preventing crime—should have been, “To protect the public by preventing re-crime or reoffending”. In line with the then ethos of the Probation Service, “Advise, Assist, Befriend”, and the Prison Service’s statement of purpose:
“It is our duty to keep securely all those committed by the courts, to treat them with humanity, and help them to live useful and law-abiding lives in prison and on release”,
this could be turned into a joint and positive aim for both services: “It is our duty to help all those committed by the courts to live useful and law-abiding lives, with the qualifications that they must be treated with humanity and not allowed to escape from prison or breach the terms of their supervision order in the community”.
There are three logical steps to achieving that, in both prisons and probation. First, a detailed assessment must be made of why a person has not been living a useful and law-abiding life thus far, including education and work skills, healthcare needs, criminological behaviour, and risk to staff, other offenders and the general public. By axing the prisons part of the Prisons and Courts Bill, which had started its legislative progress through the other place before the last election, Theresa May removed a priceless opportunity to have certain assessments made statutory. Viable sentence plans for every individual can be made only following full assessments.
The second step is the implementation of sentence plans, prioritised according to the severity of the symptom and the length of sentence. The third, as far as prisoners are concerned, is their transition into the community, and, as far as those on community sentences are concerned, ensuring that they know where they can come back to for any advice or help. That could form the basis of a strategy.
Whenever an issue of public policy required thorough examination and the Government were not committed to a definite policy, the task used to be entrusted to an invited group of persons from outside the relevant departments, such as a royal commission. The last Royal Commission on Criminal Justice reported in July 1993, since when all structural examinations have been conducted in-house, with all the known imperfections of that process. Frankly, with such a long record of failure, and because existing practices need to be questioned, I do not think that Ministry of Justice officials are the right people to carry out this task. There cannot be a single aspect of imprisonment or probation that has not been the subject of a report by a quality assurer or other expert, whose thousands of recommendations have been studiously ignored by the Ministry of Justice. I hope that an outside inquiry would examine these, and take an objective view of two managerial changes that I have long advocated.
The first is the establishment of a ministerially chaired executive committee responsible for the overall management and treatment of offenders, in prisons and the community, whose four executive members would be the directors-general of the prison and probation services, and the chairmen of the Youth Justice Board and a women’s justice board that I would form. Secondly, every business, hospital or school should have named people responsible and accountable for particular activities. Ever since suspending my inspection of Holloway and finding that there was no director of women’s prisons, I have agitated for directors to be appointed for every type of prison and some types of prisoner, responsible for ensuring consistency, turning good practice somewhere into common practice everywhere and telling governors what to do, leaving how they do it up to them. Lack of direction is the principal cause of the performance of individual prisons yo-yoing so much over the years. Ministers would find life much easier if they could send for the person responsible and accountable and ask them why a certain thing was or was not happening.
Turning to the community, before he resigned as Justice Secretary, David Gauke took steps to undo a disastrous introduction of Chris Grayling’s by reuniting the probation service, one part of which had been privatised. In forcing through his Transforming Rehabilitation programme, Grayling wilfully ignored official advice that there was a more than 80% risk that affordability objectives could not be demonstrated or met and that an unacceptable drop in operational performance would lead to delivery failures. The Justice and Public Accounts Committees in the other place have both published devastatingly critical reports on transforming rehabilitation, as have the National Audit Office and the former Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, who climaxed her criticism with a far-sighted final report in which she pointed out in great detail what needed reform and how to do it.
Although it can be given the same aim as prisons, probation needs a separate, carefully considered management structure, incorporating much more localism. Above all, because each part of the country is so different, commissioning of probation services must be localised. Of course probation must work closely with prisons because of its role in the release and rehabilitation of prisoners, but, because the majority of the offenders it is responsible for supervising have been given community sentences, it must work much more closely with courts, the police and local authorities. Having been so severely damaged, probation needs tender, loving and all-party care if it is to be made fit to play its vital role in the protection of the public.
I conclude by asking the Minister to recommend to the Secretary of State for Justice that an outside inquiry, akin to a royal commission, should be appointed as quickly as possible to recommend whether punishment or rehabilitation, which he told his party conference were not opposites, should be the basis of a binding strategy for the reform of the management and treatment of offenders in prison and the community. I beg to move.
Let me be the first most warmly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on securing this debate and once again drawing attention to the need for enlightened and critical reforms across our criminal justice system. His tenacity in bringing these matters back over and again as a former Chief Inspector of Prisons and his extensive writing and speaking have made an enormous impact. Perhaps he will be a modern-day Elizabeth Fry or John Howard.
Personally, I agree with many of the noble Lord’s comments. My own credentials go back only 44 years, to when I became a juvenile magistrate in Brixton. I then became chairman of the court aged 32, at the time of the Brixton riots. That was a torrid, difficult and emotional time. What I felt time and again was that the young people in court were the people who had no stakeholders. They had no serious probation or supervision programme. They ended up in court because there was nowhere else for them to go.
I very much echo the noble Lord’s words about the lack of corporate memory in Whitehall. Every Minister has a new idea. Civil servants keep changing. Having a better corporate memory—I am allocating the noble Lord the role of being the corporate memory after his recital of all my noble friend Lord Baker’s policies—would be an excellent thing. We need a strategy, but above all we need an implementation plan that we hold to. I warmly endorse the noble Lord’s suggestion that responsibilities need to have named people who hold the policy dear.
There were enormous problems with transforming rehabilitation. The noble Lord has outlined how the effectively disastrous consequences of that policy came to light, with the part-privatisation of probation and 21 CRCs working alongside the probation service. Let us be clear: the probation service at that time needed reform and a complete shake-up. It had lost its way. It was old-style, bureaucratic and tired and had lost energy and ambition.
I applaud my right honourable friend in the other place, David Gauke, for having the courage to reverse the policy. It is very easy in government to feel you have to build on your predecessor’s policies and that otherwise you are being disloyal. He was considered and brave and took the view that the evidence was that the policy simply was not working. The noble Lord referred to the National Audit Office. Sir Amyas Morse—a public servant in whose debt we should all be because of his effect on the reform of many public services—said in his report that:
“The Ministry set itself up to fail in how it approached probation reforms. Its rushed roll-out created significant risks that it was unable to manage. These have had far reaching consequences. Not only have these failings been extremely costly for taxpayers, but we have seen the number of people on short sentences recalled to prison skyrocket. It is welcome that the Ministry’s proposals address some of the issues that have caused problems, but risks remain. It needs to pause and think carefully about its next steps so that it can get things right this time and improve the quality of probation services”.
I salute that view and believe that our debate is part of that review of what has gone wrong in the past and how we can dedicate ourselves to improving services for the future.
I am delighted that the Government and Prime Minister were able to invest so generously in our criminal justice system with 20,000 police officers and additional resources for the Prison Service. But we are never going to have an effective probation service without the proper resources and respect. The parallel I would draw is the lessons from children’s services and mental health services. Enoch Powell derided the great institutions and asylums. It was a case of out of sight, out of mind—institutionalisation meant that psychiatric patients were in fact damaged by that process. We are familiar with that in the prison world, in spite of all the reforms and efforts that have been made.
You could never have effective care in the community until you had what was called “assertive outreach”. The difference between being in the community and being in an institution, with one telephone call every two weeks, is too great. Community programmes mean effective, tenacious and assertive programmes; that is the lesson we have learnt from psychiatric patients and from children in children’s homes. The alternative to being in a children’s home—as dangerous as that often was, as we now well know—was not just to have a social worker popping in once a month but to have a programme that involved health visitors, nursery schools, neighbours and so on. Our priority and our message must be to take this opportunity and to take all we have learnt and the comments of enough wise people—we do not need any more—and say that we need to make probation work.
We also need more community champions. I want to praise the police and crime commissioners, mayors and high sheriffs, who have become advocates in communities up and down the country for enlightened prison reform and responsible community services and, above all, drawing in the voluntary sector. All of us have referred on previous occasions to magnificent initiatives making a real impact. In my own former area, the Watts Gallery—founded by GF Watts, a prison reformer—now provides work in HMP Bronzefield, HMP Send and Feltham youth institution. Pimlico Opera, established by Wasfi Kani, has done similar for many years. The other day, the wonderful High Sheriff of Oxfordshire was talking about Fine Cell Work, of which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is a patron, and the wonderful charity Aspire—I will say no more about that, because I hope my noble kinsman, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, will comment on this vital area in great detail.
We know what we need to do, and we now have the energy, resources and determination successfully to deliver effective probation in the community.
My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in congratulating the noble Lord on securing this timely debate. We have one of the highest rates of incarceration of any western European country, with offenders housed in overcrowded and understaffed prisons. There were more than 300 deaths in prisons in England and Wales between June 2018 and June 2019, with an increase of 20% in the 10 most troubled prisons.
Assaults against staff rose from 2,848 in 2010 to 10,213 in 2018—an average of 28 a day—with the number of serious assaults rising from 302 to 995 in the same period. Two-thirds of prison staff reported feeling unsafe last year and only 10% thought that the situation would improve this year. The number of prison staff members in public sector prisons resigning has grown from 1,415 in 2017 to 2,358 in the year to March 2019. A similar pattern is found in the National Probation Service, where resignations increased from 399 to 565. We have 2,000 fewer prison officers than in 2010 and 40% of those in post have less than three years’ experience—four times the percentage in 2010.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons affirms that:
“Violence leads to a restrictive regime and security measures which in turn frustrate those being held there”.
He avers that there are regimes where prisoners,
“are locked up for excessive amounts of time, where they do not get enough exercise, education or training, and where there do not appear to be any credible plans to break the cycle of violence”.
Will the Government therefore review the recruitment and retention problems in staffing by enhancing pay and reducing the retirement age in what is, after, all, a potentially stressful service?
There is a particular concern about women in the custodial system, the vast majority of whom are there for non-violent offences. The number of homeless women incarcerated has doubled in the last four years, while BAME women are overrepresented. Will the Government take steps, in conjunction with local authorities, to address the homelessness issue with which so many of these women have to contend? Will they support and work more closely with women’s centres, which have made a significant contribution to supporting vulnerable women and have the potential to make a substantial impact in supporting women offenders? Will they also address the issue of women being consigned to prisons far from their children? Above all, will they look again at the number of custodial sentences for women and seek to promote alternatives, bearing in mind the sad fact that 100 women prisoners have died in prison since 2007?
Since 2010, the Ministry of Justice has seen its budget cut by 40%. The Prime Minister appears to want to invest in the Prison Service. Unfortunately, it would appear that the investment will take the form of more prisons and 10,000 more prisoners, rather than more qualified staff.
