Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss the final report from the review with so many whose experience and expertise in the broad area of prison reform far outstrip my own. Indeed, some of your Lordships were named in it as major contributors to this vital area. I am looking forward to their speeches today, the content of which will, I am sure, add depth to the work of the review and give the Government much to think about.
I was asked by the Ministry of Justice to study the importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to preventing reoffending and reducing intergenerational crime. I will talk a little about what we found and recommended under the three main headings of culture, consistency and safety.
Before doing so, I must rebut the friendly fire that the report drew from honourable Members on Conservative Benches in the other place. Although I am sure their hearts were in the right place, the main criticism was that I seemed to have forgotten the victims of crime. My remit, I repeat, was to reduce reoffending and intergenerational crime. Research shows that better contact with families can achieve both, as I will make clear.
Far from being victim-blind, such a remit prioritises victims, albeit implicitly. Less reoffending means less crime and therefore fewer victims and fewer future prisoners, and therefore less cost and fewer family members themselves serving a sentence for crimes the parent or partner inside committed—an altogether safer society.
As I say in my foreword:
“This report is not sentimental about prisoners’ families, as if they can, simply by their presence, alchemise a disposition to commit crime into one that is law abiding. However, I do want to hammer home a very 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”.
I have talked before in your Lordships’ House about the fundamental importance of human relationships for all of us. Ensuring that as many prisoners as possible have relationships that are strong and stable—I must admit that I hesitated to use that phrase—must be a golden thread running through prison reform and the entire estate.
Therefore, this review calls for cultural change—for relationships to become valued and to be seen as indispensable to the Ministry of Justice’s priority of preventing reoffending. We also need a broader change in the culture of government: all departments need to recognise that positive family relationships are as important for children’s and adults’ lives as education and employment. This came home to me forcefully when I first began to look at the research on rehabilitation. Learning a trade and improving one’s education are clearly essential if someone is to stay on the right side of the law when they leave prison. Healthy, stable relationships provide motivation, yet the role that family and other relationships can play in reducing reoffending is rarely mentioned when politicians and others talk about rehabilitation.
Given that, on average, 43% of prisoners reoffend, at a cost of £15 billion a year, I suggest that we are not doing terribly well at reducing reoffending and that something is missing. Putting it another way, education and employment are only two legs of the rehabilitation stool—and we are surprised that it keeps falling over. Enabling prisoners to maintain and improve family relationships is the third leg of that stool, and this is not the soft option. It can be extremely painful for men to be brought face to face with their family responsibilities and with the effect of their crimes on their partners and children, and more powerful than anything else in convincing them to change their ways.
Almost two-third of prisoners’ sons commit crimes themselves. When a father decides to go straight and put his children first, this can break the cycle of intergenerational offending. Prisoners who receive visits from a family member are 39% less likely to reoffend than those who do not. Therefore, when considering prisoner location, the norm should be that men are kept within their region and, if moved out for tactical management purposes, brought back as soon as possible. The new prison in north Wales, HMP Berwyn, will house many man who are a long way from home. It is encouraging that, from the outset, planning has sought to mitigate the negative effects of this—for example, by appointing a senior uniformed member of staff as children and families manager, a first in the Prison Service.
My second point is the unacceptable inconsistency of respect for family ties across the prison estate. Only half of all public sector prisons had visitor centres run by specialist voluntary sector organisations. The good family work in Norwich prison was backed by a far more outward-looking approach than others I visited. The report refers to the “extrovert” prison, which instinctively looks over the prison walls for resource and aims to be a resource in the community. Norwich’s deputy governor holds regular surgeries with family members to get their input when there are difficulties with prisoners. Category D prisoners run a cafe, which is so good that it is on the tourist bus route. I also saw “introvert” prisons, where grandparents who had travelled more than 100 miles were kept waiting in a dingy, crowded room with other weary and anxious visitors, but there were no refreshments or other facilities.
In my recommendations, I outlined a local family offer for inclusion in the MoJ’s new policy frameworks to drive a consistent approach. Every prison needs a visitor servicing centre. It also needs staff who make family work an operational priority. Offenders’ families have, after all, been described by the Chief Inspector of Prisons as the “most effective resettlement agency”. For example, officers should run visits with the attitude that family members are assets. HMP Parc in Bridgend, south Wales, welcomes families with a courteous customer service mentality akin to good airport security. Some prisons treat families as an inconvenience at best, criminal themselves at worst. Every prison needs extended visits, where families can spend longer with prisoners in less formal surroundings. It needs family skills learning, so that prisoners learn how to be a better parent and partner inside prison and eventually outside prison. Finally, it needs a gateway communications system. If families have concerns about someone in prison, being able to communicate those to the right member of staff could save lives.
That takes me to my third point; the importance of families to safer custody. Men who stay in touch with their children and have a sense of responsibility towards them have a big incentive to stay out of trouble and drug-free. I saw fathers supporting other fathers to keep their noses clean. As one man said, “If I’m talking to my child at 6 pm to find out how he’s doing, I don’t want to be off my head on drugs”. Lack of contact with families is also a key factor in violence, self-harm, suicide and poor mental health. Prisoners need relationships to motivate them and give them hope —they are no different from the rest of us.
The additional 2,500 prison officers, who will give a ratio of 1:6 of officers to prisoners, are essential if they are to have the time to relate to the men in their care. Officers told me that they were so busy they felt deskilled. They were losing the ability to develop a rapport with the men on their wing and in so doing obtain vital insights into their state of mind. Training for new officers must include these vital relational skills.
The Ministry of Justice is now implementing the review, and this debate will be invaluable for its deliberations as it moves forward. I look forward to hearing my noble friend’s response to the wisdom of other noble Lords who have kindly made the time to speak today, as well as to the progress that she can report on the implementation of this review.
My Lords, I very much welcome this debate and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on his impressive report. I warmly welcome his recommendations, which I trust the Government will implement urgently. Only by improving the mental health and well-being of people while in prison can reoffending be reduced. I would like to highlight many of the recommendations but time does not permit, so I will just say that the call to make more use of release on temporary licence is welcome. This would go some way in helping to maintain family links and ensure that relationships are nurtured not ruptured.
