Committee (8th Day)
Relevant documents: 1st, 4th and 6th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 7th Report from the Constitution Committee
208A: After Clause 115, insert the following new Clause—
“Review of the arrangements for the resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving sentences of IPP: effectiveness
(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must lay a report before both Houses of Parliament on the effectiveness of the arrangements for the resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection (“IPP”) released on licence.(2) The report must include, but not be limited to—(a) an assessment of the factors underlying the rates of breach and recall of prisoners serving sentences of IPP released on licence, and what could be done to address them, including—(i) the effectiveness of the arrangements for the preparation of prisoners serving sentences of IPP to be released on licence, including the adequacy of information and guidance for prisoners on licence provisions, breach of licence and the risk of recall;(ii) the adequacy of existing probation service guidance on breach and recall;(iii) whether more use could be made of alternatives to immediate recall to custody including electronic tagging;(iv) the extent to which a failure to properly support and supervise prisoners serving sentences of IPP on release is contributing to the high proportion of this group breaching the terms of their licence and being recalled to prison.”Member’s explanatory statement
This, along with another amendment after Clause 115 in the name of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is a probing amendment intended to require a review of the arrangements for the resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving sentences of IPP.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 208A with its proposed new clause, I give my wholehearted support to the other amendments which have been laid, to which I have appended my name, and a strong encouragement that we build on the alliance that has been put together. I thank noble Lords and, where they have them, their staff—and mine—for the terrific co-operation that has emerged over recent weeks. I give apologies from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, who wished to be here but has a medical appointment. Members of this House will recall that the noble and learned Lord was Secretary of State for Justice when the IPP proposal was set aside and the 2012 abolition of that sentence agreed by the two Houses of Parliament.
At the time, I took the late and much lamented Paul Goggins to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, to discuss what might be possible as a rapid wind-up of the consequences of the original Act, part of which is my responsibility and which I want to speak about in a moment. The noble and learned Lord has reflected with me on a number of occasions, as he did on that occasion with Paul Goggins, who had been a Prisons Minister and the Minister of State in Northern Ireland responsible for the prison service there, on the massive political challenges in getting agreement. I hope that this afternoon we can take a step in finding a way forward almost 10 years later, when so many prisoners still find themselves subject to the original imprisonment for public protection.
I thank the Prison Reform Trust, the Howard League and many others for their advice. I will take a moment to thank Frances Crook for her many years of dedicated commitment and service in the cause of reform. Frances, who retired at the end of October, will long be remembered as a beacon for her commitment and dedication. But in an area which is so unfashionable and difficult to gain the public’s attention in, you also really need the utmost stalwart tenacity to carry it through. I particularly want to offer my appreciation and thanks to campaigners, individuals and families for their understanding, determination and tenacity, particularly the campaigning group UNGRIPP: Shirley Debono and Donna Mooney have been with me for almost as long as I can remember in trying to put right something which, as I mentioned a moment ago, I had a hand in getting wrong. The remarkable coalition that exists inside your Lordships’ House and outside, should surely give the Government the cover and courage to take steps now that will put wrongs right and ensure that we have a journey—a road to travel—for the future.
I want to refer briefly, because I am aware of the enormous pressure on time for the Bill, to how we got here in the first place. Back in 2003, with the Criminal Justice Act’s provisions on sentencing, we thought—this was held across both Houses at the time—that the steps we were taking would be beneficial rather than ending up with the disaster, let me call it that, which has occurred over those subsequent 18 years. The intention was, first, to put right a wrong which existed with those who were on indeterminate sentences—they were not called that, but that is what they were—who had no route out because the therapies and courses, or the journey as I like to call it, were not present.
For many years I have been trying to help a prisoner called David McCauliffe, who was sentenced for the second time in his life, that time for seven years, and is still in prison. He was sentenced at the end of the 1980s for a crime that undoubtedly created unsafe conditions for the public at the time but fell short of rape or murder. He is still in prison today after 33 years. The longer he has been in, the more difficult it has been for him to show he is safe to be released. Many IPP prisoners find themselves in that position today.
The intention was that there would be a route for those caught in that trap, like David McCauliffe, to find a way forward. At the same time, there have been a number of incidents where people who were known to be unsafe—they had declared their intention to commit further heinous crimes such as kidnap, rape and murder—were allowed out without any clarity as to how their behaviour was going to be monitored, and they were not on licence. That is why, going back to the Halliday report of 2001, the good intention was that there would be mechanisms put in place to supervise and support—I emphasise “and support”—prisoners on release, to provide safety for the public and rehabilitation for those who were safe to be in the community. Both those elements went badly wrong with the IPP sentence.
First, we had not fully agreed with the Treasury for the resources to be put in place from 2005, after I had left the Home Office, which at the time had responsibility for what is now the Ministry of Justice and sentencing. Therefore, the resources were not available, and are still not, to do the job properly for those who needed rehabilitation and preparation for release. Secondly, we had not understood that, because those therapies and courses were not available, it was quite likely that cautious members of the judiciary would take a “safety first” view in applying an indeterminate sentence rather than a determinate sentence, which in some cases would have been a matter of two or three years, in the initial phases, rather than the 10 years plus originally discussed and envisaged. This was not applied as a mandated sentence because of the understandable requirement of the judiciary to have flexibility and be able to determine a sentence without it being laid down by Parliament.
So, here we are all these years on, with two strands having gone very badly, and the lessons that needed to be learned still in front of us today. I do not think any of us could have envisaged the impact—I certainly did not—of the recall provisions which were later strengthened and therefore made more draconian. This has led to a large number of prisoners finding themselves back in prison, sometimes for committing a crime that could be very minor and sometimes for a breach of their licence conditions. Out of the 3,000 people who are still in prison on IPP, 1,300 of them are there because of recalls. That is 100% up from 2016, five years ago. If we are not careful, that trajectory will lead to more prisoners being in prison on IPP on recall than are actually in prison for the original IPP sentence applied, which is a farcical situation and a tragedy for them.
More than 60 clinical and forensic psychologists, psychiatrists and criminologists have written to me, and I hope they will write to the Minister, setting out the trajectory from those early days, where the lack of therapies and courses led to caution and to the inability of prisoners to demonstrate that they were safe to be released; in other words, the failure to put the other mechanisms in place led to prisoners not being able to demonstrate their safety for the community. By not being able to do so, they spent so much more time in prison that the impact of that lengthy sentence and the hopelessness of not having an end date made their emotional, mental and psychological situation worse. The original sentence was supported by those who believed that the right kind of psychological conditions and help were essential to make them safe and, having undermined those conditions, we now have a situation where they are seen as unsafe; in other words, we have gone full circle, undermining the original intentions and, by doing so, having people in prison far beyond what was originally envisaged.
The modest Amendments 208A, 208C and 208E are part of a journey to the much more robust and necessary Amendment 208F, which would be the logical conclusion of trying to get this right and doing so very quickly. Here we are, all these years on, nearly 10 years since the abolition of the Act, and we still have 1,700 prisoners who have not yet been released and 1,300 who have been released but who have, within an average of 20 months, been recalled and are still in prison. That, on a traditional fixed-term sentence, would be a sentence of three and a half or four years, often for a minor breach. This is not just unequal and unjust, it is immoral. It is immoral because those individuals, who have already had their confidence and likelihood of being able to demonstrate their safety undermined, are further undermined by the conditions they found themselves in when they came out of prison.
Amendments 208A, 208C and 208E look at the conditions inside prison for preparing people for release—which would apply more broadly, so getting this right might improve the Prison Service delivery for prisoners as a whole—and the conditions people find themselves in when they come out. It is not surprising that, since 2012, the incidence of breach and return has grown exponentially, because Christopher Grayling MP was responsible for the virtual demolition of the National Probation Service. Nobody can blame the probation service, whose resources were undermined, and the connectivity that the Centre for Social Justice quite rightly laid out all those years ago, for ensuring that people were not returned to prison, because we had not put them in the right places with the right support in the communities they were returned to.
None of this undermines my culpability in not seeing this 18 years ago, in not understanding that it would be really difficult to get the resources out of the Treasury and that it would be difficult to persuade the public—having said this was a sentence which required the presentation to the Parole Board for safety—that we were absolutely sure all these prisoners coming through and who had minor breaches were not going to commit crimes. None of us can be sure of those aspects, but it is very difficult to say that to the public.
Having a coalition of the willing and cross-party and no-party support for real change, the Government now have an opportunity to demonstrate both their humanity and rationality in getting this right for the future. My party, and Members of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, Cross-Benchers and the Spiritual Benches are all committed to backing the Government in doing the right thing.
I have never resiled from wanting people who have committed heinous crimes to be put away for a very long time, or from having tough sentences where they are needed. But this situation cannot go on. We have to do something for the sake of the individuals and their families, and for the safety of the community, because the longer they are in prison on a suspended animation sentence or on licence, the more likely they are to find themselves unable to rehabilitate and live a normal life. When that happens, they are more likely to commit a crime. I got it wrong. The Government now have the chance to get it right. I beg to move.
I commend the speech of my noble friend Lord Blunkett. I agree with every single word of it. I am as culpable as he is in relation to this. I was a junior Minister in the Home Office at the time, and the Lord Chancellor did not foresee the consequences of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, who I am glad to see in his place, described as
“the greatest single stain on our criminal justice system.”
Our purpose on these Benches is to participate in a coalition of people with a view to persuading the Government to make sensible changes to the regime to get rid of this injustice that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and my noble friend Lord Blunkett, have referred to. The amendments before the Committee today provide a number of sensible options, but we put them forward, or support them as part of that coalition, with a view to reaching agreement with the Government to do something about them.
I may try the patience of the Committee too much, but I will speak to the amendment to which my name is put, and then I will speak again indicating the Labour Party’s position on the whole range of amendments. The amendments I speak to at the moment, therefore, are Amendments 208A and 208C, which deal with the position in relation to those IPP prisoners who have been released, and what the Government should be doing about them. I add my thanks to those of my noble friend Lord Blunkett to the Prison Reform Trust, which has provided an incredibly valuable briefing to the whole House. I also thank the Howard League for Penal Reform, which has done the same; Frances Crook, who has, over a very long period, provided real guidance to policymakers on these issues; and UNGRIPP, a group of friends and prisoners who have suffered as a result of this regime.
I turn now to the probing Amendments 208A and 208C, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Blunkett. He gave the figures. The basic proposition is that to reduce reoffending, energy and resources need to be devoted to ensuring that IPP prisoners who secure their release are able to live successful lives thereafter, avoiding recall to prison. That is what is best for society and for them. Without this, the current incidence of recall will soon, as my noble friend said, lead to a situation in which the number of people serving the IPP sentence may start to grow rather than decrease. From 30 September 2015 to 30 June 2021, the number of never-released IPP prisoners fell by 61%, from 4,431 to 1,722.
However, at the latest date for which I have figures, which is June 2021, there were 1,332 people back in prison having previously been released—more than double the number of five years ago. Recalled IPP prisoners who were re-released during 2020 have spent an average of 20 further months in prison before re-release. The hopelessness and despair that engenders is incredibly effectively described in the Prison Reform Trust’s report No Life, No Freedom, No Future. Its findings are based on data provided from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service on recalls and re-releases and on interviews with 31 recalled IPP prisoners. A briefing from the Prison Reform Trust said:
“The report found that IPP prisoners’ life chances and mental health were both fundamentally damaged by the uniquely unjust sentence they are serving. Arrangements for their support in the community after release did not match the depth of the challenge they faced in rebuilding their lives outside prison. Risk management plans drawn up before release all too often turned out to be unrealistic or inadequately supported after release, leading to recall sometimes within a few weeks of leaving prison, and for some people on multiple occasions. The process of recall also generated strong perceptions of unfairness.
At its worst, the report found that the system … recalled people to indefinite custody”
for what appeared comparatively trivial matters,
“defined needs (e.g. mental health) as risk factors … ignored the impact of the unfairness of the sentence on wellbeing and behaviour … could not provide the necessary support; and … provided no purpose to time back in custody or a plan for re-release.”
Not all IPP recalled prisoners endured that, but it was common enough to say that the system needed looking at overall. As I indicated, many IPP interviewees suggested that the recall decisions were taken too lightly. At most, 23 of the 31 participants had not been convicted of a subsequent offence when they were recalled.
What to do about it? To prevent the current situation continuing—and I am dealing only with people being recalled—there are basically eight things to do. First, the process for licence review should be automated, and the qualifying period reduced from 10 years to five. That is in line with Amendment 208D. Secondly, the test for recall should be changed. It should be that there is imminent risk of the person committing an offence causing serious harm, and that that risk cannot be managed in the community. For other things, such as not staying at the address named in the conditions, other measures should be thought about—for example, adjusted reporting requirements, use of electronic tags and curfews. Thirdly, where a person has been charged with a further offence, the normal criminal justice processes should apply, with a court considering whether remand in custody is appropriate for the new alleged offence. Fourthly, if a person is convicted of a further offence, the court should decide what happens to that person, not an official. Fifthly, if a person is convicted of a further offence and the court decides to recall them under the provisions of their IPP sentence, the Parole Board should be required to consider release alongside any considerations of discretionary release that attach to the new sentence—for example, an extended determinate sentence. Sixthly, IPP prisoners who have been recalled, not having received a new custodial sentence and not being re-released on the papers by the Parole Board, should have the right to an oral hearing if they so wish. Seventhly, if the Parole Board panel upholds the decision to recall, it must set a fixed date for a further review. Eighthly, all recalled prisoners should be entitled to annual reviews of their continued detention at an oral Parole Board hearing with free legal representation.
