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HMP Long Lartin

Volume 785: debated on Thursday 12 October 2017


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question asked in another place on HMP Long Lartin. The Statement is as follows.

“I can confirm that there was an incident at HMP Long Lartin last night and that it has now been resolved without injury to staff or prisoners. The incident is of course a cause for concern and we will need to properly investigate what drove the actions of a relatively small number of individuals. This will take a number of weeks to ensure that all intelligence is properly examined and that we then learn lessons and apply them to prevent any recurrence.

We cannot speculate on the cause of this incident but we know that the prison was running a full regime and that this was not linked to any shortfalls in prison officer staffing levels. Its last inspection report found it to be to be ‘calm and controlled’ and although there were improvements to be made, the inspectors felt that the prison was ‘both competent and effective’.

The incident itself remained contained on a single wing of the prison and involved 81 prisoners. I commend the actions of the staff, who acted swiftly in response to the incident, locked down the wing, ensured that the rest of the prison remained settled and prevented any public protection issues or escalation.

Our specialist staff were deployed to the prison from across the country. They swiftly resolved the incident in just over an hour, securing all prisoners without injury. Once again, they demonstrated their bravery and professionalism, for which we should all be very grateful.

We do not tolerate violence in our prisons and are clear that those responsible will be referred to the police and could spend longer behind bars”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Statement, in particular for her support for prison staff, which is echoed on this side of your Lordships’ House. I also understand the desire not to speculate prematurely on what happened in the disturbance last night. However, we saw statistics in March of this year suggesting a 6.9% shortfall in prison staffing levels nationally and an 8% shortfall in Long Lartin in particular. Can she tell us the shortfall as of today?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. Staffing has been discussed in your Lordships’ House many times recently. We are investing £100 million in new staff. There will be an additional 2,500 prison officers by the end of next year. We have already recruited nearly 900 of those and are on target to fulfil what we promised. We are also making sure that we retain our most experienced staff; it is essential to have that experience on the wings. As for Long Lartin in particular, as she will know, it was and is running a full regime. That means it has sufficient staff to do so and does not have an urgent need for additional staff. However, I assure her that additional staff are being recruited; indeed, five additional prison officers will be there before December.

My Lords, from these Benches, we join the Minister in commending the Prison Service and its staff for the effective way in which they dealt with this dangerous incident without injury to staff or prisoners. Nevertheless, the underlying crisis in our prisons remains serious. Long Lartin is a category A prison, where most of the prisoners are serving very long sentences. Notwithstanding the generally favourable report in 2014, in the past month, two prisoners were convicted of murdering a third at Long Lartin. That is the fourth homicide in that prison in four years, and there is a history of serious incidents of violence. When investigating this incident, will the Government ensure that the Prison Service concentrates on the particular problems faced by long-term prisoners arising from overcrowding, low staffing levels, excessive time spent by prisoners in their cells—and the frustration that goes with it—and the lack of opportunity?

Of course, none of the issues that the noble Lord just raised was a factor in this case, because they did not exist in Long Lartin: there is no overcrowding and the staffing level is sufficient. However, Long Lartin houses our category A prisoners. They are the most challenging prisoners on the estate. Violence is, thankfully, a rare occurrence, but it is the nature of the business of prisons, particularly category A prisons, that they can become very volatile. In a volatile situation, I think noble Lords would agree that we are fortunate to have the specialist trained staff, the Tornado teams, available to come in. In the case of Long Lartin, they put a stop to the incident within an hour. I think that should be commended.

Could my noble friend comment on the state of the morale of prison staff in this particular jail, and tell us whether there is a serious drug problem within it?