Although the review’s remit was to focus on the family relationships of men in prison, I would like to highlight the significance of family ties for women who are in prison, especially mothers with dependent children. Too often, women are unlikely to receive visits while incarcerated. They are imprisoned further from home than men. That adversely affects their capacity to maintain relationships and family contact. Research suggests that half of all women on remand receive no visits, compared with one-quarter of men. Prisoners who receive no visits are significantly more likely to reoffend than others who do.
The closure of HMP Holloway is relevant to this debate. The final independent monitoring board report on Holloway stated that women were anxious about moving further from home and worried,
“that their families and children might not be able to visit them as often or at all”.
The closure of Holloway in June 2016 and a significant court realignment have meant that all women sentenced to custody by Greater London courts are sent to HMP Bronzefield in Surrey. Whatever the good intentions behind the closure, it has caused significant disruption and disadvantage to women in London who are given custodial sentences, and to their children and other family members.
Visiting London women in prison, or providing services to them in prison or through the gate on release, is now more difficult and expensive for family, friends and support services. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, recommended in his 1991 report that there should be:
“Better prospects for prisoners to maintain their links with families and the community, through more visits and home leaves, and through being located in community prisons as near to their homes as possible”.
We need to stop sending women to prison on short sentences for non-violent crimes. Approximately 26,000 women are arrested each year in London and 1,200 women were sentenced to immediate custody in 2016. Many of those women returned to London with no homes or jobs to go to, resulting in a high risk of reoffending. The Prison Reform Trust, to which I owe my thanks, has proposed that a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the Holloway site must be reinvested in community services—ideally a woman’s centre providing a range of services including mental and physical health care to vulnerable women. The women’s centre model, recommended by my noble friend Lady Corston in her report a decade ago, represents the most effective and financially sustainable alternative community use. Imprisoning women for non-violent offences not only impacts adversely on them but on their children, 17,240 of whom are separated from their mothers each year.
Women in prison are far more likely than men to be primary carers of children. A prisoner survey found that six in 10 women in prison had, on average, two dependent children. Children with imprisoned mothers are one of the most vulnerable at-risk groups and often experience multiple disadvantages and trauma. Ending the incarceration of women with dependent children will help reduce intergenerational crime.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on the way that he introduced his excellent report. I applaud the depth of his recommendations, which is due in part, I have no doubt, to his inclusion of so many experienced people in his task group. I also applaud that, unlike too many Secretaries of State and officials in, first, the Home Office and, then, the Ministry of Justice, he has drawn on recommendations made as long ago as 1991 by my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf in his masterly report on the 1990 prison riots, particularly that there should be:
“Better prospects for prisoners to maintain their links with families and the community, through more visits and home leaves, and through being located in community prisons as near to their homes as possible”.
Since being appointed Chief Inspector of Prisons in 1995, I have never ceased to be amazed that no Secretary of State has implemented any of the 12 carefully thought-through ways ahead for the Prison Service set out in the 1991 White Paper, Custody, Care and Justice, that followed my noble and learned friend’s report, which included direction that:
“Prisoners should be held in prisons suitable to their status and security category as near to their home as possible, unless they request otherwise … Location near to home is likely to lead to greater stability in prisons, and will enable programmes to be linked more closely to the opportunities available to the prisoner after release”.
Based on the patchy performance that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, saw during his prison visits, he rightly draws attention to the need for the Secretary of State to be responsible and accountable for ensuring that family ties are consistently treated as important across the prison estate. I am afraid that it is wishful thinking to assume that the prison system will automatically respond to direction, even from the Secretary of State, because the Prison Service, unlike every business, hospital and school, does not have named people responsible and accountable for different functions. I have been pointing that out, and questioning it, for the last 22 years.
I would like to suggest two adjustments to the noble Lord’s recommendations about empowering prison governors. Of course governors are responsible and accountable for everything that goes on in their prison, but unless there is someone above them to whom they are themselves responsible and accountable, there is no way that Secretaries of State can rely on any recommendation being implemented or expect any consistency of implementation. I suggest, as I recommended in my annual report for 1997, having seen them in operation in prisons in Scotland, that every governor should appoint a family contact and development officer—FCDO—responsible and accountable for overseeing all family contact arrangements, above whom the Prison Service should appoint an FCDO who is responsible and accountable to the Secretary of State for overseeing the consistent treatment of family ties throughout the prison estate, on whom governors can call for advice, and with whom NGOs and others working in the area can have a point of contact. Unless those appointments are made, I predict that—as has been the fate of literally hundreds of reports and thousands of recommendations over the years—neither the noble Lord’s admirable report nor his recommendations will long survive their initial acknowledgment, because no one in the prison system is responsible and accountable for their survival.
The point that I am making is that there is a grave danger that all the hard work and deep thought that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and his task group have put into this admirable and helpful report will be wasted if they merely receive the Ministry of Justice’s habitual response to any outside advice, which is studiously to ignore it. I therefore beg the Minister to do everything in her power to ensure that action is taken to prevent that happening.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this report and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and his team for producing it and for providing the opportunity for this debate today. The report itself, as noble Lords who have read it will know, is comprehensive, cogently argued, full of detailed supporting material and, importantly, highlights a number of innovative responses in various places across the prison estate. In summary, a clear case is made for nurturing healthy relationships for those in prison and the connection between that and rehabilitation and reoffending.
I note, and I do not know whether this is connected in any way, that the new Expectations used since last month by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons mentions the importance of family rather more frequently than previous editions. Indeed, it is mentioned some 34 times; for example in sections covering first night and induction, self-harm, diversity, healthcare and rehabilitation. Indeed, family is there right at the beginning of the section on rehabilitation and release planning, covering some three pages. I take some encouragement from that and I hope the Minister will indicate that that is a sign to us that these things are being taken on board. I hope that, since Her Majesty’s chief inspector is taking these things into account when inspecting prisons, that will give some accountability and some possibility of monitoring, but there is clearly a question around that.