Will the Government look again at the issue of mental health support in the light of the rise in the number of suicides and self-harms? The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody found that fewer than 1% of more than 75,000 community orders made last year included a mental health treatment requirement. Just as worryingly, male prisoners in the year to this June were 3.7 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, while self-harm incidents rose to a record high of 58,000—an increase of 24%—and anxiety and depression more than doubled from 23% to 49%. What steps are being taken to ensure that appropriate staffing and access to medical care are available to tackle these problems? Is it not time for a comprehensive review of the state of mental health across the Prison Service, led by medical professionals? In this context, it is worth noting that private prisons are up to 47% more violent than public prisons and more likely to be overcrowded. It is time to exclude profit-making organisations from managing—or, perhaps more accurately, mismanaging—this critical service for profit.
The second part of this debate deals with another deplorable legacy of the unlamented Chris Grayling’s tenure as Lord Chancellor, namely in the probation service. At long last the so-called transforming rehabilitation reforms are to be dispatched and the ridiculous division between private sector community rehabilitation companies and the National Probation Service will come to an end in 2021, after seven lean years for the taxpayer and, perhaps more importantly, those involved with the service. Some £280 million has been sent out to failing CRCs, in addition to the cost of the service, while the number of serious further offences has risen by 40% since 2014—more than half of that increase coming in the past two years.
It is not, however, a clean break: the Government are set on retaining an element of CRC involvement. Yet when the National Association of Probation Officers—the probation officers’ union—raised issues over Working Links, which had the contract for Wales and the south-west, the Government took no notice. Working Links is no longer working: it went into administration in February. In the meantime, there are 1,000 unfilled vacancies in the National Probation Service, so that staff have case loads twice as large as their capacity. NAPO has four major objectives which Ministers should accept, including that: all probation work should be restored to public control; all probation staff should be employed on NPS terms; and the 8,000 community rehabilitation company staff should transfer to the NPS. It also calls for a fully integrated and unified service delivered by a single organisation, while allowing for specialist third-sector provision in partnership arrangements. Significantly, it recognises the potential of partnership with local specialist providers at local level. What will the Government’s response be to its suggestions?
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on drawing attention to the issue of arrangements for the management and treatment of offenders. This issue has been dominated in recent years by the transforming rehabilitation changes, which were introduced in 2014 and 2015. The stated aims of transforming rehabilitation were in many ways admirable. They included making the best use of the statutory, voluntary and private sectors in the process of rehabilitating offenders. In practice, however, the results of the changes have in many respects been little short of a disaster. Let me explain why.
The arrangements for enabling the private and voluntary sectors to bid for work with offenders favoured large private sector companies that can take significant financial risks. The arrangements squeezed out most voluntary sector agencies, which had little realistic chance of bidding. There was a heavy emphasis on paying organisations according to the volume of work which they received and, because this volume was uncertain, organisations had to incur expenditure without knowing whether they would receive enough work to reimburse them properly. There was no way that most voluntary organisations could take the financial risk of becoming involved in these arrangements.
As a result, as the House of Commons Justice Committee concluded last year, there is now less voluntary sector involvement in the provision of probation services than before the transforming rehabilitation arrangements began. This is of particular concern because voluntary agencies have expertise in areas such as housing, employment, training, mentoring, addiction and mental health that are key to rehabilitating offenders and reducing reoffending. It has been particularly difficult for small, local voluntary agencies to become involved in providing services. I do not take the view that small, local organisations are necessarily better than large charities. Many of the larger organisations—such as Nacro, of which I am president—provide outstanding services and have strong local links and knowledge in the areas where they work throughout the country. There are also, however, many local voluntary agencies providing excellent rehabilitation services, and the new arrangements have effectively squeezed them out. We need to be making the best use of what both large and small organisations have to offer, and the transforming rehabilitation arrangements have failed to do that.
Even for private sector companies, the financial arrangements have proved daunting. Two of the companies that received contracts—Working Links and Interserve, which between them managed eight of the 21 CRC projects—have gone into administration. This is no way to manage a key public service. It cannot be acceptable that major service-providers that are supervising offenders in the community are liable to go under at any moment, leaving the Government to scramble around to find other organisations to take over their contracts.
The split between the National Probation Service, which manages high-risk offenders, and the community rehabilitation companies, which manage medium- and low-risk offenders, was never likely to work well. It was an artificial split because many offenders who start out as low-level petty offenders move on, over time, to become high-risk offenders. The National Probation Service has largely done a good job in managing high-risk offenders, including those released on parole, less than 1% of whom go on to commit further serious offences.
The same is not true of the community rehabilitation companies. Most inspections of CRCs by the probation inspectorate have found their performance inadequate. The overall picture is one of high probation case loads, staff shortages—11% nationally and around 20% in London—a high use of agency staff and frequent transfers of offenders from one officer to another in the course of their supervision. There has been a catastrophic fall in the number of offenders given community sentences; their number has more than halved in the past decade, even though community sentences have lower reconviction rates than prison sentences for similar offenders. There has been a sharp fall in the number of offenders taking part in accredited offending behaviour programmes, which have been shown to reduce reoffending—by 56% between 2009 and 2017.
If the new arrangements are to work well, they must also include a series of other changes to improve the prospects for offenders’ rehabilitation. Planning for prisoners’ resettlement needs to begin as soon as they are received into custody, and it should continue throughout their sentence. It should not be left—as it has been under transforming rehabilitation—until 12 weeks before release, when it is often too late to make realistic applications for suitable housing on release or for enrolment on training courses. Prisoners should be able to claim universal credit before they are released, so that they can start receiving benefits as soon as they step outside the prison gate.
I wanted to identify a number of other issues but, since my time is up, I shall follow up with written questions.
My Lords, I am very glad to take part in this debate, and it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.
I should perhaps declare an interest: my wife has been a prison visitor and governor most of her life, and, as the High Sherriff of Oxfordshire this year, will have visited every prison in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. She also recently visited the NHS secure hospital at Broadmoor. I also thank my noble kinswoman Lady Bottomley for her remarks.
My own interest in this matter is less expert but no less concerned. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, for every 100,000 people in the population of England and Wales 148 were in prison, compared with 94 in Germany and 85 in France. I do not want to turn this into a Brexit debate, but I do not believe that the British are more criminally inclined than the French or Germans. The only justification, therefore, for such an imbalance in the figures would be that we believe that locking more people away and then releasing them back into the community is the best way of achieving the Government’s objectives of reducing offending rates and keeping costs down.
That, however, does not seem to be the case. Sir Tom Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said recently:
“Very high proportions of people in prison are unwell, uneducated, undervalued and justifiably angry … Many more have severe and chronic mental ill-health, intensified by years of lack of diagnosis or adequate early treatment”.
Furthermore, the Prison Reform Trust has noted that violence has risen to record levels in England and Wales.
Of course, the public need to be protected from violent offenders and society expects violent offenders to be punished—but surely not violently. Surely, too, that does not mean that the conditions under which prisoners are held should so often be appalling.
I suppose that conditions inside prisons might be less reprehensible if prisoners were released into the community at the end of their sentence in a way which reduced their chances of reoffending, but that, alas, seems not to be the case either. Figures from 2017 indicate that roughly one-third of released prisoners commit crimes and go back to prison within a year, and about two-thirds of adults who have served less than 12 months in prison reoffend.
There are fortunately some extremely good and dedicated charities which help train prisoners in prison so that they have the skills to prosper outside, such as Fine Cell Work and The Clink, or which help prisoners when they are released, such as Aspire Oxford, but surely it would be infinitely better if fewer people were sent to prison, at least for lesser crimes, in the first place. Evidence published by the Ministry of Justice shows that community sentences are more effective than short prison sentences in helping people desist from crime.
However, the Government’s policy—I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—seems to be to lock up more people for longer despite the woeful shortage in properly trained prison staff. Of course, I welcome the Government’s recognition of the need to spend more to make such a policy work, but it would surely make more sense to adopt a policy which reduced or abolished short sentences and invested more, working alongside charities and others, in community-based initiatives that reduce the rate of reoffending—all as part of a coherent strategy, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said so powerfully in introducing this debate.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rambsotham, for bring forward this debate and I am glad to be speaking in it.
I have a particular interest in women’s interaction with the justice system as the lead Bishop on women’s prisons, and I have been carefully following the progress of the female offender strategy. The strategy was published in June 2018, and it prioritised earlier intervention, community-based solutions, and effective, decent custody for women who have to be there. There has been widespread consensus in this House and beyond that community-based provision for most women offenders offers both cheaper and more effective rehabilitation than prison.
Last year, the Lord Speaker graciously allowed me to host an event here in the River Room. The most powerful speaker at that event was someone called Lisa, who shared her lived experience of addiction, domestic violence and custody. She said:
“I can guarantee that very few, if any, women and young people dream of growing up to be criminal addicted to drugs … I am one of the fortunate ones who found help to re-connect with my dreams ... I wonder how my life would have been different if I had received earlier intervention and been offered more effective community services”.
She went on to explain that, although she had been,
“locked in painful patterns of behaviour”,
she was fortunate to have found a women’s centre in Gloucester. She described Nelson Trust as having been the one and only service she experienced that offered proper trauma-informed community courses which enabled her to change and function well in society.
It has always been my position that for some women a prison sentence is appropriate. However, this is not true for the majority of women in custody. Family separation and a revolving door cannot solve painful, ingrained patterns of behaviour frequently stemming from abuse and family breakdown. As has already been pointed by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, twice as many women are in prison now as 20 years ago. Last year, almost 70% of women in prison were there for less than six months and 82% of those sentences were for non-violent offences.
Such short stays are counterproductive as well as expensive. Furthermore, the recent report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights regarding children whose mothers are in prison gives a concerning account of the lack of support given to both children and mothers who are separated when the mother is taken into custody. Can the Minister say when the Government will respond to this report and particularly its concern that the lack of data on the number of children affected by maternal imprisonment represents,
“a very serious … deficit that must be urgently addressed”?
As has been mentioned, there is also the issue of housing. The Chief Inspector of Prisons’ report on HMP Eastwood Park in my own diocese revealed that, in the previous six months, 42% of women were released either into homelessness or into temporary or emergency accommodation. This is simply unacceptable. Separating women from families and community support and releasing them after a short time into homelessness does nothing to address the causes of offending. This has an impact on our whole community, as was recognised in the female offender strategy.
I want to express my dismay at the recent funding announcements relating to justice. When the female offender strategy was welcomed here in your Lordships’ House, concerns were expressed about the level of funding for it. Sadly, those concerns have been borne out. Only £5 million of funding for the strategy has been secured. Far more is required for its changes to be meaningfully implemented.