My Lords, I am not able to comment on morale in this prison as I have not had the opportunity to visit it, but I hope to soon. With regard to drugs, again, I cannot comment on this prison but drugs are an increasingly serious problem in our prisons, principally because of the different drugs now being smuggled in—the psychoactive substances. We are doing what we can to stop the supply of drugs, and the demand. To tackle the flow of drugs, we are doing a pilot on scanners. Two types are being used: the millimetre-wave body scanners for the top levels of individuals as they come in, but also X-ray scanners that can look inside to see whether there are any concealed drugs. We are also trying to stop the demand for drugs by working very closely with the NHS to make sure that we get the treatment services we need in our prisons.

Does the Minister agree that, while everyone must accept that the nature of the challenges in a place such as Long Lartin are immense and the staff are to be commended for their work on our behalf, whatever the size of the challenge, the ultimate objective must remain rehabilitation? That is sometimes terribly difficult when you are dealing with prisoners of this kind, who are in for a long time, but it makes it all the more important. Can the Minister reassure us that, in the approach to the aftermath of this incident, that objective will remain paramount?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Rehabilitation is a very complex and difficult subject. I refer noble Lords to the review by my noble friend Lord Farmer, which was debated in your Lordships’ House yesterday. The conclusion of that review was that rehabilitation and successful reduction in reoffending is a three-legged stool. I think all noble Lords agree that we are looking at improving education, and that we need to make sure that there are opportunities for employment. The strand identified by my noble Friend, Lord Farmer, however, is making sure that prisoners can maintain family ties outside prison to ensure that there is no reoffending and stop intergenerational crime.

Many of us were here yesterday for the excellent debate on the review from my noble friend Lord Farmer, so we are not blind to the issues of overcrowding and understaffing. We welcome the Government’s announcement of 2,500 extra staff being put into the prison estate. Would my noble friend the Minister confirm that the prison transformation programme itself, including the new building and design of prisons such as HMP Berwyn in north Wales, will result in a prison estate far more suited to current needs?

I thank my noble friend for that. I have been down to the other place and I can confirm that, because I was listening to the Prisons Minister when he said that we are still on course to build 10,000 modern and well-designed prison places, which we need to replace the old Victorian places that are, frankly, not fit for purpose any more. It is a long-term project and necessarily so, and we have committed £1.3 billion to make that transformation over the course of the Parliament.

My Lords, our prisons are a powder keg at present. Yesterday it was Long Lartin—where will it be next week? The Government do not seem to grasp the urgency of the situation. Could the Minister tell the House how many times the Tornado squads have been used this year?

My Lords, I reject the term “powder keg”—that is simply not the case. But violent incidents occur and I am very grateful that we have the Tornado teams. I do not have the stats in front of me but I shall write to the noble Lord with exact figures on how many times they have been deployed. However, I think we can all agree that they are a necessary feature of our security.

My Lords, I was the Member of Parliament representing Long Lartin for 25 years, and I am very surprised by the intervention of the noble Lord from the Liberal Democrat party. I should have thought that the problem was the reverse of what he said about people being confined to their cells. It is a very sophisticated prison with a very sophisticated outer defence security system, with a great deal of freedom—I think too much—in its central part. I think it is the opposite of what the noble Lord said; it has been terribly lax in the centre, and in some ways it was an accident waiting to happen.

I respectfully disagree with my noble friend. In the Ministry of Justice we are making sure that our governors have more powers than they had before. Long Lartin is running a full regime, it will be under the control of the governing governor and, as my noble friend says, it is a very sophisticated prison. Going back to the estate transformation programme, the point is that we need to build more of these sophisticated prisons, because they enable us to look after our more violent and dangerous criminals while giving them some sort of—I will not say quality of life—time outside their cells.

Can the Minister kindly confirm that the 2,500 additional staff now being recruited are in addition to however many staff it is necessary to replace in the interim?

I will have to write to the noble and learned Lord on that precise point. However, one strand I think I mentioned earlier is that we are focusing on retention, which is absolutely critical. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service is a professional service. We want it to provide its staff with very attractive and varied careers, so we are looking at financial incentives to retain staff, opportunities for promotion and, as importantly, key areas of development and training to allow members of staff to develop their skills and extend a long-term career in the Prison Service.