Others have mentioned closeness to home and the importance of geography. It is a reality that some of the innovative schemes and programmes mentioned here, not least school connectivity around HMP Parc, just cannot happen unless the schools at which the prisoners’ children are being educated are closely proximate to the prison. This is a particular issue in London and the south-east, where prisoners are scattered over a huge area; we really need some will to tackle that issue and make it work, otherwise these really good aspirations will unfortunately fall. There are some really good examples around and we need to see them replicated, but there are things inherent in the system that militate against that.
I am grateful for the mention of chaplaincy in paragraph 104. I want to renew the offer of churches and faith communities in that regard, because chaplaincies and chaplaincy volunteers are often the go-between people, not least because of our connection with faith communities outside. I put that on the table afresh and I know that many would join me in affirming our desire to work around these issues because of the reality that we are in touch with the prisoners in prison and in the communities where their families are. That connection can be really helpful especially where there is geographical distance—the chaplain can be on the phone to the local minister, the youth worker or whoever it is, and make those connections. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference has mentioned to me the example of a chaplain keeping in touch with a prisoner’s girlfriend through the stages of her pregnancy and being able to reassure the prisoner, who was deeply anxious. These are very practical, small-scale things.
While not a direct focus of this review, the review itself has inevitably raised for me the question of those prisoners for whom there is no identifiable family. If it is the case that family relationships aid rehabilitation and reduce reoffending, what of those for whom such relationships are not possible? I raise the question for myself as much as for other noble Lords: is there something creative and imaginative that could be done around an equivalent of fostering for former offenders, whereby we put relationships in place that can fill that gap? The lessons here could be applied in such ways.
Before I came to your Lordships’ House some 44 years ago, I was fortunate enough to be a volunteer in the prisoners’ wives association, run by a splendid woman, Lady Chancellor. I had a number of wives to visit and their main concern was that they had only one free ticket a month to visit their husbands. These women were mostly in a pretty bad way. I remember hearing the clink of bottles being pushed under the bed on one visit. Is the Minister satisfied with the progress made since those days, because the future of the children is the most important matter?
A number of years ago when I was chairman of the Television South trust we gave £30,000 to a writer in residence in Lewes prison. I wonder if that has been followed up.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for introducing this debate—not only for that, but for all his consistently committed work in this context.
For those of us who have had any experience of dealing with offenders, one thing that becomes very obvious is that many—not all—are themselves also victims. They have had the most appalling experiences in life. Sometimes I have reflected that it would be quite remarkable if they had not ended up in prison.
We need to ask ourselves why because, if we are going to get this right, we have to be brave enough to face the ugly, challenging answers that may come from asking the question. Surely, for all of us who want to make any claim to belong to a civilised society, the death rate in our prisons and young offender institutions is a nightmare. It is an absolute disgrace and we should all have it on our conscience. The self-harm, self-abuse and brutality are all things that we should all be concerned about. In the case of all these characteristics, it is again very important to ask why.
I tremble when I see that the great solution to so many of the pressures at the moment is seen to be in the new large prison that is to be built and which, apparently by its efficiency and productivity, will reduce many of the statistics to reasonable proportions. I personally think this approach is compounding what is wrong. Offenders need to be part of a community. They need to be part of a small institution that has been appropriately designed for the many different situations that confront people, where they can find a place. If we are to achieve our objective of rehabilitation —we would be a mad society if we did not say that rehabilitation must be the primary objective—we must enable people to become positive citizens and positive members of the community. If we are to get this right, relationships and being able to form stable relationships are critically important.
I will finish with an anecdote. I was privileged to see a former chief constable who had quite a reputation for toughness at work in retirement as a volunteer in a young offender institution. I remember him telling me, with tears in his eyes, how disturbed he had been because he had been talking to one of the young offenders who was about to be released and the young offender started to cry. Why? He said, “This is the first place where I have worked with you people”—there was a YMCA team working there—“and the first where I have begun to feel a sense of personality and a sense of worth, or begun to form any relationships. I am scared of what awaits me when I go out—scared”. We have to work at relationships, and the family is critical in this. We have to make sure that we have a penal system soon—pray God, soon—that is designed to meet the real needs of people and help them to put their lives together again.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, as I have huge admiration for the work of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and the report on the importance of family ties in prison reform that he and the excellent organisation Clinks produced. Congratulations.
This is an issue I feel very passionately about. In 2013, I asked an Oral Question on the subject. In 2014, I also supported an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill raising the concerns of Barnardo’s, the children’s charity, on the importance of family ties in prison. I declare an interest as a vice-president of Barnardo’s, which runs a number of services for children affected by parental imprisonment. I have made a number of visits to prisons, most recently just last week to Rye Hill prison in Rugby, where I have heard from prisoners themselves about the value that maintaining contact with their family and children brings, not just for their own rehabilitation and reform but for the well-being and future prospects of their children, too.
Barnardo’s reports that children with a parent in prison feel isolated and ashamed and suffer low self-esteem, unable to talk about their situation because they are scared of being bullied and judged. Their needs are often forgotten. An estimated 200,000 children are living with a parent in prison, although this is just an estimate because these figures are not officially recorded—as I highlighted in this Chamber back in 2013. There is no policy or legislation to support these children within mainstream services. They are not recognised as a distinct group by local safeguarding children boards.
Barnardo’s has been campaigning to raise awareness of the distinct needs of this group of children for many years, so I very much welcome the noble Lord’s review. I was particularly pleased to see his overarching recommendation that family has to be, as he says, the “golden thread” running through the reforms across the prison estate. He was quite right to highlight a very basic principle that relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change. But more than that, limiting the impact on the child is vital if we are to break and tackle intergenerational cycles of offending, where 65% of boys with a father in prison go on to offend.