We, on this side of the Committee, are very much aware that proper measures need to be in place to provide public protection, but that has to be balanced against a system where once people on IPP are released, they are not recalled except when something significant has happened and there is proper and serious support. I commend these amendments to the Committee.
My Lords, first, I commend, as others have, all those who have, in recent times, been building the road on which we are set today—none more so than the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. For many years, I have urged, with no success thus far but with great hopes today, the reform of what remains of the IPP sentencing regime. It is in no way hyperbole to describe it, as I already have, as the greatest single stain on the justice system. Indeed, it is a deeper, growing stain because of the situation with the recalls.
The system was prospectively abolished by LASPO in 2012, but, nevertheless, some 3,000 of these prisoners remain in prison, as noble Lords have heard. By definition, they were sentenced before 2012. Some 1,700 have never been released, and now more than 1,300—a steadily increasing number—have been recalled after release, mostly not for reoffending but rather for some often comparatively minor breach of licence conditions, such as not giving their current address. This is very often because they do not have a satisfactory one.
In recent years, I have been to see many a Lord Chancellor about this growing injustice. All have then been moved on before they have had an opportunity, or certainly the political will, to deal with this. Several ex-Lord Chancellors—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, and Michael Gove prominent among them—have expressly recognised the deep injustices that these particular prisoners suffer. Many commentators in public life have made the same points, culminating in a stinging column, which I hope some noble Lords caught, by Matthew Parris on 31 July this year, urging the immediate reassessment of all of these people who have been so unjustly treated, remaining incarcerated under this long since discredited system.
I must remind myself that this not a Second Reading speech—I made one of those. Therefore, I shall not, for the most part, repeat the appalling statistics, such as the suicide and self-harm figures—twice as many IPP prisoners as even life prisoners self-harm—that mark this regime; nor shall I describe again the depths of hopelessness, despair and uncertainty that not only these prisoners but of course their families continue to suffer.
However, I emphasise that even my amendment, which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, described, rightly perhaps, as the most fundamental of this group, falls well short of the radical proposals that Matthew Parris put forward. I single out just two specific categories of unreleased IPP prisoner—those suffering the most conspicuously from this flagrant injustice. The amendment invites not their immediate release but merely some modest measure of relaxation in their extreme cases. It seeks that, once one of these unfortunate prisoners, by definition sentenced over nine years ago, as I said, has either served at least 10 years over the sentence that was recognised to represent his just punishment, or been locked up for longer than he would have been had he been sentenced to the “maximum determinate sentence” prescribed by law for his offence, then, instead of it still being up to him to prove that he can safely be released with no risk to the public—proving that negative is always most difficult—the burden would shift to the detaining authority, which would have to prove that he would present a serious risk to the public if released, to justify his continued incarceration. I hope that this might be some way of at least countering what one suspects and understands is a risk-averse approach on the part of the Parole Board. This is the only amendment in the group that is directed to giving some early relief to these two categories of the never released.
However, I also strongly support the other amendments: they would, variously, make for better preparation for the release of this cohort, under the existing scheme, and put some real controls on the present exorbitant provisions for recall. The majority concern licences and would go some way toward mitigating the harsher of these provisions, which, in fact, if one thinks about this, reflect or mirror the licence regime that applies altogether more appropriately to actual life-sentence prisoners—those who were justifiably sentenced and actually made subject to that specific life-sentence penalty. Of course, life-sentence prisoners are punished by that sentence for what they have already actually done, and they rightly remain subject to recall for life. But, by contrast, IPPs are being punished for what they might do in future, if they are released. This is preventive detention and, essentially, internment, a concept that we have previously always thought alien and inimical to our system of law.
These amendments would not merely make recall less draconian and lifelong than it is in most cases now; they would cure a particular anomaly, by which actual life-sentence prisoners can be released by order of the Secretary of State, whereas IPPs always have to have the agreement of the Parole Board. In short, it is necessary to legislate to change the law to allow the Secretary of State, on the return of recalled prisoners, to release them when he thinks that they should be released.
I turn to my final point. To anyone, whether the Daily Mail, unthinking politicians or others in the “Lock them up and throw away the key” school of thought, I ask this question. Suppose that, today, an IPP prisoner with a tariff sentence of less than two years—his offending having been adjudged to deserve less than a two-year period of detention as punishment—is still in prison more than 10 years after that two-year sentence has expired. This June, there were 207 in that category—there are hugely more who have served 10 years beyond their slightly longer tariffs. Suppose that that prisoner cannot persuade the Parole Board that he would pose no risk of reoffending if released. I ask this doubting group: must he remain incarcerated? Is that fair? What if that position remains, five, 10 or 20 years down the line? Are we really going to continue to sanction lifelong internment in this country? Not in my name. I urge these amendments on the House.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group, but, for the sake of brevity, I will specifically address Amendments 208B, 208G and 208H, which stand in my name. Like the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, I add my thanks to all the organisations and charities that have helped us so assiduously and briefed us.
In January this year, a young woman on an indeterminate sentence wrote to me. I will call her Ella; I will not use her real name to preserve anonymity. I said that Ella was a young woman: she was 25 when she first went to prison in 2007. Her tariff expired in 2010, but 11 years past that date, she was still in prison. She was at the time she wrote waiting for a parole assessment in April, by which time she would be 39.
I wrote back to her and said that I was not willing to take up individual cases, but, having read her story, I would address the issue if suitable legislation came along. That is why I am here today. I am here for Ella and the more than 3,000 people still languishing in prison under the provisions of this law, despite the IPP sentence having been abolished nearly 10 years ago.
I wrote to her a few weeks ago to tell her that I was going to raise the matter of IPP sentences under the Bill, but I received no response, which was odd. Having contacted the authorities at HMP Bronzefield, I was told that Ella had been released, but recalled because she had
“failed to attend an Approved Premises at a specific date and time as directed.”
She was therefore back in prison awaiting another Parole Board hearing—a yo-yo process which happens to the majority of IPP prisoners.
To be released they have to jump through hoops, in the form of various training courses—when those courses become available—but if they do not show a sufficiently positive response, they are not deemed fit to be released anyway. It quite reminds me of something by Kafka, or perhaps Catch-22. When the Parole Board in its wisdom decides an IPP prisoner is fit for release, if they infringe their conditions, such as by failing to attend an approved premises at a specific time and date, they can be hauled back to prison to start the whole thing all over again.
Indeed, the situation for IPP prisoners is often much bleaker than for lifers. We heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, about some of the statistics. The biggest group of IPP prisoners still incarcerated today received tariffs of only two to four years. Some 96% of IPP prisoners are still in prison, after their tariff has expired. Their rate of self-harm, as we have already heard, is double that of lifers. It is a form of modern-day torture, fuelled by a constant sense of anxiety, hopelessness and strong feelings of injustice and alienation from the state. You would feel like that too, wouldn’t you?
Even when they have been released on licence, there is a constant sword of Damocles hanging over their and their families’ heads—that some contravention might trigger a recall. Because of this constant threat they are fearful of asking for help with problems, and families often bear the brunt of shielding and protecting the ex-prisoner for fear of recall.
That, in a nutshell, is why we need a better system. This one certainly does not work. Through my Amendment 208B, I am trying to suggest ways in which we can start removing the Catch-22 element from inside prison. I am proposing a review to examine the quality, effectiveness and availability of offender behaviour programmes, progression programmes and other opportunities to demonstrate reducing risk to the public; the availability of welfare and mental health support to help redress the damage that the system and the constant powerlessness and uncertainty of being an IPP prisoner creates; and, if and when prisoners have been recalled, the support available to help them pick up the pieces while they face another interminable wait for a Parole Board hearing.
That brings me to the Parole Board. There are many who believe that parole boards are becoming more and more risk-averse, because they conflate the behaviour of some prisoners with the increasing deterioration they experience arising from the treatment they received in prison, not their likelihood of reoffending. Therefore, Amendment 208B describes several measures aimed at improving the parole system and providing better support in the community to facilitate a safer release.
Amendment 208G would automatically bring the licence period to an end two years after release at the direction of the Parole Board, provided that the person has not been recalled in that period. The Secretary of State himself has already mooted the idea of reducing this period, and Amendment 208D in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, would decrease the automatic period of release from 10 years to five. Both amendments are a win-win, and if two years looks a little short, Amendment 208G also has safeguards to protect the public by allowing the Secretary of State to ask the Parole Board to extend the licence period by a further 12 months if they have concerns about the risk to the public. This would call time—literally—on the yo-yo way a prisoner can be recalled up to 10 years after release, potentially for the rest of their lives, even if they have committed no further offences.
Finally, Amendment 208H seeks to create an additional power of release on top of the mandatory requirement for a recalled prisoner to potentially avoid the necessity of having to languish in prison waiting for the next Parole Board hearing. This is a similar power to that already held for determinate sentenced prisoners, including those serving certain public protection sentences. I hope the Minister will be favourably disposed to this “levelling up” measure. After all, these prisoners have all been deemed fit for release at one stage.
All these amendments would contribute to radically reducing the final rump of victims and their families—including Ella—who are caught up in this cruel Catch-22 situation. Let us stop the damage we are inflicting on these prisoners, their families and ourselves as a country.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to my Amendment 208C. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer eloquently introduced it. He took all my best lines—in fact, all my lines—so I will be very brief. This is a very modest amendment. It simply requires a review of the resources and support available for the resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving IPP sentences who are released on licence.
I very much hope the Government will listen to this afternoon’s debate. There is such a powerful force behind these amendments all around the House; it should provide enough cover to the Government to do the right thing. One comes back, time after time, to the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, when he described this situation as the greatest single stain on our criminal justice system. Surely the Government must respond sympathetically to what noble Lords are saying this afternoon.
All I want to do is emphasise what the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, said about the Catch-22 situation that applies particularly to those who have been put out on release. First, if those people are honest about the fears and problems they have faced in prison, they can often risk being considered unsafe to be released in the first place. Secondly, if they ask for help with a mental health problem in the community, they could be assessed as being high risk and be recalled to prison. It is an extraordinary situation. If they enter into a new intimate relationship, they do so in the knowledge that an upset partner could make false accusations which would result in recall. How are people meant to live in that situation? As the authors of the Prison Reform Trust report say—it is an extraordinary and moving piece of work—it is hard to imagine how any of us could hold on to our sanity and self-belief in this situation. I plead with the Government to take note and be sympathetic to the plight of these people.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 208D in my name. I am grateful to the noble Lords who have lent it their support.
At Second Reading, I said that I considered it a shame to this country that there were still prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for the public protection. I do not propose to elaborate on this today, although I associate myself with the remarks made by noble Lords in the debate so far.
Some amendments in this group are probing amendments, but Amendment 208D seeks to change the law in a way which is helpful to the Government. It does not concern those in prison under an IPP, only those living in the community on licence; that is, those who have already been found by the Parole Board to be safe for release without presenting a threat to public safety. As noble Lords have described, currently these persons are potentially subject to a lifelong licence. They can be recalled to prison for a breach of the licence conditions at any point while the licence is in force. The only way in which the licence can be terminated is for the individual to apply to the Parole Board for a licence review after the expiry of the qualifying period. This is currently set at 10 years. The Government have stated that, in future, they wish these reviews to be automatic, and not to require an application from the prisoner.
On 21 July, in response to a Question for Written Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar said:
“From September this year, officials will refer automatically to the Parole Board the case of every offender serving the IPP sentence who has become eligible to apply for termination of his/her IPP licence.”
There is a problem. Close examination of the current legislation makes it clear that the review can be undertaken only on the prisoner’s application. Therefore, the Government cannot make an automatic referral to the Parole Board without the prisoner’s active co-operation. This somewhat holes the policy of automaticity. Amendment 208D addresses this deficiency by amending the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 to require the Secretary of State to make an automatic referral to the Parole Board at the end of the qualifying period. If the application is dismissed, it can be made annually thereafter. The referral does not depend on the acquiescence or collaboration of the prisoner. It allows the Government to do what they have said they want to do. I hope the amendment will command their support. It does not prejudge in any way the decision of the Parole Board on that referral. The decision as to whether or not to terminate the licence remains entirely in its hands.
Noble Lords may wonder why a prisoner entitled to a review at the end of the qualifying period should be slow to make one on his or her own initiative; in other words, why is there a need for automaticity? It certainly seems strange not to apply for a termination of the licence. As noble Lords have explained, a person on licence under an IPP and who commits an offence for which an ordinary criminal might receive a short determinate sentence can be recalled to prison for an indeterminate term.
None the less, there are reasons why IPP prisoners do not apply for a termination of their licence. First, many do not know what the qualifying period is, nor what it means. Nobody is obliged to contact them to tell them. There is evidence of confusion, even among probation officers, as to the rules. In any event, many prisoners out on licence will not be in regular contact with a probation officer, since, although the licence lasts for a minimum of 10 years under the current system, supervision can be terminated after five. Many IPP prisoners out on licence after that many years simply do not want to take the risk of re-engaging voluntarily with a criminal justice system which they believe has treated them so unfairly. Automaticity is good and necessary. The Government agree and I hope this amendment will pass.