We know what works. What is missing is investment and impetus. The lack of action has real human consequences. To that end, I want to ask the Minister a number of questions. First, when will the Government publish the national concordat promised in the female offender strategy? It was due by the end of 2018 and is now almost a year behind schedule. Secondly, what funding will be provided for women’s centres and services under the new probation model? Finally, what are the Government doing urgently to improve housing support for women released from prison? I am grateful for your Lordships’ time today.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate on this issue. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on securing this debate. His consistent and almost relentless attention to this area of policy and its implications is now legendary. I thank him for all that work.
Following up on what was said by the right reverend Prelate, I want to speak mainly about the treatment of women in our criminal justice system. I remind colleagues of my interests, particularly in respect of the commission on women who have experienced violence and abuse that I recently chaired, my membership of the trustee board of the Lloyds Bank Foundation and my involvement with Changing Lives, a charity based in the north-east.
I have spoken on several occasions in this House on the challenges faced by women who have experienced violence and abuse. As other noble Lords have said, women who have a history of being subjected to violence and abuse are far too often overrepresented in the criminal justice system. A significant number of women are arrested for non-violent offences. All our work and experience tell us that they would be much better served by other interventions. They should not be arrested.
In 2017, just over two-thirds of women sentenced to immediate custody were given sentences of less than six months and 246 women were sentenced to prison for less than two weeks. This suggests that there is a significant proportion of women who are arrested but who have not committed violent crimes and who would be much better served by other interventions.
The Government’s Female Offender Strategy, raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, recognises that arresting women should not always be the answer. It states:
“Coming into contact with the criminal justice system, and in particular custody, can undermine the ability of women to address the issues that have caused their offending. In particular, many have difficulty maintaining employment and accommodation whilst in the CJS”.
The Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales is funding the Howard League for Penal Reform to work with national policing bodies and individual police forces to stem the arrests of women. This is an important piece of work. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System is working on this issue too. I was at a recent meeting where it questioned the Howard League on what it wanted to do, and the APPG published its first report last month.
The commission that I chaired, whose report earlier this year was called Breaking Down the Barriers, was able to explore the impact of abuse on women. If any Member has not yet had a look at the debate in the Commons yesterday, they really should read it. It was a remarkable debate with some remarkable testimonies. Many women who have faced abuse go on to face challenges ranging from mental health issues to addiction, which often put them at risk of criminality. The importance of the consequences of trauma cannot be exaggerated. The commission talked of the importance of the services that encounter such women and the need to help workers to recognise trauma and its effect, and to know better how to deal with and respond to that.
We know that in this and other areas, small local charities are very important in supporting women in these circumstances. There are heartening examples of their effective work with people facing complex social issues. However, the Transforming Rehabilitation programme largely excluded them and, sadly, some have now closed. The MoJ has acknowledged that this was a bit of a problem and it recognised, in reforming its proposals, the importance of charities. It has publicly said that it wanted the new system to work better for them. However, the jury is still out on that and I simply say to the Minister: unless the charitable sector is involved and supported, including the small, local charities, the new system will simply not improve outcomes.
If we want to reduce reoffending, we need a new approach. We know that many people in our homeless services are there because they have been released from prison with £47, with no fixed abode and having to wait up to 11 weeks for universal credit. Women are being recalled into custody at an increasing rate because of the levels of homelessness. These are realities. The Government need to understand the realities and work on them.
My Lords, following the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, makes me feel very old because I was in the House of Commons with her father and in government with her father. I can say no better: he was a great educationalist and a great parliamentarian, and she is a chip off the old block.
For many years before this, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has been consistent in campaigning for fundamental reform of our criminal justice system and our treatment of offenders in particular. That consistency of approach is in sharp contrast to the inconsistency of government. Robert Buckland is now the seventh Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice to occupy those offices of state in the last nine years. During that period, the budget of the Ministry of Justice has been cut by about 40%. Between 2010 and 2017, I spent seven years at the Ministry of Justice, first as Minister of State and then as chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. In a department that spends its budget on prisons, probation, courts, legal aid and youth justice, that reduction has meant that every aspect of our criminal justice system has had to absorb draconian cuts in its budget; much-needed investment in buildings and technology has been deferred and delayed. The tragedy is that even if the money becomes available to fund the necessary and long-overdue reforms to every part of our criminal justice system, any new money is likely to be siphoned off to satisfy the ideological bloodlust for a “bang ’em up and throw away the key” penal policy, which has failed time and again.
I am pleased that the future of the probation service is being examined. I was not an enthusiast for the 2015 reforms. There were genuine concerns about the supervision of serious criminals by the private sector, and the up-front financial commitments required to qualify to bid for contracts prevented many voluntary and charitable bodies that could have brought new ideas to the system from doing so by financial constraints. Given the difficulty of measuring success, it is probably true that rehabilitation of offenders does not lend itself to payment by results. I wish the new attempt at probation reform well, but I urge the following basics: retain the concept of through-the-gate preparation and delivery of probation; retain such services for those serving short sentences of six months or less, or better still, do away with short sentences, as David Gauke was proposing in his short spell in the job; and retain the service as a national service with its head of equal stature to the head of the prison service and with similar direct access to Ministers.
I welcome the proposal to reorganise the service on a regional basis, so it is able to adapt to local needs and ambitions. I also welcome building into this service scope in the budget to involve the skills and experience of the voluntary sector, but I note—and I hope the Minister notes—the warning given by several speakers about how to get the voluntary sector working effectively in this; otherwise, the work will still go to the big corporations.
The other area relating to the management of offenders concerns the management of young offenders. My years as chair of the Youth Justice Board were among the most rewarding of my life. I never visited a facility or a locality without being in awe of those who work with our young offenders. I am proud that on my watch, thanks to the groundwork of my predecessors, there were fewer than 1,000 under-18s in custody at any one time, with fewer than 30 of them girls. Those figures have remained the same under my successor Charlie Taylor. I commend Charlie Taylor for his determination to create and road-test in the youth justice system an education-led facility as a replacement for the child prisons we have today.
The other great asset of the YJB is the network of youth offending teams. The YOTs are cross-disciplinary teams embedded into local authorities and doing amazing work to ensure that young offenders do not become the serial offenders who graduate to lives of crime. If national and local expenditure is going to be increased, those who really want to cut crime off at its headstream should be prepared to invest in youth services and youth offending teams. Here, too, the charitable and voluntary sector has much to contribute in providing gateways to productive lives through sport, arts and the community. I commend my parliamentary colleague Phillip Lee for his initiatives to promote sport as an antidote to gang activity. I am pleased to see the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, in her place. She was a great supporter of mine when she was on the Youth Justice Board. I commend the work of Rosie Meek at Royal Holloway College and her research paper, A Sporting Chance, as the benchmark of such a programme, and the work of James Mapstone at the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, which is doing so much good work in promoting sport to make a difference in young people’s lives. Since the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, is here, I had better also mention StreetGames, of which she is a very strong supporter.
Unfortunately, our debate takes place against a background where the Prime Minister and Home Secretary seem determined to ratchet up arguments for more prisons and tougher prison sentences. This House has always been a source of calm and quiet counsel, and though we may be rowing against the stream in terms of sending a message to the Government, I think that that is what we should do today.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to whom this House and indeed this nation owes a great debt. I want to focus on one group of prisoners only: those serving indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public, IPPs, under a scheme introduced with effect from 2005 and abolished by LASPO seven years later, in 2012. That, of course, is now seven years ago, yet there remain detained 2,315 people—I am using three-month-old statistics—and there are another 1,114 recalled IPP prisoners. Let me share one or two shocking figures. All but 175 of all those have passed their tariff dates: they have served longer than their due punishment justified. Some 55% have served over six years beyond the tariff, 35% have served more than eight years beyond tariff, and 13%, more than 270 prisoners, have served more than 10 years beyond what was required as due punishment. Surely, I am not alone in finding those figures disheartening and, indeed, quite appalling.
Ken Clarke described the plight of these post-LASPO IPPs as,
“a stain on the justice system”.
Michael Gove, in his 2016 Longford lecture, said:
“In terms of pure justice and fairness”,
we should be releasing IPPs,
“who have served far longer than the gravity of the offence requires”.
He pointed out that many have served beyond the maximum terms stipulated for the offence, except for the IPP scheme. Even the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, regretted introducing the scheme. The United Kingdom has more indeterminate sentence prisoners than the other 46 Council of Europe countries combined. When the IPP scheme was first brought in, it nearly doubled the number of indeterminate sentence prisoners here.
Indeterminate sentence prisoners face real problems, particularly those with short tariffs. These sentences induce a sort of Kafkaesque sense of despair, hopelessness and uncertainty, not just for prisoners but for their families. Think of being the mother or wife of a prisoner serving such a sentence. Hardly surprisingly, the number of IPPs who self-harm and, in a significant number of cases, commit suicide is significantly higher than among any other group of prisoners. More than half of IPPs self-harm. It is really dreadful. It is a form of preventive detention, a sort of internment.
Of course, the infamous case of Warboys seriously set back the overall cause of these IPPs—but he had an eight-year tariff and was ordered to be released, initially, within two years of that. I am concerned with the other end of the IPP spectrum: those, often with comparatively short tariffs, who are still there for lengths of time, eight years or more, beyond what punishment required.
LASPO provided, in terms, for a ministerial power, if necessary, to change the test to be applied by the Parole Board in authorising a prisoner’s release. At the moment they have to prove to the Parole Board that they can safely be released—a very difficult test to satisfy. Surely, I suggest, it is time for that burden to be reversed and for those seeking to justify continuing detention to prove, on the basis of probability, that, if released, a prisoner would go on to commit serious offences.
I have made these points time and again over recent years; there is nothing original in what I have just said. But what would be original would be for the Government, at long last, not only to recognise the manifest injustice of the plight of this group of prisoners but to summon up the political will to do something about it. I urge the Justice Secretary finally to reverse the test, to end the recall system which brings these people back all too easily, time and again, and to convert any remaining sentences to fixed terms. Do whatever is necessary: remedies are plainly available. In the idiom of today, just get it done.
My Lords, I too am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for initiating this important debate and for his wise, insightful opening remarks, particularly recommending a proper strategy going forward. I shall focus on two areas: the importance of relationships in the rehabilitation process, and the need for reform of the way convictions are deemed to be spent, so that rehabilitation is a meaningful concept for as many as possible.
I have talked before in this House about the two reviews I was asked to lead by the Ministry of Justice. The first reported on the importance of strengthening male prisoners’ family and other relationships to prevent reoffending and intergenerational crime. The second took a broader look at the same issue for female offenders and included those serving a custodial or community sentence, women who had been diverted away from the courts and women who were re-entering society post release. For both males and females, research consistently points to a simple principle of reform that needs to be a golden thread running through the prison system and the agencies that surround it. That principle is that relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change.