It is essential to help prisoners keep important family ties, so the classification of children’s visits as a privilege within the incentives and earned privileges, or IEP, scheme used in male prisons is an issue that comes up time and again and needs to be solved. The IEP scheme allocates the duration, frequency and quality of visits according to the behaviour of the offender. Family visit days are restricted to “enhanced” prisoners and demand a high level of performance, including demonstrating outstanding behaviour and seeking to obtain qualifications. This has a negative impact on the visits that can be made by their children. Consequently, some families have never experienced a family day, which allows for longer quality time between children and their fathers. In 2015, Barnardo’s published a report called Locked Out—Children’s Experiences of Visiting a Parent in Prison, which highlighted this very issue. Since then, the Government have pledged to review the IEP scheme, but there has not been any sign of such a review. When will the Government carry out this promised, long-awaited and important review?
I appreciate that discussing the issue of the treatment of those who have broken the law and are being punished for their crimes can divide opinion. What we must not lose sight of, however, is that those offenders often leave behind an innocent child or children who are also being punished. If we are truly to break the intergenerational cycle of offending that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, so robustly outlined in his report, then we must look through the eyes of the child and remind ourselves that childhood lasts a lifetime. We must do all we can to ensure that children receive the services and support that they need, and that we break down those barriers that prevent a child from having the relationship with their father that they might want and need. I therefore look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on this important report.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for his report and for securing this debate. During 2016, almost 200,000 children had a parent in prison, as has just been said. They are too often the forgotten victims, facing higher risks of mental illness, poverty and crime.
The Prison Advice and Care Trust is one of a number of charities that support the families of those in prison. PACT’s helpline handles more than 7,000 cases a year where families have serious concerns about their loved ones in prison. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, identified that the voluntary sector has taken the lead in improving the links between prisoners and their families. He also indicated the benefits of closer collaboration between prison staff and voluntary organisations. Will the Government implement a systematic and quality-assured communications gateway to enable prisons to work with families to reduce self-harm and suicide?
Release on temporary licence—ROTL—is a pivotal part of the resettlement and rehabilitation process. Years ago, a young man called Mog attempted suicide because he was not released to attend his grandfather’s funeral. His grandfather had looked after him for most of his life. Can this be given more compassionate consideration? What steps are the Government taking concerning support for prisoners without social and family contacts outside of prison?
One of the young people on my list at the young offender institution, whom I saw before discharge, was classified as homeless. I asked him the reason. He told me that his mother had died and his sister was in care because his father had abused her. What is more, he said, his father was now abusing his two young brothers, aged 10 and 12. These vulnerable people must be helped. This young person was leaving a YOI with a medical condition. I alerted the probation officer to this situation, but I have always wondered what the outcome was.
Keeping contact with family and friends when in prison can be vital, but travelling long distances to prison, such as the vast new prison in north Wales, can be very expensive for family members. Can family or friends on low incomes get help with travelling expenses?
Many people in prison do not have life skills, but these are being taught at the young offender institution at Brinsford. This shows progress.
We have a growing elderly population in prison. Many are ill and have dementia; prisons do not have the facilities needed to cope. Is it not time that we had some secure nursing homes to solve this growing problem? Many prisoners would volunteer to look after those people. I hope that the Government will take that seriously.
My Lords, I, too, welcome my noble friend’s review. For me its strength lies not just in its compassion, thoroughness and involvement of so many stakeholders. It lies also in its hard-headed logic; it is grounded in reality and in what we know works. Put simply, as we have already heard, in helping to reduce reoffending, family relationships work.
It surely follows that, if we want to reduce reoffending, and thereby reduce the number of victims of crime, the size of the prison population, the amount of overcrowding and therefore the pressure on our prisons and on all who work in them, it makes sense to facilitate sustaining family relationships. That is why I also welcome the review’s practical focus in chapter 7 on building the right estate for reform. That means, among other things, good disability access being factored in from the outset, in consultation with disabled people’s organisations such as Disability Rights UK.
Disability access was a central theme of what I consider one of the jewels in the Conservative crown: the landmark Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Yet I worry that sometimes my party risks giving the impression that we do not always take sufficient pride in the DDA—too much of which, as the 2016 report of the ad hoc Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 highlighted, remains unimplemented. So to disprove what some disabled people perceive as a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Government, I make a plea that they announce soon how they plan to make good on their welcome manifesto commitment to review disability access and, where necessary, take action—and, moreover, that they use the Farmer review, the planned opening of new-build prisons and the redevelopment of existing sites to put disability access at the heart of improving the prison estate.
As the population ages and disability becomes more of an issue for prisoners and visitors alike, we need to plan now for accommodating the demands which demographics will inevitably place on the prison system. Indeed, the urgent need to do so is underlined by a recent MoJ report on the prison population in England and Wales, which projects that the total number of over 50 year-olds being held in prisons will rise from 85,863 in June this year to 87,400 in June 2021.
In conclusion, we need to seize this opportunity to get it right on disability access—whether for prisoners or visitors—if we want to facilitate sustaining the family relationships that are so crucial to reducing reoffending. My noble friend’s review charts a compassionate and logical way forward. I urge the Minister to signal today that the Government will implement its recommendations.
My Lords, the report from the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, is thoughtful, realistic, unsentimental and hard-hitting. It references many other reports going back to the early 1990s which all highlight the link between good family relationships and prison safety and reform. Yet many of their recommendations seem largely to have been ignored.
The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, found that the prescriptions regarding prisoners’ families are,
“far from ubiquitous across the prison estate”,
and that the gap in provision between vision and execution at the front line, identified in 2014 by the National Offender Management Service and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, is still “very much in place”. Yet the Ministry of Justice’s own research shows that visits from someone with a significant relationship, including family members, bring structure and stability to prisoners’ lives, mean less unrest and reduce the odds of reoffending by 39%. A quarter of the prison population reoffends within one year, adding cost to the public purse and extra pressure on staff. Surely family work should be seen as a vital component of prison reform.