There is one more part to the amendment which is easily missed. I referred earlier to a qualifying period after which a review of the licence can be applied for. If this amendment passes, it will take place automatically. The qualifying period is set by law at 10 years. The very last words of the amendment would have the effect of reducing it to five years. As far as I know, this is not government policy. It is, of course, open to my noble friend to accept the part of the amendment dealing with automaticity, while rejecting the reduction in the qualifying period.
I hope that noble Lords will support me in pressing this on the Government. For those IPP prisoners who receive a short minimum term, the 10-year licence period is wholly disproportionate to the term that would have been attached to the equivalent determinate sentence, had one been imposed instead of an IPP. It can hardly be argued that it is necessary for public protection. As I said earlier, under this amendment, the decision whether or not to terminate a licence would remain with the Parole Board. Reducing the qualifying period to five years would simply reduce the length of time after which an individual out on licence would be entitled to a review. These people would be out on licence with the approval of the Parole Board and would have shown themselves to be safe in the community for five years. The number of IPP prisoners out on licence who are recalled after five years is, in any case, very small. Furthermore, the latest available data show that no IPP prisoner committed a serious further offence five years or more post release. Their supervision can be—and often is—terminated after five years.
I believe that everything argues in favour of a reduction in the qualifying period to five years. I hope that the Government will accept this part of the amendment as well. A person in this position—with a track record of living safely in the community for five years—needs the opportunity that we wish for all prisoners: to serve their sentence and return to the community to make a useful contribution to their own and to others’ lives.
My Lords, I shall contribute very briefly to this group of amendments. I fully support the views already expressed. I will not repeat them. I strongly commend the opening speech by my noble friend Lord Blunkett. He set out clearly the direction of travel which this House wishes to take.
I will speak briefly on Amendment 208B, particularly proposed new subsection (2)(b), which the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has already eloquently described. It states the need for
“an assessment of the welfare and mental health support available to prisoners”—
still serving an IPP sentence—
“including measures to reduce the risk of self-harm and self-inflicted death”.
I declare my interests in the register as trustee and vice-chair of the Prison Reform Trust. Again, I thank it for the excellent work it has done over a number of years in this area, culminating in the report by Edgar, Harris and Webster, entitled No Life, No Freedom, No Future. I think this sums up the mood of the House this evening.
People given IPP sentences are disproportionately more likely to have a pre-existing mental health problem and, obviously, that can be exacerbated by the fact that it is an indeterminate sentence. As the Ministry of Justice figures alluded to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, show, in 2020 IPP prisoners had one of the highest rates of self-harm, with 1,244 incidents per 1,000 prisoners, which is twice as high as the rate for determinate sentence prisoners of 620 per 1,000. It should be noted that in the Safety in Custody annual releases, self-harm and assault figures refer only to unreleased IPPs; incidents for recalled IPPs are hidden in the broader “recalled prisoners” category.
As we have heard, the fact that the imprisonment is indeterminate can leave people feeling hopeless and helpless yet afraid of seeking support which might prolong their imprisonment. Further, it can make it difficult for families to avoid relationship breakdown and estrangement from their relative serving the indeterminate sentence, as clearly evidenced in Annison and Straub’s 2019 report. Crucially, mental ill health can limit progress towards release, and serving an abolished sentence can make people feel—to quote Sarah Smart’s 2018 report for the Griffins Society—“disenfranchised, frustrated and distressed.”
We have heard clearly tonight why this appalling situation cannot continue. We must set the direction of travel tonight, and I hope that the Government will recognise that action needs to be taken. However, in the short term, people with mental health problems need proper assessment in prison so that their issues can be addressed effectively on their road to release from prison.
My Lords, because of the quality and content of the speeches already made this afternoon, I hope I can be quite brief. I begin by declaring an interest as a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust and by commending the report that the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, just mentioned: No Life, No Freedom, No Future, the title of which brilliantly encapsulates the Kafkaesque state of affairs that we see when we consider IPPs. I also briefly thank Frances Crook, the retiring director of the Howard League, for all the work she did and for trying over the years to improve and inform the debate about what goes on in our prisons.
Our prisons are a secret world. When I was a Member of Parliament I once explained to a local journalist that I thought that all prisons should of course have walls to keep the prisoners in and to protect the public from the prisoners. However, all these prison walls should have windows in them so that the public could see in and learn what is being done on their behalf inside these prisons, but also so that the prisoners could see through those windows out into the world and into society, to see that if things went well for them and if their life, educational and employment prospects were improved by what they were doing and learning in prison, there was a world out there waiting to welcome them back. The journalist said, “Have you considered the public expenditure implications of building all these windows in those walls?” It is occasionally possible to lose the will to live when discussing something as complex as the state of our prisons.
Where it is not necessary to lose the will to live is when one listens to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, explaining and accepting—very publicly and bravely—that he got it wrong in the early part of his time as Home Secretary. I congratulate him. Most former Home Secretaries—most politicians—spend their post-government life rewriting history. This former Home Secretary has accepted that he got it wrong—I thank him for it—and he is now trying to assist us in getting it right again. I also congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on following on that particular train of thought. It behoves all of us in this Chamber, whether we are interested in this subject directly or indirectly, to mend this problem, and it is a problem that needs mending. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, describes IPPs as the greatest stain on our justice system, and he is entirely right. However, it is a stain that we can remove.
I tabled Amendment 208E and have co-signed Amendments208F and 208G, but I could have co-signed any of these amendments. I simply want to see IPPs abolished. I want to see all those who are on IPPs at the moment either released under supervision or transferred to some other form of more humane sentence which gives those people hope, a life, an aspiration of freedom and a future which they can aspire to. At the minute, they are literally hopeless.
Some 14 or 15 years ago, when I was shadow Minister for Prisons in the other place when the Conservative Party was in opposition, I made a point in that job of visiting as many of the prisons in our system in England and Wales as I possibly could. There were then about 140 or 145 institutions—adult male prisons, adult female prisons, YOIs and secure training units—and I think I managed to get to about 70 or 75 of them. On a number of occasions I visited prisons where there were IPP prisoners, and the governors universally said, “This cohort of prisoners is the most difficult to manage because they have no hope.” They did not know when they were going to be released or whether they were going to be there for ever or whether they might be released in a year or two’s time. They had no idea which it was going to be.
One of the reasons I tabled Amendment 208E is that proposed new subsection (2) of that amendment describes the things within prison which are hopeless and entirely damaging to a fair justice system. Amendment 208E is one of several “six month report” amendments—I say in parenthesis that Amendment 208F is the one to go for if we are to do anything of a positive nature this evening. Amendment 208E, along with others of these “six month report” amendments, describes what is wrong with the system as it currently is. It asks
“whether there are sufficient places available for prisoners serving sentences of IPP on offending behaviour programmes”.
No, there are not. It asks
“whether prisoners serving sentences of IPP are able to complete offending behaviour programmes in appropriate time to aid progression milestones such as parole or recategorization”.
No, they cannot do that. You may be queuing up for a course while you are in, let us say, Maidstone Prison, and then you are churned—moved to another prison—so you will go to the back of the queue, or moved to a prison which does not have the relevant people to lead you on that particular course. Your mental and physical health records take months to follow you to your prison, and when they arrive and when the new governor or the new teaching staff of that prison to which you have been sent catch up with your request—guess what? You are moved to a prison in Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool or somewhere else. It is a hopeless state of affairs, and we should have done something about it years ago.
It follows that there are not sufficient places available for prisoners serving sentences of IPP in prisons providing progression regimes, for the practical reasons I have just pointed out. Is there availability of other opportunities for prisoners serving IPP sentences to enable them to progress and demonstrate reduced risk, particularly for those who have completed opportunities afforded to them by offending behaviour programmes and progression regimes? Of course not; it is a shambles—a cruel shambles.
Even on what I call ordinary life sentences, prisoners can do a particular course to demonstrate that, before long, they may become suitable for release on licence. However, if they do them within the first two or three years of their imprisonment, then remain in prison for another 14 or 15 years, all that they may have learned on that course all that time ago has long been forgotten, and all the people who have supervised them in prison have no corporate memory of what prisoner A, B or C learned all those years ago. So when they are reassessed after having completed the tariff, they fail the assessment. Can they get on a course again? Of course not. They are told, “You’ve been on one already. You’ll have to wait your turn, after all the other people”. The simple, practical organisation in our prisons is not fit to cope with this troubled and troubling group of prisoners on IPPs.
I will end on this point. The thing that a convicted defendant on sentence wants to hear is not a moralising judge telling them that they have behaved very badly and must never do it again, but the number—that is, how long they are going inside for. When they are sentenced to an IPP and hear the tariff of two or five or 10 years, that is the number that sticks in their mind among all the noise and clatter that is going on in their heads and in the courtroom. It is only when they get into the prison van—the sweat box—or get to the prison for their first reception that it dawns on them that the sentence does not mean two years; it means for ever unless they can do something to help themselves. Of course, because of the lack of availability of the factors that I have just addressed, it is almost impossible for that prisoner to help himself to improve, to see some chance of release and to come out as a better citizen again.
This obscenity must now end. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister and his government colleagues have it within them to do that, and I am sure that they will.
My Lords, I add my voice to those who have already spoken in favour of these amendments. I declare my interest as Anglican Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons.
All the detail I was going to mention has already been carefully and expertly explained; again, I pay tribute to the organisations that have been named, including the Howard League, the Prison Reform Trust and UNGRIPP, for their excellent briefing reports and research. It resonates strongly with all the conversations I have with people in prison and family members who write to me or send me emails. The thing I am struck most by is the sense of hopelessness; many noble Lords have mentioned that. I am a proud patron of Prison Fellowship, whose motto is:
“We believe no one is beyond hope.”
We really need to listen to that in this debate.
The indefinite IPP licence goes against all the evidence about what enables people to move away from offending. As we have heard, people need to feel hopeful about their future. They need to have a plan to work at. As we have heard, the IPP licence stops people being able to look forward to a different future. It disrupts relationships and breeds anxiety, despair, hopelessness and alienation. Much more could be said, but I think it has all been said; I am heartened by the strength of feeling so apparent in your Lordships’ House.
I agree that this Bill provides a timely opportunity to address this enormous injustice of IPP sentences. I stand with those seeking to make these changes.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate and precede, I think, the noble Lord over there. I just want to say, it all may have been said, but not by me. None the less, I will be brief because—it is not often I feel like saying this—it has been an absolute privilege to listen to today’s debate. Every point of morality, sensible practice and detail on this compelling menu of amendments has been made.
I want to make the briefest of pleas to the Minister, who has been a distinguished commercial barrister for many years; I, by contrast, have been a humble student of the miserable world of justice and home affairs. I also want to make a political point, of all things, in a debate that has been so rarely elevated above politics. I believe that today presents the beginning of an historic opportunity in our politics in this country. For most of my adult life—indeed, pretty much all of it—we have been embroiled in an arms race, particularly around incarceration, that has put us on a path which is more like the American one than a sensible path from anywhere else, let alone the path we might be on. How often do you hear someone of the stature of my noble friend Lord Blunkett say, “This was a mistake. Hands up; it is a fair cop. I am offering a bipartisan hand to help set this right”? I have not heard anything like that in justice and home affairs in my time as a student of these issues.
What is more, this is about rectifying a mistake that the Minister’s party already accepts was a mistake; that is why these sentences are no longer available to new offenders. The Minister, his party and his Government ought to be half way—indeed, three-quarters of the way—there already, in rectifying what my friend, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, called “the great stain”. We are so close. The Minister has an historic opportunity to begin to put this right. How often does an opportunity like that come about? The point about this stain is that it is wrong in itself, and it is terrible for all those hopeless people whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and other noble Lords mentioned. It is also a symbol of both injustice and the arms race I mentioned. That is why this opportunity is so precious and important.
It is ever harder to justify an unelected second Chamber—your Lordships’ House—nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century but, if the Minister listens to the debate and does not slam the door closed to reason, today might just be enough for the moment.
My Lords, I strongly support all the amendments in this group, not least because the cause of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences has been languishing ever since such sentences were formally abolished by LASPO in 2012.
I commend the tireless work of my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood on their behalf. For nearly 27 years, since my first inspection as Chief Inspector of Prisons, I have been campaigning for changes to be made to the operational management structure of the Prison Service to bring it in line with the practice in every business, hospital or school: to appoint named people responsible and accountable for particular functions within the organisation concerned.
In the case of prisons, I have campaigned for separate directors to be appointed for every type of prison, and for certain types of prisoners—lifers, sex offenders, women, young offenders, the elderly, foreign nationals, and those serving indeterminate sentences. Imagine how easy it would be for Ministers interested in IPP, for example, to send for the relevant director and question him or her about what was happening or not happening to all prisoners in that category. I had hoped that somewhere in the 298 pages of this monstrous Bill, space might have been found for something so practical. However, as that is clearly not going to happen, I stringently commend the change to the Minister.