Professor Nicola Lacey from the LSE expresses this well by pointing out that, for most of the two centuries in which imprisonment has been routinely imposed as punishment for crime, the systems of thought and governance on which this rests have,
“focused on the individual offender and his or her relationship with the state ... Penal philosophy’s strongly individualistic presuppositions about the nature of human beings and social relations are open to challenge”.
Enabling men and women to maintain their caring responsibilities to the fullest extent possible, where appropriate, provides much-needed motivation for their personal reform and helps break the cycle of inter- generational crime—hence my recommendation in the female review that prisons employ social workers. Their case load will be the women inside and they will be in a strong position to liaise and negotiate with children’s social workers outside so that the best interests of the child take precedence. Similarly, Skype-type technology will enable children and their mothers to see each other—again, where it is agreed that this will mitigate the pain of separation and not add to children’s anxiety.
When we look at the profile of our prison and wider offender populations, the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences, ACEs, is salient. ACEs include abuse or neglect, exposure to domestic violence, parental substance misuse, parental mental health problems, parental divorce and separation, parental incarceration and, in some studies, bereavement. All of these mediate the extent to which children will experience safe, stable and nurturing relationships. Public Health Wales found that adults are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated at some point in their life if they have experienced four or more ACEs. Unsurprisingly, therefore, children whose home lives were so difficult that they were taken into local authority care are grossly overrepresented in the prison population. A quarter of men and almost a third of women in prison spent time in care as children.
We are becoming increasingly aware that the lack of good relationships—especially where there are other adversities, often reaching back into childhood—is a major risk factor for criminal activity. This can never excuse crime, nor ignore personal responsibility and the consequences for victims, but it does help to explain it. The implementation team in the Ministry of Justice is working with prisons to ensure that cultural change is taking place to reflect this awareness. It is a long, slow process, but the statistics suggest that it will be a game changer for rehabilitation.
This relational, ACE-aware approach also needs to permeate other aspects of criminal justice, particularly the issue of spent convictions. By way of illustration, 70% of sex workers have been in care, and multiple convictions for prostitution can destroy a woman’s chance of securing a wide range of employment for a considerable time. Former prostitutes won their case at the High Court against the requirement that they must disclose their convictions to employers. They said they had been “groomed, pimped and trafficked” and that their criminal records could be seen also as a catalogue of the abuse meted out to them from a time when they were vulnerable minors.
More broadly, Unlock states that, every year, more than 7,000 people receive a conviction of more than four years which will never become spent. In their words, this amounts to,
“an invisible punishment that will forever shadow the individual, preventing full rehabilitation and meaningful employment even after completing the sentence”.
Protecting current and future victims is obviously of paramount concern, and reforms must continue to balance out competing needs. But many who have served time have been victims too. Will the Government look again at reforming the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 from the vantage point of what we now know about adverse childhood experiences and the harrowing ramifications which flow from a lack of good relationships?
My Lords, it is always good to have the opportunity to follow the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, in debates of this kind. His consistent, powerful argument has been repeated in debate after debate in this place, and I just wish he was listened to where it really mattered. I should also like to place on record my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for having secured this debate. His record speaks for itself. His commitment in this area is quite extraordinary.
The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, referred to many offenders themselves being victims. This is a sad reality. During my years as president of the YMCA, I was privileged to do a certain amount of support work among those on the front line in young offender institutions. What I learned without any qualification was that so many of those youngsters were sad victims of society in one way and another. What was so telling was that, not infrequently, they were really afraid of their release into society because of what would meet them there. One of the things that has come across very powerfully in this debate is that, if effective work is to be done, co-operation—not just liaison—between those working outside and inside prison is vital, because people are individuals.
I remember a chief superintendent of police in Yorkshire, who was greatly respected and about to retire, saying to me that he had come to one conclusion in life, and that was that the moment of greatest significance was when a prisoner was being sentenced and sent down. It was a traumatic experience for everyone involved. Of course, in some ways it should be. Some carried it off with bravado; others were devastated. He had become certain that the moment at which that prisoner went below, having been sent down, was the moment when, ideally in society, somebody should take him by the arm and say, “Now, come on. How are we going to sort all this out?” What you needed from then on was a recognition that it was an individual with whom you were dealing and that meeting the challenges of individuals in the process of rehabilitation was crucial.
I just despair, because it seems to me that, rationally, in any humane society rehabilitation is crucial to ensuring the well-being of criminals, reducing the cost to society of reoffending and having a chance of seeing people who have the potential to be decent, participatory citizens reaching that point. At the moment, so many of our prisons are an absolute disgrace and completely counterproductive: self-harm, suicide, violence, overcrowding and inhumane conditions. How can that provide a context in which there is any hope of achieving effective rehabilitation?
I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said in this context in his concluding remarks. We have a Government which are setting their face in the opposite direction. Nowhere are evidence-based policy-making and rationality more essential. Populism and gallery playing have absolutely no place if we are to take seriously the rehabilitation of offenders and win the battle for humanity. I am very sad indeed to see the Government leading in precisely the wrong direction.
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and I also agree with all those Peers who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for introducing this debate. Perhaps I should also put in a word for the Supreme Court, without which we would not be allowed to sit here and have this debate, especially as it was bumped off by the original decision to prorogue.
Until 2015, I was chairman of the Justice Committee in the House of Commons—a post which was then taken over by my excellent successor, Bob Neill. The Justice Committee warned repeatedly of fundamental weaknesses in the transforming rehabilitation programme, both before it was introduced and in the light of its evident failings.
The committee also warned of the folly of constantly increasing the prison population when resources were not provided to ensure that this massive prison population—the largest, proportionately, in western Europe—was housed in prisons which were safe for both staff and prisoners and had effective and sustained programmes of rehabilitation. Now, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, just mentioned, we have a Government who want to create 10,000 more prison places and are already talking about proposals for sentencing which, on their own admission, would lead to an increase of 3,000 in the prison population. Such increases almost inevitably lead to further sentence inflation, as other offences are judged in relation to those for which the sentence has been increased. There is a ratchet effect, which is very serious.
I want to highlight some important recurring themes in that committee’s work which I think are relevant to what we are discussing today. First, prison is a very expensive resource. In its report Prison Population 2022, the committee states:
“There is a grave risk that we become locked in a vicious cycle of prisons perpetually absorbing huge amounts of criminal-justice related spending”,
and that that spending diverts funds from,
“essential initiatives that could stem or reverse the predicted growth”.
This is a cycle that leads to more crime, not less; more victims, not fewer.
Under my encouragement, the committee went to Texas, which may seem surprising, as Texas is generally thought of as a place of somewhat harsh penal policy. We went to talk to people who across the aisle—Republicans and Democrats—were working to reduce the prison population and divert some of the money being spent on prisons into measures to tackle drug-related crime. When we questioned the Republicans in particular on why they were taking that approach, they said, “This is the taxpayers’ dollar. We are Republicans. We care about how the taxpayers’ dollar is spent. If it is not being spent effectively to deliver the results that taxpayers want, we have to change it”. That was the basis for a fundamental rethink of the whole policy on prisons. Policy needs to be evidence led, and the evidence is that overuse of prison and custody does not lead to better rehabilitation.
A second theme of the committee’s work was that we need to build greater confidence among sentencers in alternatives to prison. That requires investment of a larger share of resources in community sentences, not a draining away of those resources into the prison system. The committee has pointed out the cost and unsuitability of custodial sentences for many women prisoners, who have a greater chance of rehabilitation through women’s centres in the community.
Part of the problem is that prisons are commissioned nationally on a demand-led basis, not by bodies also responsible for community sentences and all the services essential for rehabilitation. The result is that, when sentence is being passed, if it is a custodial sentence, there is never any doubt that a place, however unsuitable, will be found somewhere in the prison system, and there will be a van outside which will take the prisoner away to that custodial place. There may be real doubt, on the other hand, as to the availability of suitable community supervision, drug treatment, employment training or any of the other features which a non-custodial sentence would require. The split commissioning model has failed, and we need to pull those disparate commissioning bodies together to provide custody for those for whom it is essential and robust community-based alternatives in which sentencers have confidence.
The public also need confidence that sentencing is effective. There is plenty of evidence that, presented with the full facts of a case, members of the public are less likely to opt for longer sentences and more likely to recommend community alternatives than judges and magistrates currently do. We have got stuck with the idea that the use of custody and longer sentences is the only way that society can express its abhorrence of serious crime, the only mechanism to rate a crime as serious.
It is a necessary function of the criminal justice system that crime is punished, and society needs to have means to express its abhorrence of serious crime and ways to identify some crimes especially as intolerable and requiring a severe response. However, to use the length of prison sentences as the sole yardstick of social disapproval, the sole mechanism to classify the seriousness of particular forms of crime, is to destroy any possibility of using limited resources rationally to prevent further crime. Good, effective and robust community sentences need to be available. If another year added to the sentence offers no better prospect of preventing that offender from returning to crime, it is taxpayers’ money wasted.
Many victims of crime will tell you that their priority for the criminal justice system is that it ensures that others do not have to go through what they have been through. They want to stop reoffending and the recruitment of more people into criminal behaviour. That is what the system does least well, and that is why we need to get it right.
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for initiating the debate and for his powerful opening contribution. In a recent article in the New Statesman, Rory Stewart, recently a Minister with responsibility for prisons, said that we should rediscover a sense of anger and shame at the state of our prisons, which should, in turn, be the spur to action and reform. He was right on both counts. We should be angry—a lot of that has been demonstrated today in the House—and we should be committed to reforming the system.
Leaving aside for the moment the unacceptable conditions in too many prisons, we have designed a system which could hardly do more to prevent rehabilitation. Prisoners often serve their sentences far away from family and friends who could provide the support they need. Many informed observers feel that, when prisoners receive education, it does little to improve their employment prospects or reduce reoffending. They are often discharged back into the community with inadequate continuing support, or indeed basic accommodation. The constant fear of politicians seems to be not whether they will be held accountable for those failings, but that they will be attacked if they address them for being soft on crime.
Putting all that aside, today I want to concentrate on just one aspect of the problem: mental health in prisons. In doing so, I draw on the report which the National Audit Office produced in 2017. I should declare that I am chairman of the National Audit Office. That report concluded that the Government did not even know how many people in prison had a mental illness, although such estimates as there were suggested that somewhere between 37%—the estimate of Her Majesty’s inspector—and 90% were mentally unwell, with only 10% receiving treatment. The NAO report also concluded that the Government did not know how much they were spending on mental health in prisons, whether they were achieving their objectives or whether they were delivering value for money.