The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, highlights the change in mindset that will be required of many governors, senior staff and prison officers so that, at every level, accountabilities and responsibilities are understood and acted on. The Secretary of State for Justice needs to be held directly accountable for ensuring that family ties are treated properly and consistently across the estate and that governors should have clear accountability for improving prisoners’ family relationships and other family-related standards. He calls this the golden thread which should run through all a prison does.
For some prisoners, though—possibly quite a lot—family relationships are what got them into prison in the first place. That was certainly true of the young prisoners I encountered in the National Grid young offender programme. For these people, relationships other than the family are the golden thread. Sometimes these are built up in prison, but it is very difficult for the thread not to break on release. The prison and probation systems could certainly develop better ways to spin golden threads for all. Many families do it anyway. The real challenge is with all the others.
I looked at data for one prison, Thameside, where close to half the men have no family at all. There is a pressing need for decent and secure hostel accommodation on release, but this requires interdepartmental and interagency collaboration and co-operation—one of the most difficult things to deliver.
The report also recognises the importance of family and community support away from the prison estate. When 63% of prisoners’ sons go on to offend, this surely reinforces the importance of working with families outside the prison gates and in their communities. In her reply, will the Minister say something about the way in which planned reforms will be integrated with the work of probation, Jobcentre Plus, local councils, healthcare providers, charities and faith groups?
There is an important caveat in the report. It emphasises the
“deep and pervasive problems endemic across the prison estate”,
including understaffing, overcrowding, violence and illicit drugs, as well as the prevalence of mental health problems. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, warns that, unless these are addressed, rehabilitation is not a realistic aim; his proposed reforms will not be possible without the additional money and staff promised to the prison system. The gap is profound. Can the Minister, in her reply, acknowledge that gap and say how it is being dealt with?
Finally, we should not underestimate the suspicion of many serious organisations that the report will be ignored. INQUEST and the Big Lottery-funded Beyond Youth Custody programme both say that, while there have recently been many positive statements relating to prison reform, it remains unclear how such reforms and aspirations will be achieved. We need to be reassured by the Minister that, as the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, himself says, we will not see history repeating itself,
“and another yawning gap opening up between a vision and its execution”.
My Lords, I am very pleased to be here for the discussion on the work of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer. I find it really interesting because, in all the discussions that I have heard over the years around how to keep people out of prison, a very small amount of effort has gone into thinking about the family, although there have always been things around education, literacy and getting people a job. We must thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for creating an innovation; he is adding another leg to the stool, as he describes it.
I have a problem because, when we look at the family, we often see the reasons why somebody ends up committing a crime. In a sense, the family may not have always been with the person who ends up being the criminal. We could say that the wrongdoer is, in some strange way, demonstrating the failure of the family. They go ahead, because the family does not create and hold the elements that make somebody not want to wrong-do. I am very interested in taking the argument around family and asking what can we do to make the family work better, so that its members—its fathers, its sons—do not end up going ahead of the broken family and becoming an expression of it. I am glad that we are starting the debate around the family, because it does not really matter what form the family takes. It does not matter if it is mum and dad in the old way or whether it is made up in a new way. What is important is that we give the young of this world all the encouragement and opportunity which means that they then do not break down, kick over the traces and go on to commit crimes. I am interested in how we as a society can support families not to break down, or not to have that breakdown being expressed in somebody ending up in prison—whether it is a son or daughter, or a father himself.
We also have to look at the fact that, since the time that I was using the prison system—obviously for good use, because I am here—the prison population has gone through the roof. Our officers do not have enough time. We have begun to warehouse people. If people are warehoused, it does not matter to some extent what kind of family they have, because the warehousing will rot their souls and ambitions and destroy them. We have to stop treating our prisons as warehouses and start using them as universities, as they tried to do with me when I was a young man. God bless Her Majesty’s Prison Service; I am really glad that I went through that experience.
We then have another big issue—sorry, I was not plugging anything—which is drugs. The fact that you can get any drug in most of our prisons more easily than if you walked around Soho is a terrible thing which will undo all the work around the family. We need to find a way to support the family in the first instance and to address the really philistine way in which we warehouse our children and, instead of turning them to prospective university-type learning and all the skills that will enable them to move on, we just hold fast. Treading water is not good for the human soul. I am really glad the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, has introduced us to the other leg of that beautiful stool.
My Lords, I think we are all indebted to my noble friend Lord Farmer for his outstanding contribution to prisons policy with the publication of this landmark review. He displays both a deep commitment to, and consistent support of, evidence-based research into the importance of the family unit. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to his debate.
In 1991 the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, identified the link between the disruption of family ties and the violence, self-harm and mental health issues that might result. It is dispiriting to see the same link in evidence over parts of the prison estate today, despite recognition across the sector of the importance of familial contact and support.
In my magistrates training some 25 years ago, we were taught that the three purposes of a custodial sentence were to protect the public, to punish the offender and to provide rehabilitation. Rehabilitation was generally viewed through the prism of education and counselling that could address a broad range of behavioural issues such as anger management. In subsequent tours of prisons in both Oxfordshire and London, I do not remember anyone actually stressing the importance of facilitating constructive contact between the offender and his family—not even in the most basic terms of compliance with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. So I welcome the report’s recommendation that maintaining and developing family relationships should be explicitly stated as part of the purpose of prison. The punishment element of a custodial sentence is the deprivation of liberty, and not necessarily everything else that leads from this disposal. Traditionally, families have inevitably suffered great collateral damage.
It is very much in society’s interest to reduce the rate of recidivism by whatever means it can within the prison context. Few can be unaware of the very challenging circumstances prison staff confront daily: understaffing, underfunding and overcrowding, plus the inexorable rise of drug abuse and its effect on behaviour. I wholeheartedly welcome the recent Government announcement of increased funding to recruit an additional 2,500 prison officers and a new emphasis on training. The Farmer review concludes that strengthening ties between prisoners and key family members could save society up to £15 billion by reducing the rate of reoffending in up to 39% of the 82,000 men currently in prison. Additionally, offenders with more stable family relationships are likely to be more stable prisoners, with a greater commitment to preserving a supportive family environment on their release.