My Lords, I find myself in a puzzle. The Government of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who introduced this form of sentence, have indicated that they would not have introduced it if they had known how it would work. A different Government, the coalition Government, of which the present Government formed the majority, saw the iniquities of it and Parliament got rid of it. Therefore, we now have a strange system. We have people in custody under the old system and people with the same record, the same problems, the same issues arising, who are not subject to the same sentences as each other. That seems rather strange, but in terms of an Act of Parliament, it is an utterly illogical situation for the Government now not to at least address the consequences of the sentence having been abolished in the 2012 Act.
Quite rightly, that was not made retrospective. I see that retrospectivity must be avoided, but we have been going on with the sentence that has been abolished for eight or nine years now. We all know that something must be done. I am not making a personal comment about the Minister, but everybody knows that it must be done, including Ministers in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. We must do something about it, in fairness and logically.
I added my name in support of the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, but all these amendments are asking one simple question: “You must do something, so will you now tell us what it is?” It is no good us being in a situation where “Something must be done” when “What is going to be done?” is the real question.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister can acknowledge that this is one of those comparatively rare occasions when noble Lords from all parties and none and from across the House have come together in the face of overwhelming evidence that a great public policy, in this case a great criminal justice policy, has gone disastrously wrong. It is beyond argument that IPPs have resulted in periods of incarceration out of any reasonable proportion to the gravity of the original crimes for which they were imposed. That is wrong. It is beyond any reasonable argument that these sentences are beyond any proportion to the risk that continues to be represented by any of the offenders to the public. That is wrong. There is the strongest evidence before the Government that IPPs are observably responsible for persistent and continuing injustice. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke very movingly about the reality of those injustices for those who are suffering under them.
I declare an interest as president of the Howard League and in doing so repeat what a number of noble Lords have said about the contribution made by Frances Crook. She has been a monumental figure in criminal justice, which is better today for her work than it would have been without it. The Government now have an opportunity to make a startling improvement to our criminal justice arrangements by the simple expedience of doing away with IPPs in their entirety; I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, in this respect. The evidence could not be clearer. I support all these amendments and urge the Government now, in the face of this overwhelming case, to act.
My Lords, I hope that when the Minister responds to this debate, he can put away the departmental brief and respond to two simple questions. The first is whether he accepts that the present system is unacceptable. The second, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, posed, is: what will the Government do about it? This is not a new problem. The Government have had years to think about the options and to consider what to do. The noble Lord is already a very distinguished Minister of Justice. Can he say what the Government will now do to address a manifest injustice?
My Lords, I have met a few of the people who these sentences are designed to control, and quite often they are terrifying. Some of the things that they have done are awful. However, the present situation is indefensible. It is unfair because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has said, they do not know how long they will be detained, and because many of them have been detained since before the law was changed. It is really trying to deal with the basic problem of dangerousness, which is very hard to define. Doctors cannot define the mental illness that they suffer from, as has been mentioned already. This should be addressed far more clearly.
There are only two ways forward. First, many of these amendments are talking about research in the future, but we need more research into the medical definition of the type of illness which we define as “dangerousness”, of people seeming likely to commit an offence in the future. This is not mentioned anywhere in the amendments. I recommend that there is good investment to be made there.
Secondly, what is presently indeterminate must be made determinate. I do not suppose that anyone has yet argued that all the people who are detained under these restrictions should immediately be emptied from the prisons on to the streets, but it is entirely possible to see a transfer of that risk either into the health element of prison control—Broadmoor or similar institutions—or a far better way of dealing with them within the community. To continue carrying the risk entirely within the prison estate in the numbers that are described is entirely wrong and I cannot see that it is defensible for this Government to continue doing so.
I was not intending to contribute to this debate, but I think decency requires me to do so, because looking in the past, I was the person who perhaps failed the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, in persuading him at his time as Home Secretary of the extent of the error which he was making. I think he may remember that I did attempt at the time to dissuade him from this course, but I obviously failed and we see now the consequences of the biggest mistake made in the criminal justice system during my period as a judge. I hope that the House will bear in mind that, if a mistake of that nature is made, there is a huge burden on each one of us to try, as far as we can, to put it right.
This is the first time I have contributed on this subject and I apologise to the House for not doing so earlier. For reasons of health, I was not for a time taking part in the activities of the House, but I thought the House would like to know how I feel about this as a former Lord Chief Justice and the person who carried out an important report into prisons, which I hoped would provide a better system than we have now.
My Lords, I am humbled by speaking at the end of an extraordinarily strong debate. It was eloquently and, as many have pointed out, courageously opened by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. He has been supported by many movers of amendments and others, among them the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, whose campaigning against IPPs has been a model for us all. I hope the Government will take note of the unanimity in this House on the issues surrounding IPPs.
From these Benches, my noble friend Lady Burt, with her extensive experience of working in the Prison Service and of the injustice of IPPs to individual prisoners, has spoken movingly to her amendments and supported all the amendments in the group, so I will add only very briefly to what she and others have said.
These amendments give this House a chance to send this Bill back to the House of Commons to give it an opportunity to right a wrong that has for far too many years been a scar on our penal system, on our national self-esteem and on our international reputation for fairness and justice. The continuation of the unwarranted detention of IPP prisoners—1,700 never released and 1,300 recalled for breach, often for utterly trivial reasons—has kept them incarcerated for years on end, way beyond their tariff terms, without any moral, intellectual, philosophical or human justification of any kind.
We support the ending of this injustice unreservedly. At Report, we will vote for whatever of the amendments then before the House appear best placed to end this disgrace as quickly as possible.
My Lords, I have already spoken once. I speak very briefly to say two things. First, what an impressive debate this has been. I draw attention in particular to the speeches of my noble friends Lord Blunkett, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Bradley, the noble Lords, Lord Moylan, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Hogan-Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. I draw attention to them because they are not lawyers; they are people who have had contact in other ways with this system and come to the conclusion that it should end.
Secondly, we on this side of the House support all the amendments. Some are alternative ways of dealing with a particular problem, but we support all the proposals. We are not, in the amendments before the House, going as far as some of the speeches went. We are not suggesting the immediate abolition of the sentence. We are saying: support for those in prison to try to get released; support for those who are released to get proper help; and an easier process of having consideration of the licence being got rid of.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, said, the one with the teeth is Amendment 208F. It says you get rid of these licences and release the person if they have served more than the sentence for the offence. If you have been sentenced to five years in prison, and that is the maximum sentence, once the maximum is reached, unless the detaining authority can prove that you are still a risk, you get released. If you are still below the maximum sentence for the offence for which you were convicted, but you have been in for 10 years, the same principle applies. It is an incredibly sensible way of ensuring the sentence goes for those who have got it, but you keep inside those who represent a severe danger, as long as the detaining authority can establish that they remain a danger.
I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give some words of comfort to the effect that these very moderate proposals will be taken up by the Government. If there are amendments to these proposals, of course, everybody in the House will consider them, but it is time for a change. These modest proposals require consideration for this Bill, because the biggest disappointment would be to be told that it is coming at some later stage.
My Lords, Amendments 208A to 208H relate to offenders serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection commonly known as IPPs. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who was very kind about my work as a Minister, invited me to put away the departmental brief. I am not going to do that, not least because it might mean that my work as a Minister here ends somewhat prematurely. But that is not inconsistent, I hope, with making it clear to the Committee that I have listened carefully to the debate and to the points raised around the Chamber. I will reread the debate in the Official Report as well.
Of course, I feel the mood of the Committee—that would be impossible to miss. The speeches have been powerful and sometimes heartfelt. Without wishing to ignore others, may I say the contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, about their personal part in the genesis of IPPs have been unusual and moving. This politician, may I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—although I see myself still as a lawyer, not a politician—certainly is trying to get this right. I do not think this is an issue which admits of easy analysis. To use the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, it is something of a puzzle, which requires looking at carefully and solving.
I am grateful to those noble Lords who have met with me and discussed the issue. I am sure we will have further discussions between now and Report. I should say that I read Matthew Parris’s column at the end of July as well.
I will go through the amendments and set out the Government’s position, then I will come back at the end to some more general points. Four of the amendments, Amendments 208A to 208C and 208E, the latter from my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier, would require the Government to conduct a review on matters such as sentence progression, resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving an IPP sentence, and to lay a report before both Houses of Parliament.
The Government recognise that work needs to be done in relation to this group of prisoners. I will set out the work that has been done so far. We have put together what I think has been a successful action plan dedicated to the rehabilitation and risk reduction of IPP offenders. We continue to work to increase opportunities for IPP offenders to progress through their sentences via this plan. A qualified psychologist leads a review of the case of every IPP prisoner who is not making the expected progress. Between July 2016 and September this year, which is about five years, just under 1,700—1,679—reviews were completed; 440 prisoners were subsequently released and a further 474 secured a progressive move to more open conditions.
My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier commented on the availability of courses for IPP prisoners to help them make that progress. It is right that during the pandemic there were fewer places on some group interventions. We asked offender managers to look at other sorts of interventions to draw evidence from them for the parole reports. However, we have now been able to ramp up the provision again. Not all IPP prisoners will require the same interventions, of course, but we try to make sure that each prisoner has a suitable pathway, as it is called, to a future safe and sustainable release. That is the focus of the programme. There is a range of interventions, including places on progression regimes, other accredited programmes and places in open prisons. Where a programme is not available for an offender, the prison offender manager would seek to have the prisoner transferred to a prison where the programme is available, subject to a risk assessment and available places. In the meantime, other work would be identified so that the prisoner could undertake that work.
We believe that the action plan is working. High numbers of IPP prisoners are being released each year and the proportion of positive Parole Board decisions remains high. I do not think anybody mentioned this, but let me put it on the record that the Justice Select Committee in the other place has recently launched an inquiry into IPP sentences. Its stated aim is to examine
“the continued existence of IPP sentences and to identify possible legislative and policy solutions.”
The Select Committee will scrutinise what the Government are doing. I have no doubt that it will provide recommendations, which the Government look forward to hearing. I therefore underline that we are doing work in this area. We do not believe that a separate government-led review is necessary at this time.
I turn to Amendment 208D from my noble friend Lord Moylan. Currently, an IPP offender may apply to the Parole Board to have their licence terminated once 10 years from their first release from custody has elapsed. To do that, the offender must give their permission to the Secretary of State to apply to the Parole Board for licence termination on their behalf. The first part of this amendment would therefore remove the legal requirement for the offender to give their permission. Instead, offenders would be automatically rereferred for consideration each year, were they unsuccessful. The second part would change the time period from 10 to five years.
Even without this amendment, the Government expect a large number of applications for licence terminations over the coming years as more offenders become eligible to apply. We do not believe that this will be inhibited by the need for the offender to give permission.
Of course, there is no guarantee that referrals will be successful. The decision lies not with a Minister but with the independent Parole Board. We believe that offenders being managed under licence in the community is a vital part of longer-term rehabilitation and of public protection. The Parole Board will agree to terminate a licence only if an offender’s risk has reduced such that the board is satisfied that the licence and its conditions are no longer necessary for the protection of the public.
With the greatest of respect, I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, or the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, that the Parole Board is risk averse. We believe that the Parole Board is applying properly what we consider an appropriate and suitable test. However, we have concerns that, when its various parts are put together, the amendment could cause the Parole Board to consider many applications that have little to no chance of success.
I should also point out that IPP offenders, through their community offender manager, are already eligible to apply to have the supervisory elements of their community licence suspended, again at the decision of the independent Parole Board. They can apply for that after five continuous successful years on licence in the community. If supervision is suspended, they are no longer required to attend supervision sessions with the community offender manager, or to seek approval for where they are going to live or if they want to go abroad, as long as those decisions do not breach any victim-related conditions that remain active. We believe that living under a licence which is suspended is not onerous and allows offenders to lead very normal lives.
My noble friend Lord Moylan commented that offenders may be unaware of how and when their licence might be terminated. It is ultimately the offender’s responsibility to understand the conditions of their sentence and what they can do to end it, even when the active part of the licence has been suspended, but—and this is an important “but”—the probation service does and will continue to make every effort to contact those eligible to apply to have their licence terminated and to seek their permission to submit an application. Unsupervised offenders on licence can still contact the appropriate probation office to discuss any relevant matters, including to make arrangements for licence termination. The probation service will support that application when its assessment is that the licence is no longer needed for the protection of the public. For these reasons, we do not agree that the licence changes are necessary.
Amendment 208F is intended to reverse the burden of proof, in part, for the test applied by the Parole Board when considering whether certain IPP offenders are safe for release. This would apply to offenders who have served a prison sentence 10 years or more beyond the minimum term or longer than the maximum equivalent determinate sentence for the offence.
The current Parole Board release test is constructed so that the board must not give a direction for release—it is a negative test—unless it is satisfied that it is no longer necessary on the grounds of public protection for the prisoner to remain confined. The effect of this amendment for offenders within its scope would be that the burden of proof would be reversed, so that the Parole Board would have to direct release unless it is satisfied by evidence from the detaining authority that further detention is necessary for public protection.
Of course, I understand the reason behind that change in the burden of proof, but we do not believe that it would have a material impact, because the Parole Board would still have to undertake an assessment of risk of harm and reoffending to make a judgment on whether the risk could be managed effectively in the community. We believe that it is one of those cases in which the matter of where the burden of proof lies will not likely affect the underlying decision.