What was clear, as other noble Lords have mentioned, was that self-inflicted deaths and self-harm were rising at an alarming rate, such that the number of self-harm incidents had risen in the four years before the report was published by 73% to 41,000 and that self-inflicted deaths had doubled to 120. Speaking when the report was published, the then Comptroller and Auditor-General, not known for overstating his case, said:
“Improving the mental health of those in prison will require a step change in effort and resource”.
The question is whether we have seen that step change since 2017. There have certainly been attempts to address the issue. Staff numbers have increased by 3,200 since March 2017. That is really important, because fewer staff means that prisoners spend more time in their cells and are less likely to access mental health services and to have personal, one-to-one support. However, of course, that increase follows a reduction of 26% in the total workforce in the previous years.
In addition, improvements have been made to mental health training for prison staff. That is to be welcomed, because in the three years to 2016, 40% of prisons did not provide any mental health refresher training. Data-sharing arrangements have been introduced and will hopefully ensure that when prisoners are screened on arrival, staff will have access to previous GP records, without which they will not even know whether a prisoner has been diagnosed with a previous mental illness. That has not been the case hitherto. There is now in place a partnership agreement between the Prison Service, NHS England and Public Health England that focuses on mental health.
It is far too early to say whether any of these good intentions will be delivered and will deliver improvements. As other noble Lords have said, the worry is that much else is threatening to make the situation even worse, not least because of the increased numbers of prisoners now promised by the current Administration and because although self-inflicted deaths have reduced from 120 to 86 last year, cases of self-harm have increased from that record 41,000 to a staggering 58,000. The number of attacks on prison staff has tripled since 2010, and prisoner-on-prisoner assaults have doubled too.
This really cannot be allowed to continue. Yes, we need to see a strategy, but it needs to be followed by action rather than promises. I suggest that the Government publish a comprehensive strategy with measurable targets to improve mental health in prisons, and that it is then independently monitored every year. Frankly, the failure to take seriously the issue of mental health in prisons should shame us all.
My Lords, I too welcome this timely debate and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on his tireless campaigning to improve the plight of prisoners and the conditions they are kept in.
This week saw the Government announce their intention to automatically increase the length of some prison sentences, although judges already have the power to do so where they consider the risk to the public to be high. To the alarm of prison reformers, the Government have also signalled their determination to abandon their earlier acceptance that short-term sentences are ineffective. How will these announcements tackle the crisis in our overcrowded prisons? Record levels of violence against staff and inmates, adding to low morale among overstretched officers, will not be resolved by building more prisons without a commitment to radically improving rehabilitation and reducing reoffending, not just increasing numbers in prison.
At its conference last week, Labour pledged to end ineffective short sentences of six months or less for non-violent and non-sexual offences. Such sentences serve only to disrupt family ties, result in homelessness and loss of jobs and interrupt treatment programmes. They are counterproductive, not constructive.
Labour also pledged to divert funds the Government have allocated to build these promised 10,000 prison places to fund schemes proven to reduce reoffending—especially long-term investment in women’s centres, as recommended by my noble friend Lady Corston in her ground-breaking 2007 report. The APPG on Women in the Penal System, which my noble friend chairs, has called for the abolition of prison sentences of less than 12 months for women. As she said:
“Too often, magistrates view custody as the only option when all the evidence indicates that women’s centres provide better support for women and are more effective at reducing offending”.
However, if the vulnerable continue to be incarcerated, rehabilitation must be the priority. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has already mentioned, Professor Rosie Meek’s independent review of sport in youth and adult prisons, entitled A Sporting Chance, which focused on health and relationships and was published a year ago, has excellent recommendations. She argues that sport, and the relationships it can foster, can motivate young men with complex offending histories, some with especially challenging and disruptive behaviour, to change their attitudes and lifestyles. It can improve mental and physical health, thereby reducing violence, and tackle reoffending. The report also calls for the development of a physical activity strategy to meet the particularly complex and unique needs of women and girls in prison, 57% of whom have been victims of domestic abuse, and gives special consideration to the high levels of trauma they have experienced before entering custody.
The Government commissioned the Meek report and should now implement its recommendations and reconsider the decision not to endorse one on martial arts. As the DCMS Select Committee recently noted:
“Violent incidents in prisons appear to be at an all-time high and the report’s recommendations reflect the need to consider alternative violence reduction strategies. Given the positive impact of boxing and martial arts programmes in our communities, as reflected in the evidence we have received, prison governors should be given the option of using similar approaches in their establishments, if they so wish”.
Effective rehabilitation must be a top priority if we are to overcome the revolving door whereby 29% of adults and 42% of children reoffend within one year of release. Rehabilitation cannot be achieved if prisoners are kept in their cells for most of the day without productive and worthwhile activity, yet over one-third of young adult prisoners aged 18 to 21 are locked in their cells for at least 22 hours a day.
More imaginative use must be made of the voluntary bodies that want to assist in rehabilitation. Charities such as the Liberty Choir, through singing sessions, and the Prison Phoenix Trust, which supports prisoners in their spiritual lives through meditation and yoga, could be given greater access to the prison estate as their interventions have already proven effective in turning prisoners’ lives around, both in custody and on release, through encouraging a greater sense of well-being and self-worth. Clinks, the national advocacy group that supports voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system, calls for the Ministry of Justice, courts, probation services and prisons to champion volunteers who can work on prevention. They can help in the early identification of people with health needs, diverting them into treatment and ensuring continuity of care for people as they enter prison, move between prisons and, crucially, are released back into the community. The probation service cannot do everything alone.
It is regrettable that the Government appear to be redirecting their criminal justice programme towards a focus on retribution rather than rehabilitation. Can the Minister clarify the position on reducing the use of short-term sentences? Only by increasing efforts to prevent crime, with more police and better services to divert the young and vulnerable away from criminality, can we begin to cut the numbers entering our overcrowded prisons. We must ensure that rehabilitation works to stop the cycle of reoffending, which only creates yet more victims and blights the lives of future generations whose parents have been imprisoned.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on successfully securing this debate. I live not far from the county town of Northallerton in North Yorkshire, which for years had a prison with good reports. Three years ago the prison was sold and half of it demolished. The wall and half the prison, with its modern entrance, remain. There is a huge pile of bricks from the demolished part within the walls. The prison remains in limbo, symbolising a crumbling Prison Service.
The Prison and Probation Service poses an enormous challenge for government. Dedicated, experienced staff are needed if prisoners are to be controlled and rehabilitated satisfactorily. Prison officers need awareness training in disabilities, such as deafness, to stop isolation. There was hope when Rory Stewart MP was Prisons Minister. He was enthusiastic and full of energy. He showed great leadership, which is what the prisons need. If prisoners are locked up in cells for 22 hours a day without work, exercise and education, it is not surprising that worrying assaults on prison staff erupt far too often. With the danger of gang wars and drug abuse, this whole situation needs tackling. Overcrowding and staff shortages mean that prisons run restricted regimes that leave prisoners spending hours on end in their cells without phone calls, work, exercise, education or library visits. Are books being restricted to prisoners in some prisons?
I spent many years as a member of a board of visitors—now known as monitors—at Wetherby young offender institution. I assure your Lordships that many young people have a multitude of problems, involving violence and sexual abuse within some of their families. There are also drug, alcohol and gambling addictions. I have always felt that there should be more contact with probation and welfare officers, uniting the penal institution with the prisoners’ outside contacts. A percentage of inmates will be pronounced homeless; they will need more support if they are to survive outside prison. There are many voluntary organisations helping with the many needs of people incarcerated in prison. They should be welcomed. There should be a continued link to prisoners with addiction when returning to the community but some of these services have recently been cut, so there is a now a problem with continuing their treatment.
I want to bring to your Lordships the serious problem of the increasing number with sexually transmitted diseases. The link between prison and the community is vital. Many inmates do not have GPs in the community, so links with STI clinics need organising. Contact tracing can be difficult. The prevention of infection is so important, particularly with vulnerable groups of people. If we do not promote public health education in prisons, I feel we are losing an opportunity. Prisoners are a sitting target for doing something about the soaring rates of STIs. There has been a 249% increase in gonorrhoea since 2009, including a 26% rise within the last year. Very worryingly, three cases of extensively drug-resistant gonorrhoea were identified in 2018.
There are great concerns about antibiotics becoming resistant to infections. The Health and Social Care Committee’s recent report, Sexual Health, high- lighted the need for a national sexual health strategy. It recommended that Public Health England, in collaboration with,
“a broad-based working group of representatives drawn from all sectors involved in commissioning and providing sexual health services”,
including prisons and probation services, should develop a new sexual health strategy to,
“provide clear national leadership in this area”.
In Glasgow, there is a worrying concern that cases of HIV have recently increased. The reason is not known. I feel it is important that the probation services have training about the dangers of STIs, so that infected prisoners know where they can get ongoing treatment when they are released into the community. Data from the sexual health doctors’ association indicates that a worryingly high proportion of those doctors are having to turn patients away because they do not have the capacity to see them.
I hope that the Government will realise that something must be done to support public health in the endeavour to lessen the risk of STIs within prisons and out in the community at large. Cutting public health is, without a doubt, a false economy.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for introducing this debate, as well as for the helpful guidance that he has given to me on this subject in recent years. Just over two years ago, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, initiated a debate on prison overcrowding, which convinced me to take a very close interest in the UK prison system. I confined myself to issues after sentence to immediate custody. My task was made much easier by the decision of the then Prisons Minister Rory Stewart to set up a pilot Prison Service parliamentary scheme. I am very grateful to all those in the Prison Service who patiently helped me with my inquiries. It became clear to me that the problem in the prison system does not lie with the governors or the prison officers. I am full of admiration for both.
I am still a new boy to this subject. However, it is my opinion that the UK’s prison system is hopelessly flawed. It cannot be fixed by incremental reform; it needs drastic reform. We have had at least seven Prisons Ministers and Justice Secretaries since May 2010, but you need at least four years to determine and start a process of drastic reform. Moreover, 10 years would be needed to navigate the choppy waters of reform and to start seeing the benefits coming through. Ministers will therefore undertake only short-term, incremental reforms that are not too controversial. Most importantly, they will pass the Daily Mail test.
Why does anyone think that taking very seriously damaged youngsters who have had a rotten start in life—“victimised by society”, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, put it—and putting them in a conventional prison regime will somehow, magically, make them better members of society? It cannot possibly work. It is a hopelessly flawed system.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has proposed a royal commission or the equivalent. I certainly support that and will submit a comprehensive paper outlining my thoughts. However, I am concerned that the output may merely be a souped-up Woolf report—I see the noble and learned Lord in his place and look forward to hearing his contribution. It might propose desirable reforms, but I very much doubt whether it would propose drastic reform, because the inquiry would have to take into account what is thought to be politically possible. In the coming months, I will be making the case for drastic reform in any fora that I can.