This research, and that of Marie Hutton in the Probation Journal last year, both underline the contrasting approaches of different prisons to visits and the disparity in their offerings. It also highlights the potential rewards of initiating a cultural shift by doing more than just paying lip service to encouraging contact between prisoners and their families. This can be achieved both by developing proactive strategies and providing a secure but welcoming environment in which meaningful contact is encouraged. Importantly, the review also suggests that it is imperative that the whole visiting process is disconnected from the incentives and earned privileges scheme.
I was heartened to read of the excellent work at HMP Doncaster. It shows what can be achieved when a prison governor and their team are motivated by a true belief in the importance of family contact. It is also encouraging to read how the design of HMP Berwyn, and indeed all new-builds, are to be subject to the Government’s new family test. The review offers many examples of best practice: external visitor centres, free bus links—as provided by the Parc prison in Bridgend—and the possibility of introducing virtual video visiting, connecting offenders with their homes visually. Family days, homework initiatives and the ability of a father to sit side-by-side with his child are all examples of best practice which could be shared widely across the prison estate. The concept of an extrovert prison—one that looks outwards to the wider community—is welcome.
I spent five years as a volunteer teaching literacy skills in what was then Huntercombe Young Offenders Institution, which was populated largely by teenagers from the London area and yet was located eight miles or so west of Henley. Transport links were both tortuous and expensive for offenders’ families. I remember being shown its rather sad communal visits hall, with less atmosphere than a motorway service station and rows of tired, uncomfortable—if not broken—plastic chairs and desks. It was hardly conducive to any meaningful interaction with parents, girlfriends or indeed babies.
I believe that we have moved on from here. Prison rules have been redrafted, but there remains much more work to be done in terms of embedding these principles into the corporate psyche. Of course, this is not the answer to everything. As Lord Farmer comments at the outset, prisoners’ families alone cannot,
“alchemise a disposition to commit crime into one that is law abiding”.
However, it remains true that a prison sentence is, sadly, a whole-family experience. Any integration of this report’s thoughtful, practical, evidence-based recommendations into policy may ensure that for many, and at least for the 39%, it is their only one.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on securing this debate and on the review. I am heartened to see how frequently good practice in prisons in Northern Ireland is mentioned. I will largely confine my remarks to this area, as I am not one of the prison reformers or experts to whom the noble Lord referred. However, I am unreservedly supportive of policies and effective programmes to strengthen families and build good relationships. Strong family units build a strong and caring society.
First, however, I want to mention victims. Victims in Northern Ireland, especially of crimes committed during the Troubles, can feel at the bottom of the list of those deserving sympathy, given the imperative for reconciliation. Many have lost loved ones under the most harrowing of circumstances, others have been horribly maimed and left unable to work, while swathes of people in towns such as Omagh and Enniskillen, to name but two—there are too many to mention in this debate—have been left traumatised by bombings and other terrorist acts, and we are coping, at a population level, with the legacy of mental ill health.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, that, looking ahead, sparing future victims must always be at the forefront of our minds. Reoffending creates more victims, including in the families who are repeatedly left stranded when a man goes in and out of prison. Therefore, although the focus of the Farmer review is on how making the most of prisoners’ family ties can help to prevent, first, reoffending and, secondly, intergenerational crime, the third priority must be the well-being of the children of prisoners. They look to the man who has been lost to them for financial support and look up to him as a role model, however flawed he may be. Having time alone with father, where appropriate, can be incredibly precious. The Northern Ireland Prison Service provides child-centred visits, where a parent or relative brings the child to prison and leaves them with their imprisoned parent for a period.
Northern Ireland is also leading the way in virtual video visiting, which is gradually being made available, particularly in Magilligan prison. The aim is not to phase out face-to-face visits, but it enables prisoners to see their family members at home. It acts as a motivator and a reminder of normality—of how their lives could be very different if they do not take their families for granted.
The emphasis on getting men to focus on others is absolutely crucial, and charities can do this masterfully. Barnardo’s Families Matter programme at HMP Maghaberry runs in a separate residential unit at the prison. Fathers open up about their families in ways that would probably invite ridicule in the rest of the prison and receive parenting, education and cooking workshops which focus on families. Using separate accommodation develops a culture of peer support and builds more trusting relationships between men. Hearing about other prisoners’ parenting experiences is more motivating and harder to dismiss than being lectured by staff, and they can put theory into practice when their families unite or visit. Prison officers’ interactions with participants in this setting enables them to identify and defuse risk early, so the programme helps keep order in the prison. All this depends, however, on there being enough staff to enable men to take part and on officers having the training in relational skills that the Farmer review recommends.
Can the Minister confirm whether Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service has officially shared this document with counterparts in the Northern Ireland Prison Service? If she is any doubt about that, I can make sure that a copy is placed in the hands of the director-general, but it would pack more of a punch if it came with a letter from Michael Spurr.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for this splendid report. It is very much in the tradition of the 1990s seminal report by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, pointed out. I admire his emphasis on strong and stable family relationships—the third leg, as he puts it—that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, commented upon.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I have never been in favour of large prisons. There is an element of warehousing about them, and I remember opposing them when Labour was in power and wanted to introduce them. I remember the Shrewsbury prison from my professional days. It was a splendid, small prison dealing with people from north Wales and constantly got to the top of the “Good Prison Food Guide”—echoes perhaps of the café at Norwich to which the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, referred.
Now we have HMP Berwyn, which is less than a mile from where I live in Gresford and so I have a great deal of interest in it. HMP Berwyn flies a Welsh flag; it has bilingual notices; it offers courses in Welsh; but it is not a community prison. Of the 500 inmates who have so far have entered that prison, only 10%—about 50—are from north Wales. That compares with 228 north Wales prisoners who are housed at HMP Altcourse in Fazakerley, Liverpool. Despite the good intentions of Mr Russ Trent, who is the excellent governor of the new prison, it is not helpful when 69 people from the prison in Wrexham are housed at Altcourse and only seven are housed at Wrexham. Whoever is putting these prisoners in their places has got the emphasis completely wrong.