Amendment 208G relates to licence termination. It would automatically terminate the licence of any IPP offender who had been released for two years and was not recalled in that time, unless the Secretary of State applied to the Parole Board to extend the automatic termination point by up to one year. The key point is that the licence termination is automatic. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said that recall provisions had been strengthened and made more draconian, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, made a similar point about the ramping up of the recall provisions, but these were not changed after the IPP sentence was introduced or, indeed, after it was abolished; the provisions have remained the same.
I listened very carefully to the case of Ella, as we are calling her, which the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, spoke about. Of course, I obviously do not know the details of that particular case, but I can say that recall provisions for IPP offenders in fact have a higher threshold than determinate sentence recalls, as there has to be a causal link between the original offending and the new behaviour to make it possible to recall the IPP offender. So, the threshold is actually higher for IPP recalls.
Secondly, we have to bear in mind that focusing only on criminality when an IPP offender is out on licence is not, I suggest, always the right way of looking at it. What may appear to some to be minor breaches of licence conditions can be, when viewed in the light of what might be called the index offence—or the original offence—evidence of escalating risk. It is risk that we are focused on here—risk to the public at large, which justifies a recall to protect the public. Therefore, it is not always the case that one is looking only at criminal acts when the IPP offender is on licence; we may also have to look at other behaviour that is related to the index offence and shows an escalation of risk.
The licence is an important tool by which the probation service manages the risk—it is all about risk —which an offender presents to the public. Without the prohibitions and requirements in the licence, the probation service would lack the power to manage and mitigate the offender’s risk. For example, if the offender starts drinking very heavily, and we know that the index offence—or offences—was also linked to very heavy drinking, that would be a sign of increased risk, although there may be no criminality in drinking heavily itself.
Offenders are already able to apply to the Parole Board to have their licence terminated once 10 years since their first release from custody have gone past. The Parole Board is then to determine whether it is safe for their licence to be terminated. We believe that terminating their licence automatically, without any consideration by the Parole Board, would present an unacceptable risk to the public, and for that reason we do not propose to accept that amendment as drafted.
None of the amendments would mean that there would not necessarily be a consideration by the Parole Board, including Amendment 208G, which is the two-year automatic end unless the Government made an application to the Parole Board, so I am not quite sure what the basis of rejection of that one is.
I am not basing it only on what I have called automatic termination. The scheme set out in Amendment 208G would represent a very different approach to management on licence and, for the reasons I have set out, that is not a form of management which we think provides adequate protection to the public. I may come back to that.
Amendment 208H creates a power for the Secretary of State to release an IPP offender who has been recalled to prison, so long as the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is not necessary for public protection for the offender to remain in prison. The position at the moment is that the Parole Board has a responsibility to assess whether offenders are safe to be released into the community, even after an IPP offender is recalled to prison. They can take a decision to rerelease from only 28 days after the offender is recalled. We believe that the Parole Board’s expertise in determining whether offenders serving indeterminate sentences are safe to be released is, as I said, an essential tool of public protection.
If I may, I come back to where I started, with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. Again, I am grateful for his kind words. I agree that there are certainly problems with the current system; we are looking at it. We believe that our IPP action plan has achieved significant results and we keep it under constant review. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in what I have learned to be his habit of putting his finger on the point at issue, asked, “Well, what is going to be done?” I hope that I have made it clear that I have listened to the debate very carefully, and that I have no doubt of the mood and the strength of feeling of the Committee. I am also sufficiently acquainted with the ways of this House to anticipate what might or might not be moved on Report as and when we come to it. I can say this afternoon that I will continue to work on this issue—a number of noble Lords know that I have been working on it already—and to listen to the debate, but for the moment, I ask noble Lords who tabled this amendment to withdraw it.
My Lords, there can be no disagreement that this has been a thoughtful and deeply impressive debate—the kind of occasion that does massive good to the reputation of this House. I hope, therefore, that the Minister’s words at the beginning and end of his response will give us some hope for the future. On a lighter note, I have to say that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, gave me so much advice when I was Home Secretary that I have difficulty remembering which bits of it I took and which I did not.
On this occasion, I have said already that we clearly have got it wrong, and we now have the opportunity to put it right. The House of Commons Justice Committee has not yet started its process; even with the length of debate on the Bill and the number of days that will be added, it will not have reported in time for us to be able to use this vehicle, and I see no other vehicle coming down the road. We have a chance and, given the Minister’s opening and closing remarks, we may have the opportunity to get this right. It would be admirable and most sensible if the Government were able to bring forward their own proposals before Report, through amendments, guidance and any further regulation by subsidiary legislation they are prepared to use, but if we do not get some movement in time for Report, I believe there is unanimity across all parts of this House that we will have to take action. When we do, I hope that we will have the kind of unanimity we have had this evening. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in my name.
Amendment 208A withdrawn.
Amendments 208B to 208H not moved.
Clauses 116 to 124 agreed.
209: After Clause 124, insert the following new Clause—
“Maternity services in prisons
(1) The Secretary of State must provide appropriate midwifery care within the female prison estate.(2) “Appropriate midwifery care” means—(a) midwifery care that is appropriate to a custodial setting;(b) maternity services that are suitably resourced to provide—(i) an appropriately qualified midwifery lead in each prison to oversee all aspects of perinatal care;(ii) a maternity pathway for prisoners that includes a process for women who decline to engage with services;(iii) access for prisoners to psychological and psychiatric services;(iv) training for staff in trauma-informed care;(v) training for staff in neonatal and child resuscitation procedures; and(vi) appropriate emergency equipment for children and neonates.(3) The Secretary of State may provide guidance on how to respond to births in prison.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment builds on recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman investigation into the death of Baby A at HMP Bronzefield to ensure there are appropriate maternity services in the female prison estate.
My Lords, Amendment 209 seeks to reinforce the existing provision of maternity services for pregnant women and their babies in prison. Noble Lords who follow these matters will know that many women’s prisons have mother and baby units, but they are not equipped to facilitate childbirth, and the birth should always take place in hospital. However, around one in 10 does not: either the baby is delivered on the way to hospital or still inside the prison.
I have experience to bring to bear on childbirth in prison which I imagine no other Member of your Lordships’ House possesses. I have been, at least nominally, in charge of a prison when an inmate started labour. I was in my early 20s at the time, a new and highly inexperienced assistant governor at Holloway Prison on evening duty, so nominally in charge of the jail. The news that an inmate had started labour was received with glee by the officers, who delighted in telling me the good news and watching the expression of panic on my face. Fortunately for me, and the woman giving birth, these officers were highly experienced in handling these circumstances. An ambulance was summoned, and the mother-to-be was promptly sent off with an escorting officer to hospital. The outcome was a happy one.
More than 40 years later, pregnant women are still sent to prison, locked up with no agency to determine their fate, and the outcome is sometimes very different for the mother and the child. Now is not the time to delay your Lordships with an argument for not sending pregnant women to prison, much as I would like to, but it is important that provisions are watertight and that women and their innocent babies are kept as safe and well as possible because we know that things can go very wrong.
I turn to the scandal of Baby A who was born at HMP Bronzefield on 27 September 2019 and who died alone with her mother, not to be discovered until the following morning. The pathologist was unable to determine whether this baby died before or after birth. HMP Bronzefield has a mother and baby unit, but for some reason Ms A was deemed unsuitable for the unit, so she and her unborn baby were left to the mercy of the general prison staff, medical and general, who regarded her as difficult. I am sure that she undoubtedly was difficult. Going back to my time at Holloway, I remember being put in charge of what was then termed the Borstal unit. That was full of difficult young women who presented immense behavioural challenges to the staff and with whom they were very unpopular. It was not until I went into the backgrounds, upbringing and abuse that those young women had suffered that I began to understand what had contributed to that behaviour.
Forty years later, Ms A was one such vulnerable young woman. She was only 18 years old, but her young life was already beset with abuse and trouble. I know what a pain a young prisoner can be. I was in charge of a whole wing of them, and I get why Ms A was not Ms Popularity with the staff, but it was known that she was extremely vulnerable, mistrustful and terrified of having her baby taken away from her. The ultimate irony in the case of Ms A is that she had not been convicted of a criminal offence. She was on remand, and three days after she had suffered the trauma of giving birth alone in her cell and losing her baby, this vulnerable, traumatised young woman was released on bail.
I do not want to pile further agony on the staff at HMP Bronzefield specifically, but it is crystal clear that the service given to troubled pregnant women in prison is not fit for purpose, hence this amendment, which sets out the very least a pregnant woman should receive, whatever her circumstances. The amendment is based on the recommendations of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman in its report and subsequent inquiry: an appropriately qualified midwifery lead in every woman’s prison; a maternity pathway to include prisoners who decline to engage with the maternity services available; making sure that prisoners have access to psychological and psychiatric services; training for staff to understand and deal with young women—and men, for that matter—who have experienced trauma which is contributing to their behaviour; appropriate training to deal with emergencies for neonates and children; and the physical tools to resuscitate them.
I acknowledge and welcome the work that is being done in the extensive review of care for pregnant women, which was published in September in the pregnancy, mother and baby units and maternal separation in women’s prisons policy framework. There are some helpful recommendations, including early contact and signposting to services, more extensive central reporting on women in MBUs including reasons for non-admission decisions and additional welfare checks. However, I still look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about these recommendations in my amendment and how people such as Ms A and her lost baby will be better helped in future. I beg to move.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, on her extremely moving opening speech. I agree wholeheartedly that pregnant women should not be in prison. We have abysmal conditions in many jails and they are not the place for a pregnant woman. A pregnant woman might be difficult. I have been pregnant twice and I can guarantee that I had some difficult days—some people might argue that I am still having them. When women suffer in this way—and trans men who are having babies—there are lifelong repercussions, I hope for the Government as well as for the women and their babies.
The Howard League for Penal Reform has highlighted the fact that pregnant women in prison are routinely denied access to suitable maternity care and that babies have died as a result. Many women and transmen in prison have very complex needs physically and sometimes mentally. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, explained, they often have a history of abuse, neglect, addiction and poverty. The Government are not helping. They are not recognising those problems and do not understand their role; while prison is a punishment, rehabilitation has to take place afterwards.
Women in prison should receive at a minimum the same standard of maternity services as women outside. Of course, they often have additional challenges and are in need of specialist midwifery care, which should be supplied. When we punish these women in prison, we also punish their babies, and that cannot be right. Getting this right will change the lives of prisoners and families, and have an impact for generations. Like the previous amendment, this is something the Government have to pick up.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment and I warmly commend the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Jones. Reading the report of the shocking death of Baby A is salutary indeed. It took me back to the debate we had earlier in Committee, looking at the special needs of women in prison and the effect of custody on those women and their children.
I refer back to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, when he referred to the briefing from the charity Women in Prison. This related how more than 53,000 children each year were affected by their primary carers being sent to prison and that 95% of children whose mothers are in prison were forced to leave home. One sentence encapsulated it for him:
“‘We’ve been sentenced’, says a mother, ‘but they’ve been sentenced with us.’”.—[Official Report, 1/11/21; col. 1036.]
The point was also at the heart of the contribution made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. She said that parental imprisonment was, for the children concerned, a well-recognised predictor of mental ill-health, poor educational achievement and employment prospects, and future criminality. It sets a context for discussing the particular circumstances of Baby A and pregnant women prisoners.
Of course, there are many lessons to be learned in respect of both HMP Bronzefield and the prison system as a whole. The report of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman made a number of very important recommendations. In particular, there was a recommendation of principle that, as the noble Baroness referred to, all pregnancies in prison should be treated as high-risk by virtue of the fact that a woman is locked behind a door for a significant amount of time and there is likely to be a high percentage of avoidant mothers who have experienced trauma and are fearful of engaging with maternity care.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, listed some of the key recommendations. I just want to focus on what I would call “system recommendations”. A specific recommendation was made to the director of health and justice for NHS England to consider the findings and recommendations of the report and ensure that the learning is applied across the women’s estate. It went on to say that this should include recognition that a clinic-based community model of midwifery care was not appropriate for custodial settings, and that all pregnancies in prison were high-risk. What response has been received from NHS England and what co-operation is being given by NHS England to the Prison Service to take forward that recommendation?
I, like the noble Baronesses, welcome the new policy framework for prisons on pregnancy, mother and baby units and maternal separation as a significant step forward, but I am sure we need to do more. I was struck by the comments of Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who said:
“The next step is to ensure that these policy commitments are translated into practice on the ground across all women’s prisons, and that all staff in women’s prisons receive the right training to provide women with the information and support they need. Alongside strong links to the local midwifery team, we feel strongly that all maternity services located near to a women’s prison should have a designated obstetrician with responsibility for ensuring high quality care for women in prison.”
I very much agree with that. I, too, would welcome some reassurance from the Minister that his department is taking these recommendations seriously. I particularly urge on him the need for the closest co-operation between his department and NHS England. At the end of the day, the lessons learned from this tragic case must be applied to the prison system as a whole.
My Lords, I support this amendment, and very much hope that the Government will either accept it or explain what they are doing in response to the report of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman on the case of Miss A and her baby. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has explained the facts; it is worth looking at them in a little more detail.