Prison reform is a wicked problem because, as the Home Secretary will soon find, the obvious solutions are the wrong ones. No one can agree what the problems are. If they do, they agree only on the symptoms. I therefore maintain an open mind. I am not fixed on any solution: I will merely suggest what drastic reform might look like. In the time available, I can show a bit of ankle only. Many noble Lords have talked about the problem of short sentences. They do not work because the regime in the current system is awful: there is almost no incentive for short-term prisoners to improve themselves. In short, we are releasing prisoners from custody after a defined period and not when they have improved to a defined extent. For example, they may still have no literacy or numeracy skills.
I propose making a new sentence available to the courts: to be detained for training at Her Majesty’s pleasure, or “DFT”. Release would be on achieving the required standard of performance, training and conduct. This is not an IPP and there would have to be a cap of, say, five years. However, the time on remand would not help other than in respect of the cap. The first stage of “DFT” would be to ensure compliance with the training regime. I call this “tick-tock”. Noble Lords will recall the late Viscount Whitelaw’s “short, sharp shock”. It was a failure because it was an end in itself rather than a means to an end. It was no deterrent and did not address offenders’ weaknesses. The proposed “tick-tock” camps would be in isolated rural areas—there would be no mobile phone signal. This would solve an awful lot of problems and drastically reduce the possibility of drugs getting into the system. By the way, if we have a very boring regime in the current prison system—and we do—why is anyone surprised that the prisoners want to take drugs?
The purpose of “tick-tock” is purely to enable greater risk to be safely taken later on. It is not per se a punishment, although it might not be much fun. The first requirements to be met on “DFT” as opposed to “tick-tock” must be literacy and numeracy if there is to be any chance of halting reoffending. The next requirement is for the prisoner to acquire some genuine and desirable trade skills. Finally, horror of horror, there needs to be some fun.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on securing this debate.
What a mess we have made of the rehabilitation of prisoners in this country. With the highest incarceration rate in western Europe, we are pursuing the failed strategy of building 10,000 more prison spaces, despite the fact that a reoffending rate of nearly 50% shows that prison is not working. Inside our prisons, self-harm increased by 24% this March over the previous year, with one self-inflicted death every four days. The charity Inquest says:
“Despair and distress are at unprecedented levels in failing institutions within a failing system”.
I would challenge any noble Lord in this House to dispute that.
But instead of fostering a rehabilitative culture, our prisons are increasingly punitive in their approach to managing conflict. Figures shown to the Howard League reveal that more than 1,000 years of additional punishment were added to sentences in 2018 for breaking rules. I cannot believe it.
The Howard League says that,
“rather than building 10,000 more prison places, a strategy to reduce the number of people held in expensive, ineffectual and chaotic prisons is urgently needed”.
It would like to see the money for building more prison places diverted into community-based initiatives and services such as housing, healthcare, education and employment, which address the underlying causes of crime. We know that reoffending rates are much lower for community-based sentences, but the number of community orders has more than halved in recent years. Something has gone horribly wrong, and I hope that the Minister will enlighten us as to why this is and what steps the Government are taking to redress it.
That brings me to our poor, beleaguered probation service. At the end of 2018, more than 250,000 people were on probation in England and Wales. Even as I say this, knowing it is an official statistic, I cannot believe it. How have things come to this? How can any sort of effective service be delivered to so many people without vast resources? Why have the Government imposed an arbitrary supervision period of 12 months, even for people who have been imprisoned for just a day? I am sure that considering all offenders for supervision has to be of benefit, as my noble friend Lord McNally said. However, this arbitrary imposition has hit women prisoners particularly hard, because, as we know, they are subject to a disproportionate number of shorter sentences, despite the damage that this does to their children and the disruption it causes to their often already chaotic lives. Surely, if a little thought were given to the needs of each individual prisoner, and the period and the type of intervention tailored to their individual needs, this would be a far more effective use of public money. Perhaps the Minister can give us some good news that this will be under review.
The new proposals for probation are welcome, but I have a couple of questions for the Minister. CRCs have been an unmitigated disaster, not least because the private for-profit model does not work in the area of rehabilitation—perhaps because the interests of offenders are not the primary motivation for what CRCs do. We know that some subcontracting to outside organisations will be involved in delivering specialist services, but will the Minister confirm that these will be mainly not-for-profit organisations rather than large for-profit companies such as G4S and Sodexo? There is also concern about the very short lead-in period to the changes. Have we not learned yet that these sorts of unnecessary additional challenges mean that we are setting ourselves up to fail again?
Finally, I have a couple of questions for the Minister from the Prison Reform Trust, about women victims of domestic violence and coercion who land up in jail. I am delighted that the Domestic Abuse Bill had its Second Reading in the Commons yesterday and I wish it speedy passage. But, in the context of this debate, we need to acknowledge that many of the women who land up in prison are victims of violence and intimidation.
It is a year since the Female Offender Strategy was published. So I ask the Minister, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that women offenders’ histories of victimisation are being considered, both in prison and in the community? What support is being given to women whose offending has been driven by a coercive and abusive relationship?
That is a lot of questions, and I do not expect even this excellent Minister to be able to answer them all today—but a follow-up in writing would be greatly appreciated.
My Lords, the delay to this debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for which I join in thanking him, has made it all the more timely, because the Government have recently announced a programme of major reform of the treatment of offenders.
The dominant theme of this reform can be summarised as, “putting more people in prison for longer”. Serious offenders will not be eligible for release until they have served two-thirds rather than half of their sentence. Anyone who kills a child of less than school age will be kept in prison for the rest of his or her life. Causing death by dangerous driving will attract a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Rapists and violent offenders will be sent to prison for longer.
An acknowledged motive for these reforms is to respond to what is perceived to be the views of members of the public and, in particular, the victims of crime. Victims of a wide variety of offences are to be given the right to seek a review of sentences that they believe are over-lenient. All these proposed measures will increase prison numbers, and the Government plan to create 10,000 new prison places to accommodate them.
I have connections with a charity now called Grit, formerly known as Youth at Risk, which aims to keep young people out of prison. Two others, Footsteps and the St Giles Trust, aim to stop offenders reverting to crime after they have been released. I strongly support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for an independent commission that will review the way we try to achieve these aims. But I wish to explain, in the short time available, why I am so dismayed by the Government’s proposals to put more people in prison for longer. This echoes points made by the noble Lords, Lord Jay of Ewelme and Lord Beith. Anyone who has been following Channel 4’s admirable series, “Crime and Punishment”, will appreciate the devastating consequences of lack of resources.
Over at least the last 30 years, I have witnessed admirable initiatives—for alternatives to custody, for rehabilitation in prison and for helping those who come out of prison to avoid reoffending—foundering because of the lack of resources needed to implement them. Keeping a man or woman locked up in prison now costs close to £40,000 a year. Prison numbers should be kept to a minimum in order to free up resources for crime prevention and the effective rehabilitation of those who commit crimes. This means that sentences should be no longer than is necessary to serve their purposes.
What are those purposes? Section 142 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides the answers. They include protection of the public, deterrence, rehabilitation and punishment. Violent men—they are almost always men—who would pose a real danger to the public if at large, need to be detained, either in prison or in a secure hospital if, as so often, their violence is due to mental illness. But these cases must be identified on an individual basis, not by applying presumptions to all who commit particular categories of offence.
Making sentences longer does not normally increase their deterrent effect. What deters is the likelihood of getting caught. If that is slight, the length of the potential sentence will have little effect. A childminder who loses his self-control when kept awake by a screaming baby and shakes the baby to death will not act differently because he faces a lifetime rather than a mere 10 years in prison. The Home Secretary has said that she wants criminals to “literally feel terror” at the thought of breaking the law. It is wishful thinking to believe that she can achieve this by making sentences longer.
In my lifetime, the length of sentences has steadily crept up. A significant cause of this has been periodic legislation that has constrained judges to impose minimum sentences for certain categories of offence. Such legislation inevitably results in some defendants being sentenced to longer than the particular circumstances of the crime warrant, and in a ratcheting-up of the sentencing scale overall. I do not believe that the current government policy of lengthening sentences reflects informed advice that it will help rehabilitation or deter crime. The motive for it is to increase punishment in response to a perceived public demand for vengeance. Punishment is a legitimate object of sentencing, but there is no preordained scale that justice demands. The high cost of keeping defendants in prison to punish them has to be borne by all of us. If this were met by a discrete prison tax, I suspect that there would soon be a cry for a reduction in the length of sentences. The Government should be setting out to find the resources needed to improve rehabilitation by reducing the scale of sentencing and the size of the prison population. If they pay any heed to the unanimous voice of this debate, they will think again.
My Lords, this debate has been of excellent quality. We have all learned a great deal from what has been said in the speeches that preceded mine. That I, on this occasion, speak after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, is quite a novel experience for me because, throughout our respective legal careers, he has followed me, rather than my following him. I very much have in mind what was said by another of my noble and learned friends, Lord Judge, in an intervention before the debate: if you agree with everything, there is something to be said for sitting down and not detaining people merely by repetition. I will bear that in mind in the remarks I make.
I draw attention to my entries in register. I have been much involved in the prison scene since the noble Lord, Lord Baker—who has here a while ago—received my report into Strangeways prison. I made substantial recommendations in that report. One recommendation was not, unlike the majority, accepted by the Government. It was that there should be a limit on the number of people in prison. The reason I think it most unfortunate that that or a similar recommendation was not accepted was that nothing is more likely to undermine the workings of a prison system than overcrowding, which has been a scourge of the prison system shortly after my report and ever since. It explains why many of the things we have heard today have happened. This clearly indicates that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on this as on many other occasions, was profoundly right to have identified the problem of a lack of strategy within the prison service. I hope that, on this occasion, the noble Lord will be taken more seriously than he has been on too many occasions in the past. We require a Government who are prepared to do what is needed to deal with the problem of which we all should be ashamed.
I am going to leave my address at this stage and not add to it. I hope that what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has said about the need for a strategy is taken up by the Government. That strategy has to be carefully thought out and not delivered on the hoof by those who may not have the knowledge they should have before making an announcement.
My Lords, this has been a serious but, in many ways, profoundly depressing debate—secured and introduced so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, whom so many of us have thanked not only for this debate and his contribution to it but for his consistent campaigning on these issues over many years.
This year’s reports of the Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation are as depressing as any. Peter Clarke reports on prisons:
“Far too many of our jails have been plagued by drugs, violence, appalling living conditions and a lack of access to meaningful rehabilitative activity”.