The HMP Berwyn visiting information says:
“At Berwyn we understand that it is constructive for men in custody and their family and friends to have the opportunity to retain close relationships and family ties whilst in our custody”.
It refers to the,
“relaxed layout to the visits hall with comfy seating and a soft play area for children”.
I would be more impressed if that did not repeat, word for word, the wording of the visitor information for HMP Altcourse, which is a G4S prison. And the map must have been added to the website by somebody with a sense of humour, because it is placed next to a hamlet called “Ystrad Ffin”, which means “End of the road”. It shows it as being on the top of a mountain, near Llanwrtyd Wells and Dolaucothi Gold Mines—some 85 miles away from the prison. Whoever has put that plan in should revise it very quickly.
But the prison in Wrexham is two and a half miles from the station. It is on an industrial estate, which I know well because I used to dig up the railway sleepers there as an early venture into jobs—learning about tea breaks and things like that. It is catering to people from a long way away. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, that it would be sensible to provide some form of support for families who are trying to visit people there—non-transferable, once-a-month rail vouchers perhaps. People might ask about the cost. If 43% of prisoners reoffend—I think the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, said at a cost of some £15 billion—that makes the cost of non-transferable rail vouchers for people of more than 30 miles away to come and visit their family well worth the money.
The best rehabilitation is undoubtedly the family. It is to the family that people return, and it is that contact that is kept with parents, spouses, children, and relatives which is most likely to prevent reoffending in the future.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on securing his debate and on his introduction of this golden thread: relationships are important if people are to change. That was a strong theme that ran through the rest of the debate and informs the report, which I enjoyed reading. This is been a good debate, with some good contributions; there is not time to go through all of them. I should explain that I am here as a substitute for a sick colleague—my noble friend Lord Beecham has sciatica and cannot move—and so I have come to this with an open mind, because I have not studied this area for a long time. Therefore I found the reading of the report, thinking harder about it and reading more widely round it a useful exercise and a great chance to get away from some of the other more pressing issues that have been occupying me for the last few weeks. When I read all this stuff I did not have the context or the information that was available to others who might have responded. However, I want to make two points that I thought might be helpful.
My interest in prisons came from when I worked in a think tank, when we looked at the concept of restorative justice. I was impressed by that as a way of trying to bring something new into the criminal justice system and give both prisoners and those who have to supervise them something that would work with them and rehabilitate them better. I mention that because the restorative justice approach was based on the idea that there was a missing ingredient in the criminal justice system as it is practised in the United Kingdom, in that the victim has no place. The state steps in and takes over the victim’s interest in the crime that has been committed against them and, in so doing, removes the victim from that. The analysis that was used said that if you brought the victim back in some way, you added a new dimension to the whole process. I can give examples of that to any noble Lords who are interested, because it is an effective arrangement. It is important that this has a much wider application—it is now used in schools and other places—to try to engage those who commit crimes with those who have been affected by them.
The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, are redolent of that. In his analysis, what is missing from the process that we have in criminal justice is the family. If this is true, and if it has any relationship to what was found in restorative justice, that is a powerful ingredient that we need to bring back into the system. We somehow need to find a way to make sure that there is a process that will allow it to feed back in the way it can to reduce reoffending, change behaviour and reduce crime.
We have a problem here. The prisons are in a state of complete crisis. They are chronically overcrowded, understaffed and violent, and the learning and skills work done by 65% of prisons and young offender institutions is rated by Ofsted as unacceptably low. At the end of August 2017, 84 of the 116 prisons were overcrowded, and nearly a quarter of the total prison population is held in overcrowded conditions. As we have heard, deaths have increased, and self-inflicted deaths are up by 64%, while self-harm has increased. There were supposed to be an additional 2,500 new prison officers across the prison estate by the end of 2018. However, the latest figures show that there has been an increase of only 800 additional staff, and we are not seeing the rest. Indeed, there have been reductions in some of the most violent prisons. This review has highlighted the damage that understaffing, overcrowding and violence within prisons does to the ability of those employed in prisons to build relationships with the men—it is mainly men—in their care.
There is a problem here, which needs tackling urgently. The Government published a White Paper about a year ago and accepted that a lot had to be done. There was also a Prisons and Courts Bill around just before the last election, but that got scrapped and was not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. What will the Government do about this?
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Farmer on securing this debate and the contributions made by noble Lords to this important subject. I also pass on best wishes to the ailing noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I have not a hope of covering all the wide-ranging issues raised today in the time available, and I want to focus on my noble friend’s review. However, I will of course write if I am not able to respond.
The debate has demonstrated powerfully why we need to do much more to strengthen prisoners’ ties with family and significant others—not just because it helps prisoners move away from crime but because it helps families to maintain relationships with their loved ones. My noble friend’s report also reminds us of the need to tackle intergenerational crime, summed up by the study mentioned by numerous noble Lords that found that 63% of prisoners’ sons went on to offend themselves. That is astonishing.
I start by thanking my noble friend once again for his full and informative report, firmly rooted in evidence and best practice, which challenges us to make families the golden thread running through our support for prisoners. Although the review focuses on male prisoners, we recognise that the recommendations may be equally relevant to women, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, and, of course, to young people.
The Government are committed to taking forward the review’s recommendations. Important progress is being made and I will update noble Lords today. As part of our prison reform strategy, we are empowering prison governors. They are able to take the decisions that are most appropriate to their prisons. This means that prison governors now have control over their family service budget and the flexibility to spend their resources to best support prisoners to keep and develop important family ties.
Governors took part recently in a procurement exercise to select a group of family service providers and the contracts with these providers began at the start of this month. The contracts cover a wide range of services, including services involving children, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow. These services include family centres, play areas for children, schemes to promote ties, such as Storybook Dads or Storybook Mums, and family days, also known as extended visits, on which families can spend more time together.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, mentioned IEP and families and I am very happy to confirm that we are reforming the current IEP framework to give governors greater discretion to encourage all prisoners, whether enhanced or standard, to engage with their families and significant others. I would welcome the chance to talk to the noble Baroness further about this because it is a very important issue.