Miss A, as she is called in the report, was remanded in custody on 14 August; she was pregnant. It does not say in the report whether the court knew that she was pregnant, but that is not what this amendment deals with. On 19 August, she was seen by a safeguarding midwife, who said that her estimated delivery date was between 24 September and 14 October. On 26 September, she was put on extended observation, which means she would be seen by a nurse in the morning, at lunchtime, in the evening and twice overnight. On that very day, 26 September, she went into labour. At 8.07 pm, 8.32 pm and 8.45 pm, she called for help and, in particular, called for a nurse. All three calls for help were ignored. At 9.27 pm and 4.19 am that night, she was inspected—I assume through a cell hatch—for a regular roll call, and nothing untoward was spotted. At 8.21 am the next morning, other prisoners reported that there was blood in her cell, and at 9.03 am an officer identified that she had given birth overnight and that the baby had died.
It is an absolutely terrible story, as the ombudsman describes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, the ombudsman made specific recommendations, which are reflected in proposed new subsections (1) and (2) of her Amendment 209. It says that the Secretary of State must provide “appropriate midwifery care” within the female prison estate, and then defines “appropriate midwifery care” as meaning
“midwifery care that is appropriate to a custodial setting … maternity services that are suitably resourced to provide … an appropriately qualified midwifery lead in each prison to oversee all aspects of perinatal care … a maternity pathway for prisoners that includes a process for women who decline to engage with services”—
as Miss A may have done—
“access for prisoners to psychological and psychiatric services … training for staff in trauma-informed care … training for staff in neonatal and child resuscitation procedures; and … appropriate emergency equipment for children and neonates.”
A lot of those go beyond what would have made a difference in this particular case, but if those recommendations of the ombudsman had been given effect to, the tragedy almost certainly would not have occurred. This gives the Government the opportunity to respond in this House to those recommendations, all of which seem sensible and will not impose a substantial financial burden on the prison estate, because there are not that many women’s prisons. If the Government are not willing to accept these proposals, what are they going to do about the problem? Can they give a reason why a duty such as this on the Secretary of State should not be expressed in the legislation?
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for tabling this amendment. As the explanatory statement makes clear, the amendment builds on the recommendations of the recent independent investigatory report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman into the death of Baby A—as we are calling the baby—at HMP Bronzefield.
I shall start by repeating what my honourable friend Victoria Atkins MP said when giving oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into women in prison on 3 November. I quote her because I want to associate myself with this, word for word. We are
“very grateful to the ombudsman for her report. The facts as they unfolded in that report were truly shocking. And the fear that that young woman must have felt and the loss she is dealing with even today, we do not, we cannot contemplate anything of that nature ever again within the prison estate.”
My deepest condolences remain with those affected.
The death of Baby A was a tragic and harrowing event and has rightly been the subject of several investigations and inquiries, including that by the PPO, to try to ensure that all the necessary lessons have been learned to avoid a repetition in future. The Committee may be interested to know that there is a Question on this incident on, I think, Wednesday, which will be another opportunity for the House to look at this terrible event, and I believe I am going to be responding to it.
While I point out that we are not talking about sentencing here, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, was right to say so, it is right to say that when it comes to sentencing, pregnancy is certainly a mitigating factor that is specifically taken into account in the sentencing guidelines. I should also say that it is exceptionally rare now for a woman to give birth in prison. The most recent figures, from July 2020 to March 2021, show that 28 births—90% of the total number of births—took place in hospital and none took place in prison. I understand that in the case of the missing 10%, the baby came out a bit quicker than anticipated and the birth might have taken place in the ambulance, but none took place in prison.
In response to the terrible disaster of what happened to Baby A, the previous Lord Chancellor, the right honourable Robert Buckland MP, commissioned the independent external investigation by the PPO. We have since accepted and acted upon all its recommendations for the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service. We immediately put in place practical steps across the women’s estate, including providing all women with free phone access to local NHS pregnancy advice services and additional welfare observations for pregnant women in their third trimester. At that time we were already undertaking a fundamental review of national policy on pregnancy, mother and baby units and maternal separation in women’s prisons.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, recognised and said she welcomed, that work led to a new policy framework, published on 20 September, which develops those immediate actions into national requirements for all women’s prisons, delivering on a wide range of reforms. The new framework has an extended policy remit covering requirements on perinatal care and maternal separation, in addition to mother and baby units. I hope that what I have said so far—although I will say something more—reassures the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that we are serious about our response to this matter. We are determined to take all necessary action to avoid a similar tragic event in the future.
I shall turn to the detail of the amendment and explain why, in the light of the current legislative framework, we are not persuaded that what is proposed is necessary. Currently, NHS England is responsible for commissioning almost all forms of healthcare for prisoners within both the public and private estate in England under Section 3B of the National Health Service Act 2006 as amended by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. That statutory obligation has to be read together with Rule 20(1) of the Prison Rules 1999, which states:
“The governor must work in partnership with local health care providers to secure the provision to prisoners of access to the same quality and range of services as the general public receives from the National Health Service.”
The requirement to commission healthcare services and to secure and ensure prisoners’ access to them therefore already applies to the provision of maternity services in the women’s prison estate, so we do not consider that there is any need to add a further separate obligation in statute as proposed by the amendment. What is important is that we ensure that it actually happens. I certainly do not mean to be flippant, but repeating something in statute is not the way to ensure that it happens. We are focused on ensuring that it happens. We already have the statutory obligation.
In fairness to the PPO, I should note that it did not recommend any change to the statutory framework. Rather, it said at paragraph 14:
“Overall, the healthcare offered to Ms A in Bronzefield was not equivalent to that she could have expected in the community.”
It is that provision that we are focused on—ensuring that expectant mothers in prison get the same care as they would have received in the community. The Government’s position is that we would rather focus on that than duplicate statutory provision.
What is required is that women in prison have access to the same maternity services as they could expect in the community. My suggestion is that once that is set out, that is a sufficient legislative obligation and the Government need to ensure that it actually happens.
I hope that nothing I have said detracts from what I said right at the start, which is that we are appalled by what happened to Baby A. It must never happen again, and we are going to do all we can to ensure that it does not. However, for the reasons I have set out, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I would like to ask him about the relationship between his department and NHS England. What express work is now being undertaken to ensure that the NHS discharges the statutory responsibility that he has just referred to?
I know that when it comes to the prison estate, there is a very close relationship between my department, the Prison Service and NHS England. Rather than read something off a screen, may I write to the noble Lord and set out a paragraph or two to assist him on that? I am happy to discuss that further with him—or it might be appropriate for the Minister in the department with particular responsibility for prisons to do so. Anyway, I will write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the learned contributions that have followed my words today, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I have taken heart, to a degree, from what the Minister has said. I accept what he says about the difference between statute and practice. We cannot just enact laws and expect everyone to suddenly do as they are told—it does not work like that—so I think the intention is extremely important.
I shall take this away and consult the bodies that have advised me—particularly Women in Prison, to which I am very grateful. For the time being, I respectfully request to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 209 withdrawn.
210: After Clause 124, insert the following new Clause—
“Determination of sentence and predicted day of release
After section 60 of the Sentencing Code insert—“60A Determination of sentence and predicted day of releaseWhere a court is deciding the length of a custodial sentence to impose on an offender for an offence, having taking into consideration all other factors, the court must not set a length of sentence that is likely to result in the offender being released on a public holiday, Friday, Saturday or a Sunday except in exceptional circumstances.””
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment 211 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. Both these amendments seek to deal with the same mischief: the release of prisoners on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or bank holiday. I do not think either is perfectly drafted—for instance, mine would not prevent release on the day before a bank holiday.
I am lucky enough to have been able to spend quite a bit of time at Brixton prison, looking at how a well-run prison works. When I was looking at the release process, I saw that the last prisoner released had been released to no fixed abode—NFA—which I was told was not unusual. This generally means that the probation officer tells the prisoner where he will sleep that night. I was not surprised to see this because I was already aware of the NFA problem, and these amendments do not seek to deal with it.
The relevant problem is that, if a prisoner is released on a Friday or other unpropitious day, he or she is far less likely to be able to properly access the necessary welfare services. I am sure that other noble Lords much more experienced in these matters will explain to the Committee the avoidable disadvantages that the released prisoner will experience. I expect that the Committee will hear that the lack of support at a crucial time could result in reoffending, even before the weekend is over. That cannot be sensible.
My understanding is that there are operational advantages for the Prison Service if prisoners are generally released on a Monday or Tuesday. I can accept that there may be an issue with the desire of judges to announce a sentence of X months, rather than X months and 23 days. For longer sentences, the approach of my noble friend Lord Hodgson may be superior in this respect but, for very short sentences—of a few weeks, say—my approach might be better. These amendments propose a minor tweak that could reduce avoidable reoffending, and I hope that they find favour with the Minister and the Committee.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Attlee has just said, I have tabled Amendment 211 in this group, and I have been very grateful for the cross-party support that I have had from the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Bakewell. I am further indebted, as I suspect other noble Lords who take an interest in this important subject are, to the work undertaken on it by Nacro. My noble friend has persuasively talked about this issue in moving Amendment 210. I will not repeat his analysis, but I make it clear that I support it, and it seems to me to be very sensible. But I want to add a bit of gloss of my own and step back from the detail, at least initially. Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, we can surely all agree that the rate of reoffending by prisoners on release is a reproach to us all. Further, in a well-ordered society, we should be making every effort to reduce it. This is one of the things behind the amendments that he and I have tabled.
Why is this? First, there are some hard economic numbers: the costs of our Prison Service and the ancillary services to back it up are stupendous. But there are other, more hidden but very severe social costs that are difficult to measure but nevertheless have a huge impact on our society over the long term: on the prisoner’s family, partner and children, who grow up in very disadvantaged circumstances, with greatly reduced life chances. As the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out, there are other hidden costs. The people who have suffered from crime are traumatised by it. Elderly people whose houses have been broken into find it hard to leave their homes and go out. There is a very severe pressure on the fabric of our society, and it leads to neighbourhoods in which suspicions and concerns run rife.
While of course I understand and regret the economic and social costs, the basic issue for me is the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester: it is about common humanity and behaving decently to our fellow citizens, to offer them the best chance of getting back on their feet. At no time is common humanity more needed than at that most vulnerable time when the prisoner is first released.
With that, I turn to my amendment. It does not take a Nobel prize winner to work out that Friday is not the ideal day for release from prison. A long weekend stretches ahead—longer still if followed by a bank holiday—during which the support systems of the state and the voluntary sector are either entirely or largely shut down, as my noble friend pointed out.
In preparing for this debate, I spoke to one of the groups that has briefed us and said, “Can you get someone to talk about this?” I thought that we would get to this amendment last Wednesday, so this is from a prisoner, Michael—that is not his real name—who was released a week ago last Friday: “I was released from prison last Friday, homeless, and everyone knew for months that I would have nowhere to go when I was released. But there I was, late afternoon on the Friday that I was released, still without anywhere to go. The housing people at the council had gone home for the weekend, and I had already been told that there was no chance for a council property. So I was waiting and waiting for news of some emergency accommodation, even just for a couple of days over the weekend. No wonder people reoffend”. Michael’s resettlement worker said, “The holding cell on a Friday is rammed, as such a high proportion of people in prison are released on a Friday. The pressure on the prisons and the resettlement service is incredible. It can lead to people being released late in the day, and, on the Friday, it becomes a race against the clock before services close for the weekend. The barriers to effective resettlement are just too high”.
My amendment, like my noble friend Lord Attlee’s, seeks to spread the days on which prisoners are released and remove the default option of the release day being predominantly a Friday. As he said, his amendment proposes that the courts should decide the specific release date. My Amendment 211 suggests that the governor of the relevant prison should be given the discretion of selecting the five-day window for the release date for a particular prisoner.
I say to my noble friend that the courts are too distant, and Amendment 210 runs the risk of a slightly clunky and administratively burdensome procedure. By contrast, the governor is the person on the spot, with day-to-day responsibility. He or she is therefore able best to take the decision that reflects the particular circumstances of each case and each individual prisoner. I recognise that, in parallel with this new flexibility, there will obviously be a need to make sure that the governors do not slide back to the old default option—the Friday—and some records need to be kept.
That having been said, what unites my noble friend and me is far greater than what divides us. As he said, he and I are concerned about introducing a policy change at very little cost, and possibly no cost, as a way—perhaps only a modest one—of reducing the likelihood of prisoners reoffending. I very much look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s reply.
I support Amendment 211, to which I have added my name. The case has been made very powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I am also supportive of the aims of Amendment 210, although that goes further by leaving less room for discretion—that may be a good thing, given the Scottish experience, which I will mention later—and I suspect would find even less favour with the Government.
I am struck by the strength of the case for change, from both the short-term perspective of the prisoner being released and the longer-term perspective of the likely impact on reoffending that we have heard about. Just last week, the Justice Secretary emphasised the importance of employment in reducing reoffending, and these amendments would help to support the initiatives to which he referred.
I ask the Minister to put himself in the shoes of a prisoner about to be released. Even the most organised of us would quail at the number of essential things they have to sort out: accommodation, health services, benefits and employment support. As an aside—although I know that the Minister will not be able to answer this question, I would be grateful if he could write to me—why does the law not permit prisoners to initiate their claim for universal credit before the actual release? Having a first UC payment available on the day of release would at least remove one obstacle, helping to create a much more effective resettlement process and, potentially, cut the rate of reoffending.