On self-harm, he reports:
“Overall, levels of self‑harm were disturbingly high and self-inflicted deaths tragically increased by nearly one-fifth on the previous year”.
On prison conditions, he reports:
“As we have said in the past on many occasions, broken windows, unscreened lavatories … vermin and filth should not feature in 21st century jails”.
On rehabilitation, he reports:
“In only a third of the adult male prisons that we inspected was purposeful activity, which includes … education, work and training, judged to be good or reasonably good”.
Discouragingly, he also reported a poor response to his recommendations, with the level of those achieved falling below those not achieved for each of the last three years.
In her annual report on the probation service in March, Dame Glenys Stacey described the provision of probation by the community rehabilitation companies as “sub-standard, and … demonstrably poor”. She described a,
“deplorable diminution of the probation profession and a widespread move away from good probation practice”.
She said the model was “irredeemably flawed”. As pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, the model has been largely abandoned, but without an effective substitute in place.
The first challenge is to cut prison numbers. As is well known, we imprison more of our population than any other country in western Europe, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and just reinforced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. We also have very high reoffending rates following prison sentences. That is particularly true of short sentences. The reoffending rate for sentences of 12 months or less has climbed to 64%.
On IPP sentences, we fully support the call of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood—and before him we remember Lord Lloyd of Berwick—to end the continuing injustice to IPP prisoners who have served well beyond their tariffs and to reverse the burden of proof that they currently have to discharge to secure their release.
We have opposed proposals, now enacted, for mandatory custodial sentences for the possession of knives and corrosive substances. Unlike the Government, we trust the judges, so judges must have discretion in sentencing, particularly for young people. We cannot cut prison numbers without putting an end to sentence inflation, legislative or otherwise, which costs large sums of money, as my noble friend Lord Beith and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, have said. On all the evidence, sentence inflation gives a nil return in reducing reoffending.
We were achieving some cut-through in this area before Mr Johnson’s election as Prime Minister. The Government were starting to listen to the evidence on prison numbers as well as on rehabilitation, prison conditions and the failure of the probation services. But back then we had David Lidington and then David Gauke as Justice Secretary and Rory Stewart as Prisons Minister, and we know what happened to them.
This Prime Minister says he will build more prisons and lock more people up and for longer, pressing for longer sentences and cutting early release, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, described and, rightly, decried. The Prime Minister’s response is a populist one for his party conference and the Daily Mail but it completely ignores the evidence. His plans would increase crime, not reduce it.
We are rightly ashamed of the degrading conditions of our prisons, well described by the noble Lord, Lord Judd: overcrowded and still understaffed, pervaded by extreme violence and widespread drug abuse, with inadequate care for mental health and drug addiction issues and limited training and purposeful activity. Prisoners, including women and young offenders, spend far too long locked in their cells—often as much as 22 hours a day, as the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned—with no regard for their well-being. It is a system where prisoners are discharged with £46, often on a Friday and often miles from home with no accommodation, services or source of help, and a system where the absurd denial of access to any form of IT prevents them applying for universal credit before release and pursuing training courses or seeking housing or employment online. In our community sentences, as Dame Glenys pointed out, the Government have negligently allowed probation services to collapse, with CRCs’ contracts terminated early but with no realistic plan to overhaul an underresourced and dysfunctional system, as my noble friend Lord Beith said.
My noble friend Lord German, who sadly cannot be here, and I, ably assisted by many, including my noble friend Lady Burt, after taking extensive evidence, including from some who have spoken today, have produced a paper on rehabilitation called Turning Lives Around, which became party policy at our conference. On cutting prison numbers, we propose a presumption against sentences of 12 months or less, replacing them with effective and tough but sympathetic community sentences. I regret that I am unable to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that indeterminate detention holds a solution. The solution lies in working community sentences that incorporate the rehabilitative help that he talked about.
More generally, we propose a co-ordinated approach to arranging for prison and probation, as well as all the other services that offenders need if they are to escape from a cycle of repeated criminal behaviour. These include health—particularly mental health, as discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard—and welfare services; treatment for drug abuse and addiction; the provision of housing, training and employment; and involving the voluntary sector and private and public sector employers. My noble friend Lord Dholakia dwelled on the important contribution that the voluntary sector is keen to make but which has been underutilised to date.
Local co-ordinating bodies would be established, funded by the Ministry of Justice but administered locally, working from existing offices with small staffs, with a brief to consider the needs of each offender individually and commission all the services they need while in custody, in preparation for release, on release from custody and in the course of community sentences. The phrase “assertive outreach” used by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, describes well what is needed. Our reforms would help people leaving custody who are currently at high risk of returning to prison.
We address the particular needs of women in the criminal justice system, which are often increased by past trauma, as pointed out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, in line with the 2007 report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, as recognised in the female offender strategy and discussed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Armstrong and Lady Healy, and my noble friend Lady Burt. We also address the needs of young offenders, seeking full implementation of the recommendations made in the 2016 review by Charlie Taylor, who gave us impressive evidence and now heads up the Youth Justice Board, following my noble friend Lord McNally, whose understanding, gleaned during his successful and important work to help young offenders, shone through his speech today.
We need a fresh approach to penal policy. We must shrink prison numbers and humanise our prisons. We must concentrate on providing all the services that offenders need to support them in their rehabilitation in a comprehensive and co-ordinated way during custodial sentences, on release from custody and throughout well-resourced and carefully implemented effective community sentences.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for securing this important debate. I particularly thank him for his opening speech and the way in which he framed the debate today. Never, I think, has an opening speech been so universally supported throughout the whole debate.
I have been listening with great interest to the mood music on crime and justice coming out of the Conservative Party conference this week. It appears that the Government’s playlist is repeating the same old tune. The Justice Secretary announced that criminals will serve two-thirds of their sentence before early release can be considered; the Government reiterated their repackaged promise of 10,000 more prison places; and the Home Secretary proclaimed,
“we stand against the criminals … We are coming after you”.
More time, more prison places and being more hard-line—the most outdated approach to criminal justice that I can think of. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing about how the failed privatisation of probation and prisons has undermined the management and treatment of offenders; how meaningful reform has been stifled by cuts and uncertainty at the Ministry of Justice; how departmental spending has been slashed by over 40% since 2010 under five Justice Secretaries in four years; how thousands of prison officers have been axed; and how the shortfall in mental health support for offenders is fuelling a rise in suicide and self-harm in custody. While the Home Secretary might be coming after criminals, government policy has been coming after the criminal justice system over the last nine years.
The guiding principle of offender management and treatment should be holistic rather than cost and profit. Nothing demonstrates that better than the Government’s failed privatisation of the probation service. In May 2019 the Government announced an embarrassing U-turn to reverse their disastrous probation reforms—reforms that the Public Accounts Committee said had left the probation service in a worse position and which the National Audit Office found had wasted at least £476 million of taxpayers’ money and failed to reduce reoffending.
The new model would return the supervision of all offenders in the community to the public sector. That is no small number, with over 250,000 offenders currently on probation, according to recent government figures. This is a necessary first step in cleaning up the probation mess but there are already concerns that it does not go far enough and could give too great a role to the private sector. Some £280 million-worth of contracts for rehabilitation services will be tendered each year to private companies and voluntary organisations. Can the Minister confirm that companies currently failing to deliver private probation services will not be allowed to bid for new contracts under the new probation model?
The management of offenders looks very different depending on whether prisons are run for profit. Private prisons are up to 47% more violent than public prisons and far more likely to be overcrowded. Violence got so out of hand at HMP Birmingham that the Government had to step in and permanently take it back into public ownership from G4S. As soon as they did, extra prison officers were brought in and hundreds of prisoners moved out.
Will the Government release staffing figures for the remaining 13 private prisons managed by G4S, Serco and Sodexo? How can we improve offender management when private prisons have no minimum staffing levels? Can the Minister rule out today prison contracts from being any part of a post-Brexit trade deal? We must ensure that prisons are not exploited by US companies.
The Government continue to defend their decision to build more private prisons by arguing that all opposition is simply ideological, but the truth is that running prisons and probation services for profit simply undermines offender management and treatment. That is why Labour is committed to preventing the creation of any new prisons run for private profit and will campaign for probation to be fully returned to the public sector.
Rehabilitation depends on the relationship between offenders and staff, especially prison and probation officers. However, cuts to officer numbers since 2010 have caused a crisis in our prisons and probation service, with staff morale and retention at rock bottom. This could be addressed in many ways, such as boosting pay, conditions and professional standards, but the Government are not interested in these options due to the costs involved.
Despite recent recruitment, there are still 2,000 fewer prison officers than in 2010. Over 80,000 years of experience have been lost, with 40% of prison officers now having less than three years’ experience. Does the Minister accept that offender management and treatment are undermined by the declining number of prison officers?
The latest figures from the Prison Service’s workforce showed a new record high for levels of prison violence against staff. The number of recorded assaults on prison staff in England and Wales increased last year by 21% to 10,213—a 260% rise since 2010. What are the Government doing to protect these dedicated public servants?
I cannot mention the treatment of offenders without touching on rising self-harm and suicide in the criminal justice system. In the year leading up to June 2019, there were 309 deaths in prison custody. Of these, 86 deaths were self-inflicted—a 6% increase on the previous year. When the state takes away offenders’ liberty, it has a special duty of care to keep them safe. These 86 deaths are testament to the state’s failure to discharge adequately its duty of care. These 86 people should not have died. The prison system, the Ministry of Justice and the Government are responsible. It is shameful that in 2019, self-harm incidents in prisons are up 24% to a record high of 57,960, and women are 135% more likely than men to self-harm in prison.
A shortfall in mental health support for offenders serving community orders is fuelling this rise in suicide and self-harm. The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody found that of the 75,750 community orders made in 2018, fewer than 1% included a mental health treatment requirement. Prison should always be a last resort—the state’s most severe sanction for serious offences. It should never be a substitute for failing mental health services, or for the withdrawal of funding from drug treatment centres.
The Government must realise that they simply cannot do justice on the cheap without recklessly exposing the public and staff to serious risk. Rehabilitation must be at the heart of the management and treatment of offenders, through public probation, better staffing in prisons and mental health support. After the Conservative conference, I fear the Government remain a long way off from this approach.
I have not commented on the various speeches because, frankly, all 20 were substantially the same. They touched on different aspects, but the theme that seems to me to run through them is that the service is not fit for purpose. The number of people in prison is not a success. Locking people up is not a success—it is a symptom of the failure of the Ministry of Justice to secure properly the right resources and enable the probation service to help with rehabilitation and to make non-custodial sentences more credible. I also believe it is a failure of society to look after the poor, the fragile and the mentally ill. The way to save money is to have fewer people in prison. In the first place, get them not to offend, through proper youth services, education and mental health facilities. We need a national consensus that, in every area, we should support the young, the poor, the fragile and the unwell.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for securing this debate. Many experts in this field have contributed to the debate, and I assure noble Lords that I will draw it to the attention of the relevant Minister.