Alongside this, the Government will pilot new family and significant relationship performance measures. Analysis of these will provide crucial information about the most effective ways to deliver more consistent and effective contact with families. To encourage best practice, this information will be shared across the entire prison estate.
Alongside holding governors to account, it is also right that Ministers are held to account for improvements in this area. That is why I am grateful to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for updating the expectations it inspects prisons against each year in light of my noble friend’s review. This was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield. The standards now include a number of areas relating to family and significant others that the inspectorate will consider when deciding inspection ratings.
In his report, my noble friend refers to David Lammy’s recent review of the treatment and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic prisoners. It is worth referencing at this point the race disparity audit recently published by the Government. We will take steps to ensure that BAME prisoners have equal access to culturally competent services that support and develop sustainable relationships with their families and significant others.
Looking ahead, we are working on a new family and significant other policy framework for governors, which will take into account a number of my noble friend’s recommendations. Within this framework, each governor will develop a strategy—a local family offer, as my noble friend referred to it—for family and significant others for his or her prison. They will then engage dedicated and appropriately trained staff, perhaps akin to the FCDOs referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to work in partnership with family service organisations, such as chaplaincies and voluntary organisations, so that prisoners can develop positive relationships. Feedback from those who have used the system, such as family members, visitors and prisoners is important and will be used to shape the system in the future.
As mentioned by a number of noble Lords, some prisoners do not or should not receive visits, perhaps owing to the nature of the crime, because they do not have family or significant others or because visits from their family might encourage further criminality. Family engagement workers will work with prison staff to support the development of other positive relationships for those prisoners.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Healy and Lady Masham, mentioned release on temporary licence—an important tool in our armoury in supporting the transition back into the community. Release on temporary licence can get offenders back to work and can help build positive family ties, both of which can lead to a reduction in reoffending.
Some of the recommendations made by my noble friend Lord Farmer will take longer for us to deliver—for example, because they suggest changes to legislation or require changes to the physical estate. We are ensuring that these recommendations are picked up in our longer-term reforms, such as the estate transformation programme.
To keep track of progress in delivering the recommendations, officials from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and the Ministry of Justice will meet regularly with my noble friend. This group will include the director of public sector prisons, who leads the family strategy working group. So someone is accountable—something that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, mentioned he would quite like to see. This also means that if we encounter issues that might delay or prevent implementation for whatever reason, we can discuss alternative ways forward. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Farmer will hold our feet to the fire on this.
My noble friend’s review also highlights three wider issues in our prisons that we need to address. The first is staffing. We need the right number of staff with the right skills to develop consistent and constructive relationships with prisoners. We committed to recruiting an extra 2,500 staff by the end of 2018. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, mentioned, there has been a net increase of 868 new prison officers. That was up to June, and obviously there have been more since then. In June there were nearly 18,800 full-time equivalent band 3 to 5 prison officers—the highest number of officers in post since September 2013.
We must retain and recognise our more experienced staff. To do so, we are making better use of financial incentives, improving opportunities for promotion, and reviewing and strengthening learning and development opportunities for governors and officer grades. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service is a professional service, and we want to make sure that it offers attractive and long-term careers.
It is a question not just of the numbers of staff but of how we deploy them. As noble Lords will know, we are reforming how we manage and supervise prisoners by introducing the key worker role. Each officer will have a small caseload of around six prisoners whom they will support. Having a consistent key worker who knows a prisoner well is critical both for family engagement and for keeping prisoners safe. As my noble friend Lord Farmer reminded us, the impact on the family can sometimes be a significant burden on a prisoner, so support to maintain these relationships is sometimes essential.
The second issue, raised by my noble friends Lord Farmer and Lord Shinkwin, is prison overcrowding, which your Lordships’ House discussed recently in a debate moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. The Government recognise the need to address this long-standing issue. That is why we are replacing old, inefficient prison places with 10,000 modern and better-designed places that support prisoner rehabilitation and can, for example, incorporate disability access—an important issue raised by my noble friend Lord Shinkwin. It is very difficult adequately and comfortably to refit a Victorian prison.
We are also continuing to support effective community sentences that both punish offenders and address their needs. For example, we are working with the Department of Health and NHS England to develop a new health and justice protocol so that courts can increase their use of treatment requirements for mental health, alcohol and drugs as part of a community sentence. This will mean that we can intervene earlier with mental health and substance misuse issues.
Thirdly, we come to the subject of drugs, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bird. We are tackling the supply of drugs through joint working with the police and other law enforcement agencies. As I mentioned, we are also cutting the demand for drugs by working closely with the National Health Service to deliver drug treatment services.
I will quickly turn to some of the points that I might be able to cover in the time available. On the point about care leavers, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service has appointed a senior civil servant as the care leavers’ champion for the prison service. The first national conference for care leavers attended by prison governors will take place next week.
On the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, about sharing the report with the Northern Ireland Prison Service, I would be absolutely delighted to arrange for my noble friend’s report to be shared formally with our counterparts in the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, noted, with a heavy heart, that many of the recommendations were mirrored in the report by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, many years ago, and he is right. I hope that our actions at this time will go some way to rectifying the oversight of successive Governments in the past and will assure the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, that action really is being taken.
My noble friend Lady Sharples asked whether progress has been made in recent decades. I feel that it has, not least in understanding why people commit crime, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. But of course there is much more that we should be doing.
To sum up, the Government welcome this review’s recommendations and are acting on them as part of our commitment to modernise and reform our prisons. As my noble friend Lord Farmer put it in his report, families and significant others are, along with education and employment, the three legs of a stool that provide a stable foundation for preventing reoffending and breaking the cycle of intergenerational crime. I look forward to working with my noble friend and, I hope, with other noble Lords as we follow through on his recommendations.
House adjourned at 7.16 pm.