Returning to the matter at hand, I can only begin to imagine the mixture of relief and anxiety that prisoners must feel on release. To face this on a Friday, when many key services will be closing for the weekend, must be experienced as a set of totally unnecessary hurdles to be negotiated. Is it surprising that, according to Nacro, whose briefing I am grateful for, the inability to surmount those hurdles can lead to reoffending and/or turning to the more accessible comforts of drugs or drink. In the words of one prison-leaver, “If you’re released on a Friday and there are issues then they are not likely to be resolved until the following Monday, leaving the weekend to panic/stew/worry which could easily lead to reoffending.” I would panic/stew/worry if I were in that situation, I really would.
It seemed to me that this was a no-brainer, and thus it was with some surprise and disappointment that I read the negative response from the Minister in Committee in the Commons to the same amendment as Amendment 211. It felt as though he was clutching at straws in his rejection of the case made, and contradictory straws at that. On the one hand, he suggested that the change proposed would create pressure on the other days of the week, ignoring the fact that this amendment is purely discretionary and that, apparently, a third of releases currently take place on Fridays. Surely, if it were acted upon, the amendment would help to even out releases over the course of the week.
On the other hand, much was made of the fact that, in Scotland, prison governors have rarely used this discretionary power, which they have. Can the Minister tell us whether we have any information as to why that is the case? It would be helpful to know so that appropriate steps can be taken. Whatever the reason, however, it is surely not a good cause for refusing to follow suit in England and Wales. Even if it helps only a few prisoners on release, surely helping even a small number is better than helping none at all. It would be good if the impact of the change could be monitored so that, if it is shown to have a beneficial effect, it might encourage governors to use the power more.
In the Commons, the Minister acknowledged that there are challenges in making sure that offenders leaving prison are given access to the services they need so that they can get their lives back on track, but he then said that the Government
“would prefer to focus our efforts on making sure that those services are available on Friday.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/21; col. 706.]
He then spoke rather vaguely about investment in reducing crime and tackling the drivers of reoffending as well as pilot programmes in five probation areas. But what exactly are the Government doing to ensure that services are available on a Friday, and functioning in a way that ensures that an ex-prisoner’s needs are sorted out before the weekend? Why do Ministers think they know better than probation officers and others on the front line who have supported Nacro on this?
I do not understand why the Government are so averse to this very modest change. I had hoped that this was an amendment they might accept in some form and that, while the wording may not be quite right, the essence of the amendments put together would be acceptable. I still hope that the Minister might be more open-minded to it than was his counterpart in the Commons.
My Lords, both these amendments are really sensible. I very much hope that the proposers can work together before Report so that we have something quite powerful that we can all back and take forward. I realise that it is not easy for Ministers in your Lordships’ House. They hear all the expertise and sensible arguments, yet they have to go back to their Ministry and try to convey these arguments at the same time as being totally crushed and told, “Go back and just defend the status quo.” Still, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, could be quite tough with the Ministry about this and I very much hope that he will be.
When you hear about what happens to prisoners—a third being released on a Friday when, of course, housing benefits, healthcare, banking and all essential services are basically closed—you cannot believe that anybody would do it. It just does not make sense for those people who are being released. They have paid their debt to society; now we have to support them to make sure that they do not go back inside where they cost society a huge amount of money and contribute very little.
The other issue, of course, is that many people in prisons are miles from home and cannot easily travel home on a Friday; they may not have the money, the trains may not be running over the weekend, and so on. It seems that the Government and prisons are punishing ex-prisoners more and more. Can the Minister tell us why Friday is so popular a day to be mean to released prisoners? Why not give them the best start to reintegration?
My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 210 and 211, and congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on their introductions.
I am at one with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on this issue. When he was Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart once attended a conference on the issue, organised by Nacro, which as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said, has led on this for a long time. Some brave prison governors risk censure by using release on temporary licence to avoid release on Fridays. I have never understood why the Department for Work and Pensions does not make staff from jobcentres go into prisons to work out a prisoner’s entitlement to benefits, including universal credit, so that they do not leave prison with a discharge grant, but with the first payment of whatever benefit they are entitled to. In that way, they can pick up the next benefit the next week rather than having to wait six weeks following release before they can apply.
In many ways, the Government are setting people up to fail by, first, releasing prisoners on Fridays and, secondly, insisting on a six-week delay; I defy anyone to exist all that time even on an increased discharge grant.
My Lords, I am sure that the fabulous quintet of noble Lords led by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, and so on, will be delighted by that endorsement from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, as there has never been a clearer or braver voice for penal reform in my adult lifetime.
I briefly add my own three cheers for these two amendments and for everything that goes with them. They have highlighted the piteous state of provision for prisoners from the moment of their release, quite often into destitution, and a total deficit of support. I hope that that will be taken on board, as well as the precise amendment, by the Minister in his reply. Notwithstanding comments made during the last group that law is not everything and practice is important, sometimes law is very important in itself, particularly release dates because they have to be enshrined in law. So, while there is no doubt that other provision, referred to by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and others, needs to be made, this matter requires urgent legislative attention. I think I agree with the noble Earl that, on reflection, something more like Amendment 211 is probably better.
To deal with the concern of my noble friend Lady Lister about Scotland would not take much, would it? Off the top of my head—forgive me, parliamentary counsel will do better—the “may” in Amendment 211 becomes “must” and the words
“at the discretion of the governor of the prison”
are moved to the gap between “on a day” and
“within the previous five working days”.
In other words, the discretionary part is which day within the previous five days. However, there is no discretion; there is a mandatory requirement that the prisoner must not be discharged on a Friday or a weekend. Something of that kind would be delivered very easily—and it really must be delivered. I hope that there will be none of the antics that we heard described in the other place to justify the totally illogical, impractical and unjustifiable status quo.
My Lords, I rise to speak on behalf of my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, who is unfortunately unwell and unable to be in her place. She wanted to speak to Amendment 211 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord Bird, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, to which she added her name. She would have spoken about her personal experience, so I shall just read the words that she had hoped to say had she been here.
The routine releasing of prisoners on a Friday, especially before a bank holiday, can cause both services and the prisoners themselves significant problems. Finding accommodation on a Friday afternoon can be extremely difficult. Those who have managed to get clean of substance abuse while in prison find themselves desperate and start using, begin criminal activity again or, in some cases, both. For 10 years, my noble friend was a councillor on South Somerset District Council where there were marvellous officers who worked tirelessly to try to ensure that no one was left with nowhere to stay. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made a powerful case for the amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, similarly made the case for not releasing prisoners on Fridays or bank holidays. This is a matter that my noble friend feels very strongly about, so I will share two cases sent to her by the officers of South Somerset.
First, prisoner A was released on a Friday from Guys Marsh prison near Shaftesbury. He was given a rail warrant and got on a train to Yeovil. He contacted his family, realised he did not have accommodation to return to and went to see his offender manager at the probation office, who contacted the housing team. By this time, it was 3 pm and they had very little options available for him at that time of day. It was too late for them to find suitable accommodation and although they managed to get him into a hostel in Yeovil, that was not the best place for him, He had left prison clean of drugs and had to stay in a hostel with very easy access to illegal substances. Unfortunately, he used again, the accommodation broke down, he reoffended and was recalled to prison.
Case two was prisoner B, who was released from prison in Bristol on a Friday and got a train back to Yeovil. He then got a bus to Chard, some 17 miles away, to collect his possessions from his old tenancy. He then returned to Yeovil, by which time the offices had closed. He spent the weekend rough sleeping before he could contact the district council again. South Somerset District Council is fortunate to have secured funding to employ a prison release worker who tries to contact prisoners before they are released so they can plan ahead and help them. However, when people are on short sentences, the prisons rarely have time to work with the prisoners, so they get released without the council being informed. My noble friend Lord German has tabled amendments on those serving short sentences.
Other prisoners think they are okay and have homes to return to. These often do not materialise and by the time they realise they are homeless, it is 5 pm on a Friday. Sadly, one of the people in these case studies died over the weekend of 16 and 17 October aged only 45. He was quite a prolific offender and spent a lot of his time in prison. He had been in care from the age of two and did not have the best start in life. The council tried to help him on a number of occasions and sometimes succeeded, but not always. These are just some examples of what happens when prisoners are released on Fridays. This could be avoided by flexibility being used both in the courts and in the prisons. I hope the Minister will agree that this is a very sensible, non-controversial amendment which could prevent reoffending for the want of a roof over the heads of prisoners who have finished their sentences. I fully support Amendment 211 and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I will add a few words to give some examples of how this actually affects real people. The third sector, the charities in our society, have been very good at helping and supporting people. Given that we now know that a third of prisoners are released on a Friday, one would think that the charity on hand to meet them at the gate and help them through a very difficult period on a Friday would be helped by the prison authorities explaining when the prisoner was going to be released. After all, if you are sitting in a car, possibly round the corner from the prison, waiting for the gate to open and the prisoner to come out, you need to know that you are not going to be waiting there from 8 am or 10 am until 5 pm or 6 pm. Yet, in fact, that is the story I have heard from one charity that helps people in this matter.
The second example was very concerning. A food bank based in Hereford told me that these prisoners—the third who are released without anywhere to live—were given tents and sleeping bags, directed to a farmer’s field and given the address of the food bank. That is the sort of emergency you then place these people in. These are people who have done their sentence but who face no fixed abode, nowhere to live and certainly no money.
The third thing that worries me is how people get their benefit if you now require a bank account. As I understand it—perhaps the Minister will correct me—setting up a bank account while you are in prison is not a possibility; in other words, even if you were to get your benefit paid at the time you left, you would have to have a bank account to pay it into and to provide the necessary ID as well, all of which of course becomes less popular and less possible on a Friday.
These amendments do not seem to be rocket science. They are actually very practical and since that group of one-third of prisoners who are let out on a Friday are the group most likely to reoffend if they cannot find anywhere, there is a societal impact. We all can benefit by giving these people the right helping hand in their very first window of opportunity in real community life.
My Lords, I was not intending to speak to these amendments but, having been involved in prisoner resettlement in the past, I feel it is important to say that Friday release has a particular impact on younger women prisoners if their only option is a bail hostel. Women, as we know, are much more likely to find their family life disrupted than men during the often short sentences that they suffer. The noble Lord mentioned somebody being in a car round the corner. That very patient person who was managing that young woman as a sex worker before she went into prison will spend the whole day waiting to snatch her away and take her back to the life she was in before. When the alternative options are so dreadful for such young women, it is not surprising that there are the statistics on them falling back into the kind of oppression they knew before. Our whole approach to resettlement would be advanced hugely by these amendments being accepted by the Government.
An incredibly powerful case has been made. We support it and I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, my noble friend Lady Lister and, in her absence, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for tabling these amendments. I completely adopt what my noble friend Lady Lister said about the total inadequacy of the reasons given in the Commons for not supporting this. The first was that it would mean there would be bunching of releases on other days, but if a third are on Friday already that seems a completely hopeless point. Secondly and separately, it was said that it is not used very much in Scotland; if it is not used very much, then the Government would not have much to worry about. Why not do it?
My Lords, I am grateful for the various speeches which have been given on these amendments, which, as we have heard, seek in different ways to avoid the release of prisoners on a Friday. Obviously, I understand the distinction between the two, although it is fair to say that they are both aimed at substantially the same point.
The current position is this. Section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 provides that prisoners whose release dates fall on a weekend or bank holiday should be released on the working day which immediately precedes that weekend or bank holiday. In most cases, that is a Friday, which is why, to make the obvious point, we have “bunching” on Fridays. If one would expect release dates generally to fall over the week, given the law of large numbers, you have Saturday and Sunday pushed back to Friday, plus the occasional bank holiday. We are very aware of and alive to the challenges that this can create in accessing support and services in the community. We are taking steps to mitigate those difficulties; I will turn to those in a moment.
First, however, the amendments seek to reduce releases on a Friday or non-working weekday by either preventing the court setting a sentence length that is likely to lead to release on those days, or by providing greater flexibility for prison governors to avoid Friday releases by giving the discretion to release earlier in the week. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said about the responses given in the other place: that the Minister there was clutching at straws. I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has set me the challenge to be better than “completely hopeless”. That is a bar I hope to surmount.
I assure the Committee that I am open-minded and have listened very carefully to the debate. While I am sympathetic to the need to tackle this issue, I do not agree that it is necessary to legislate in the way proposed by the amendments, and I will explain why. To do so would either undermine existing sentencing principles by preventing the court passing a sentence which is likely to result in release on a Friday, or it would allow prisoners to be released even earlier from their sentence. Legislation provides that prisoners are released on the working day closest to their statutory release date and we do not believe it is necessary to go further than that.
I will deal with sentencing first. It is not realistic or achievable to require a sentencing court to try to work out on which day of the week an offender would fall to be released and adjust the sentence accordingly to avoid that being a Friday, weekend or bank holiday. I would have thought that that is self-evident. It is obvious because a prisoner’s release date is something of a complex calculation. It is carried out by prison staff and depends on a number of different factors that a sentencing court would not necessarily be able to take into account. These could include: any other concurrent or consecutive sentences the offender might already be serving; the correct amount of remand time to apply on all relevant sentences being served; and any added days imposed for bad behaviour while serving the sentence.