Improving the management and treatment of offenders is a priority for the Government. The criminal justice system must become more effective at rehabilitating offenders—a point made by many noble Lords—so that they do not go on to commit more crime and to create more victims of crime. Punishment and rehabilitation are not opposites; we have to do both.
We are working to reform and improve provision across both prison and the community. There are real challenges for our system, but by investing in our prisons, strengthening our probation system and taking a whole-system approach to criminal justice, we can provide the right support for offenders and set them on a path towards rehabilitation.
As noble Lords have commented, the Prime Minister has recently announced more resources for the criminal justice system: 20,000 more police on our streets; 10,000 more prison places; £100 million for prison security; and an extra £85 million for the Crown Prosecution Service. Noble Lords will therefore appreciate that we take the management and treatment of offenders extremely seriously.
I hope to address most of the important points that noble Lords have raised during the course of the debate. If I do not cover them, I promise to write and place copies in the Library.
Noble Lords will have seen that we recently published our response to last summer’s consultation on the future of probation services, Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence. That response sets out our plans to build on the positive changes introduced by Transforming Rehabilitation while addressing the key challenges in the system. To deliver these arrangements, we are ending community rehabilitation company contracts early in 2021 and streamlining responsibilities for public, private and voluntary sector partners. Once these arrangements are in place, I am confident that we will improve the supervision and treatment of offenders from first contact with probation to last.
We are planning to bring all offender supervision under one organisation, moving away from the current division of offenders between the National Probation Service and community rehabilitation companies. This will allow probation officers to be even more effective at protecting the public, because we will see more efficient allocation of resources, more effective enforcement of orders and closer supervision of offenders.
Most noble Lords mentioned rehabilitation. We will improve the range and quality of rehabilitative interventions so these can better target the needs of offenders, including vulnerable offenders and those with mental health and alcohol and substance abuse problems. We intend to commission a significant percentage of these services through a dynamic framework, which will enable us to engage directly with smaller providers including those from the voluntary and community sectors who can often provide a more tailored and locally responsive approach.
Offenders also have contact with the probation service in the weeks leading up to and following their release from prison. We recognise the enormous importance of effective resettlement services in reducing reoffending. Offenders can currently expect contact from probation services 12 weeks before release, but this will increase to seven or eight months before release under the new model, giving much more time for resettlement plans to be made. We will align arrangements, with new resources being assigned to the supervision of offenders in custody to ensure a safe and planned transition from custody to community.
As part of work across government to tackle rough sleeping, something which was mentioned by many noble Lords, we are investing £6.4 million in a pilot scheme to support individuals released from three prisons. Working with the voluntary sector, the pilots—as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Bichard and Lord Dholakia—will support low-risk male prisoners to access and sustain tenancies in private rented accommodation. Individuals will receive wraparound support and we will evaluate the pilots to inform plans for further rollout.
To manage and treat offenders effectively, we also need to ensure our prisons are fundamentally safe and secure. That means preventing items from entering our estate which undermine safety, security and rehabilitation, including drugs, mobile phones and other contraband.
The noble Lord, Lord Beith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, also mentioned safety and security as well as overcrowding. Reducing overcrowding is a top priority. There will be £2.5 billion of spending on 10,000 new places and an extensive refurbishment has been commissioned on decommissioned prison places. A further £100 million will be spent on security, with airport-style X-ray scanners, for example, and metal detectors at the gates. In August, the Prime Minister announced a £100 million investment in prison security as part of a wider crackdown on crime behind bars. This is the latest in a series of investments to increase security and stability in prisons, including a prior announcement of £70 million.
Alongside improvements to security, we are working to ensure that our prisons have sufficient capacity. As I mentioned, over the summer the Prime Minister announced that up to £2.5 billion will be spent on creating 10,000 additional places. Our ambition is to create a decent, safe and secure estate that is sustainable into the future and provides better opportunities to reform offenders.
Being able to safely and securely hold those sentenced to custody must be the first thing we get right in prisons, but we must also provide the right support and incentives to rehabilitate offenders, as a number of noble Lords mentioned. Our prison officers play a vital role in supporting and challenging offenders to make the right choices. We have recruited more than 4,700 prison officers since October 2016, surpassing our original target of 2,500 and returning us to approximately the same level as in March 2012. This has enabled us to improve our support and case management of prisoners, with the introduction of the new offender management in custody model to all male closed prisons. Each individual will be allocated a prison officer to act as their key worker, who will guide, support and coach individuals through their custodial sentence.
A number of noble Lords mentioned women in prison. We have developed a bespoke management approach for women which recognises the different challenges and opportunities in the women’s estate. The women’s policy framework mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, was published in 2018. It includes requirements to support women to find housing, manage money and access education. We recognise that women’s needs are different, and I commit to writing to the noble Baroness to give further details on the issues she raised.
As I mentioned, we are working to ensure that prison offers meaningful opportunities for rehabilitation. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble Lords, Lord Marks, Lord Beecham, Lord Beith and Lord Jay, all mentioned this issue. This year, we marked the first anniversary of the Education and Employment Strategy, which will ensure prison is a place where offenders can develop the skills they need to secure employment on release. We know that employment is one of the key factors that will determine whether they reoffend.
We are very thankful for my noble friend Lord Farmer’s report on the importance of family engagement to reduce reoffending. We are also grateful for his second report, which focused on female offenders, and we are currently considering its recommendations.
Moving on to youth justice—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who has extensive experience in this area—alongside the reforms to the adult custodial estate, we are committed to improving the safety and life chances of children in custody. This is the reason why we began a youth justice reform programme in 2017, investing in staff, education and, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, psychological services as well. It is so important to get these things right for these young people.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised the subject of sport in prison, and I thank him for doing so. We have increased the number of PE staff: there are 40 football clubs delivering coaching qualifications, and 15% of prisons participate in parkrun.
The Youth Custody Service has started implementing a new evidence-based behaviour management strategy, aimed at incentivising good behaviour and building positive relationships. To tackle the root causes of youth offending, we have introduced the first of our youth justice specialists in custody. We are also expending front-line staff capacity in public sector youth offender institutions. At the end of March this year, the Youth Custody Service had 348 more front-line officers than at the start of our reform programme, an increase of 40%. In July, we were delighted to announce that the Oasis Charitable Trust has been selected to operate the first secure school in Medway, which will open in 2020.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, both mentioned in their speeches—it was a major point of the noble Lord’s speech—the subject of an external review. It is a valuable point, but the whole system is under review. We are making changes to probation services and investing in prisons. We have commissioned experts to review areas, such as my noble friend Lord Farmer’s review on family ties.
The noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Beecham, also mentioned the fact that probation should be localised. Our probation reforms will create 12 new regional probation directors to ensure that services reflect local needs and use local providers and that probation works more closely with police, courts and prisons.
A number of noble Lords mentioned issues relating to mental health and violence in prisons and the unacceptable levels of violence and self-harm. Staff are now undergoing revised training on suicide and self-harm. This is a move in the right direction and, hopefully, will have an effect in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and other noble Lords mentioned the subject of universal credit and what exactly prisoners can access. Offenders can access a DWP work coach prior to their release. We will continue to work with the Department for Work and Pensions on this issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, talked about education and employment. I can tell the noble Lord that additional powers have been devolved to governors to give them more control over their education budget so that they can target areas where required.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester asked about funding for women’s centres in the new probation system. We are determined to ensure that the probation service does meet the needs of women. Women’s centres are a non-negotiable part of the answer. The right reverend Prelate also mentioned the concordat, which we are looking to publish in the next few months. As far as housing and homelessness for women is concerned, this is subject to evaluation but our homelessness pilot will be rolled out and can be delivered for any offender, including women.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, mentioned IPPs, which have been covered numerous times in this House over recent years. Public protection must remain our priority. At the moment, there are no plans to change the release test or recall system, as it is applied to IPP prisoners.
The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, also spoke about levels of violence in prisons. Violence levels are too high, and violence against staff will not be tolerated. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act increases the penalty to 12 months; prison officers are included as emergency workers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, also mentioned sentencing. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has announced an urgent review to break the reoffending cycle. We have announced our intention to carry out legislative reform, including reforms to community penalties, which will offer the appropriate level of punishment while tackling the underlying causes of reoffending.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about disability awareness training for staff. This is an important point, and I can reassure the noble Baroness that all officers receive broad equalities training over a number of different modules.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, also spoke about how the voluntary sector can help. We want to see a clearer role for voluntary providers in probation delivery. The National Probation Service will in the future be able to directly commission services which encourage participation of smaller suppliers and, as I mentioned before, address the needs of local areas.
I close by thanking again the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and all those who have raised important issues in this debate. Getting the supervision and treatment of offenders right is absolutely vital, both for their benefit and to prevent reoffending leading to further victims. Taken together, the measures I have outlined will ensure that we are best supporting offenders to turn their lives around, whether that is in prison, youth custody or the community.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate, which, if I might say, summed up the House at its very best. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for summing up so many of the contributions, which all mounted up to believing that all is not well with the management and treatment of offenders in prisons and in the community. I also thank the noble Earl for standing in for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen. I was very glad that he agreed to take back much of what was said to the relevant Ministers, particularly the Secretary of State.
I will pick out and comment on six speeches. I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and others for including issues surrounding women, which I neglected to add to my opening remarks. I am particularly grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood for mentioning the IPPs, which I similarly omitted.
The noble Lord, Lord Beith, mentioned the cost of imprisonment. I asked what the cost of imprisonment was on my first day as chief inspector. A Home Office official told me how much money they had been given by the Treasury and how much money they had passed on to the prison service. I said, “That’s not what I meant. How much would it cost to do all the things that Ministers say would, should and could be done with prisoners?”. I do not believe that anyone knows that cost, nor do they know what it would cost to do all the things that are said should be done by probation. Until and unless we know that cost, we cannot know what cannot be done. That is a very important issue.
I mention to my noble friend Lord Bichard the shock with which the 1998 Office for National Statistics psychiatric morbidity statistics in prison were greeted when they were suddenly published. That was 20 years ago. I just remind the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, of the Scandinavian system, where sentencers award sentences that include certain targets. If a prisoner has got through all the targets set, the governor can take the prisoner back to the court and ask for them to be released on licence.
The last person I mention is my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf, who agreed with me that above all we must have a strategy. Without a strategy we are going nowhere.