I am trying to deal with the amendments in what I hope is a logical way. At the moment, I am dealing with the amendment which provides that the sentencing court should have regard to the day of release. I am trying to explain—cogently, I hope, and with great respect—why that is not a sensible or workable proposition.
I have dealt with longer sentences; let me now deal with shorter sentences. It might be said that with a shorter sentence the court could identify the release date. I accept that it would be easier for the court to identify the day of the week on which the release would fall if the sentence is very short—let us say two, three or four weeks—and if no other sentences are involved, but the problem there is that if you bring that release date even earlier, percentage wise, that is a significant additional reduction from the sentence. I therefore suggest that these amendments are not the answer—
I am coming to the point about discretion in Scotland. I will respond to that in a moment, if I may. First, I wanted to identify how we think we can best deal with the problems which bunching can give rise to. I absolutely agree that reducing further crime by those who have been released is critical. We have to cut reoffending and we know that a lack of suitable accommodation or sustainable employment, as well as substance misuse, can lead offenders to return to crime. Therefore, we need to ensure that people leaving prison on all days of the week, Fridays included, have access to services.
I will briefly identify four important things in this regard. In January this year, we announced a £50 million investment to reduce crime and tackle key drivers of reoffending. In July, we launched temporary accommodation for prison leavers at risk of homelessness in five probation regions, because we know that having access to transitional accommodation is very important. We have invested a further £20 million in the Prison Leavers Project, which tests new ways to reduce reoffending by addressing the challenges people face when they leave prison.
I am of course impressed by the list of initiatives being taken by the Government and the roll call of money being spent, but it has not answered the question. We are not asking to spend money; all we are asking for is an administrative change. It may be an administrative change whereby the flexibility has to reflect the length of the sentence. We surely cannot be in a position where we cannot give prison governors a day or two of flexibility to enable them to set up a system of the sort that has been described all around the House. It must be possible.
I am not suggesting it is not possible; I am asking whether it is the best way to deal with the problem. I hear “of course it is”, but I suggest that it is not. Take the example of Scotland, where they have a discretionary power. That is a model of discretion regarding early release, under the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Act 2015. Scottish Ministers have the discretion to bring forward the release dates of people in custody by no more than two days for the purposes of benefiting a prisoner’s reintegration into the community.
A freedom of information application was made on 30 March this year to the Scottish Prison Service which showed that only 20 prisoners have been granted discretionary early release under that Act in the five years since its implementation. We are not aware of any problems with implementation. I will ask officials in my department to consult with our colleagues in the Scottish Government to explore that issue further. If I am provided with any useful relevant information as a result, I will write to the noble Baroness to provide further information on that discretionary policy. We think that the best way to deal with this matter is to put money and services in place to ensure that prisoners, whatever day they are released on, have access to the services they need.
I heard the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about universal credit. She very fairly gave me the opportunity to reply in writing, because that matter is substantially outside my department. I also heard what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said about that issue; I will therefore respond in writing. At the same time, I will try to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord German, on bank account opening, in so far as it is relevant to the universal credit point.
We are certainly not setting people up to fail; we sincerely want them to succeed and not reoffend.
The Minister has made a slightly better fist of it than the Government did in the Commons, but in a sense he is clutching at the same straws—his presentation is just a bit more articulate than they were in the Commons. Does he not accept that it is better, even if it is just a few people, to help a few rather than none? Is he going to be able to say how he is going to keep services open over the weekend, because that is the issue? We have heard terrible examples of people being put in fields and turning to drugs and so on because the services are simply not there. This wonderful list of all these things the Government are putting money into is great, but I have not heard anything that would explain how the Government will ensure that services are there on a Friday evening, Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays.
I am afraid the Minister has not convinced me and, given the shaking of the head behind him, I do not think he has convinced the mover of the amendment, so I really ask him to look again at this. Although, unlike the first group of amendments, we may not have taken two hours on this group, there is absolute unanimity throughout the House that we can do something practical and it will not cost money. I am sorry, I am making a speech, which I should not be.
I do not want to repeat what I have said. My focus is on ensuring that people have access to services on whatever day they are released, whether it is a Tuesday, a Friday or any other day. It is certainly not the case that, if we just moved people’s release day from a Friday to a Tuesday or a Monday, all our problems would go away. We must have those services in place, and that is what I want to focus on. I have said that I will look in more detail at the Scottish discretionary system, if I can call it that, and I will write to the noble Baroness. I do not want to repeat what I have already said, but I hope that I have addressed the substance of her point. I suspect that the noble Lords who spoke to the amendment have indirectly told me the answer before I sit down, but I none the less invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I confess that I am little disappointed by my noble friend’s reply. I hope that he feels able to have a meeting with me to discuss this in a bit more detail.
I am neutral on the solution. I tabled my Amendment 210 before my noble friend’s amendment was tabled, which is why mine came up first. The Minister identified a fatal flaw in my amendment, which is that a prisoner could acquire extra days to be served, so it is impossible for judges to determine the day of release for that reason alone.
My noble friend referred to Scotland. The fact that Scotland does not use its power correctly is not a reason why we should not take that power. I am aware of the universal credit problems. That is a complex issue for experts such as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, not me. The Minister suggested why prisoners often have to be released on a Friday. Surely it is because, when the courts consider a case, they tend to sentence later in the week.
I was keeping my fingers crossed for this amendment but I have been a bit disappointed. However, my noble friend cannot deny that the problem exists. I suspect—indeed, I am sure—that he and I will return to this issue with a perfectly drafted amendment at a later stage, and with even more vigour. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 210 withdrawn.
Amendment 211 not moved.
212: After Clause 124, insert the following new Clause—
“Short custodial sentences
(1) The Sentencing Code is amended as follows.(2) In section 230 (threshold for imposing discretionary custodial sentence), after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) If the court finds that the offence is so serious that neither a fine alone or a community sentence can be justified for the offence, it must state its reasons for being satisfied that the offence is so serious (having regard to the considerations in subsection (2B)), and, in particular, why a community order with appropriate requirements could not be justified. (2B) In this determination, the court must take account of the following principles—(a) passing the custody threshold does not mean that a custodial sentence should be deemed inevitable; (b) custody should not be imposed where a community order could provide sufficient restriction on an offender’s liberty (by way of punishment) while addressing the rehabilitation of the offender to prevent future crime; (c) sentences should not necessarily escalate from one community order range to the next at each sentencing occasion;(d) the decision as to the appropriate range of community order should be based upon the seriousness of the new offence(s);(e) section 65 (a relevant previous conviction to be treated as an aggravating factor) should not be interpreted so as to meet the custody threshold in respect of the sentence for one or more offences that would not themselves justify custody; and(f) where the offender being sentenced is a primary carer for a child, imprisonment should not be imposed where there would be an impact on dependants which would make a custodial sentence disproportionate to achieving the aims of sentencing.”(3) After section 230, insert—“230A Impact of custodial sentence on child or unborn child(1) This section applies where a court is considering imposing a custodial sentence on—(a) a primary carer for a child, or(b) a pregnant woman.(2) The sentencing court must—(a) consider the impact of a custodial sentence on the child or unborn child, and(b) presume (subject to victim impact and any other sentencing considerations) that a non-custodial sentence is in the best interests of the child or unborn child.(3) In this section—(a) “child” means a person under the age of 18, and(b) “primary carer” means a person who has primary or substantial care responsibilities for a child.””
My Lords, the purpose of Amendment 212 is to encourage sentencers to used community-based sentences rather than short prison sentences. It proposes strengthening the custody threshold as a principled starting point for reducing the current use of custody for lower-level sentences.
I favour this amendment over the potentially bolder Amendment 213 in the name of my noble friends, which seeks a presumption against a ban on short prison sentences. The danger of Amendment 213 is that if it restricts access to short prison sentences, in the current climate it could result in up-tariffing, which would not be a desirable result for the length of prison sentences.
As the law is currently drafted, imprisonment is reserved for serious offences. It is already established in statutory terms that an imprisonable sentence should be given only if there is no alternative. However, despite that, in practice people routinely continue to be imprisoned for low-level lawbreaking, fuelling an expensive merry-go-round of multiple short prison sentences.
The amendment proposed builds on principles already accepted in the sentencing guidelines. It enshrines these into legislation to better clarify the current statutory custodial threshold. Specifically, it intends to better ensure that custodial sentences are appropriately reserved for serious offences by better clarifying the assessments that are required to be made. The impact of imprisonment on dependent children should be considered in the sentencing of primary carers. This would limit the relevance of previous convictions in determining custodial sentences.
Persistence is a key driver of the current use of short-term custody and needs to be tackled head on. This amendment emphasises that short periods in custody should not be seen as an inevitable response to a person with a history of relatively minor offending.
The intention of this amendment is to shape the approach of judges and magistrates when considering a custodial sentence in a substantial proportion of cases which currently result in short prison sentences. However, it is important to emphasise that nothing in the proposed provisions would prevent a court from imposing custodial sentences of any length, including short custodial sentences.
In conclusion, I sit as a magistrate in central London. I put short custodial sentences in place, the vast majority of which are for people who have previously tried community orders and have either reoffended or have breached them on multiple occasions. It is very rare for a magistrate to give a short custodial sentence to somebody who has not previously been on a community order. Nevertheless, I think there is a genuine issue here—primarily the strength of the community orders which are available to courts. When the Minister responds to this debate, perhaps he will say something about the strengths and current revamping of the probation service. When sentencing judges or magistrates make short custodial sentences, the confidence that they have in community orders is an important consideration. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 213. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby was somewhat critical of it. I agree with what he is seeking to achieve in Amendment 212. Amendment 213 goes a little further and is a little more precise. If I may say so, I think it is a better amendment.
To clarify, this is not a blanket ban on short sentences; it is a presumption against short sentences. Previous Governments have supported this idea. The evidence is that short sentences do not lessen offending. They are mainly concerned with non-violent offences. They do not provide meaningful rehabilitation. They can have a disruptive effect on family life and relationships.
The statistics are quite awesome. According to data from the Ministry of Justice, between January 2020 and March 2021, 20,000 people went to prison to serve a sentence of six months or less—44% of the prison population. This was even more so for women during the same period. Prior to the pandemic, the figures were even starker.
As I have said, the majority of people serving sentences of six months or less are in prison for non-violent offences, such a theft and drug offences. These offences are often linked to underlying issues such as poverty, addiction, homelessness and poor mental health. We know that these people really should not be in prison at all. Prison does not help them. We also know that short sentences have proven to be less effective than community sentences in reducing offending. Community sentences include interventions such as drug, alcohol and mental health treatment. They do more to address the root causes of offending.
Short sentences disrupt family life and ties; they damage housing, employment and treatment programmes. They do not provide any meaningful rehabilitation. These sentences contribute to volatility shown in prison.
Short prison sentences have a harmful effect on women in particular, hampering relationships with their families and children. Over half of women in prison report being victims of domestic violence, which often contributes to the offence that led to the prison sentence. I have had some help from a great organisation called Revolving Doors, and I have a quotation from one of its members:
“Although I was in prison for a short time I felt traumatised by the whole experience. In fact, sending me to prison was just a waste of time and money. I was released with no explanation and no support. I found myself back in the violent relationship which exacerbated my addiction which led to further arrests and trauma.”
Another argument for a presumption against short sentences is the cost. Of course, that should not be the main thing; the main thing should be protecting society, penalising people who should be penalised and helping to reduce reoffending. However, cost does come into it. The annual cost per prison place in 2020 was £44,640, compared with £4,305 for a community order. It is quite a dramatic difference.
The public, according to surveys, understand why there should be a presumption against short prison sentences. Probably, there are people who say, “Send them in and keep them in longer—six months is too short”, but the public are quite sensible and understand what is going on. I can only refer to previous Ministers, David Gauke and Rory Stewart, who both said it was necessary to introduce the presumption against short sentences. I think we can manage to do that.
The amendment of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, as I said, goes in the right direction, but it is not quite strong enough. This is such a simple measure—so simple that it is hardly worth spending time debating it. I am sure the Minister will accept it.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked: these amendments are so simple, why waste time debating them? Well, of course, the law already proceeds on the basis that these amendments propose. Section 230 of the Sentencing Code already says that the court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence was so serious that a fine or community sentence is not sufficient for the offence. Any court that passed a custodial sentence without stating the reasons for doing so would find that the sentence was overturned in the Court of Appeal. Any sentence in court that fails to consider and address the impact of a custodial sentence on a child or unborn child would not be upheld on appeal. So I entirely support these amendments, but I think we should be realistic about the current state of law.
My Lords, I do not intend to fall into a bit of disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, with whom I worked happily in the Constitution Committee, but the present state of the law has not really solved the problem, has it? Very large numbers of very short sentences are given, and the consequence is that prison places are used, costs ensue, and the least effective way of dealing with individuals seems to be the one that is chosen. If there is some way in which we can strengthen the presumption the sentencing guidelines already carry, that would be good. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is a complicated alternative way of doing it, but it does appear that something needs to be done.
The argument often used for short sentences is that courts have a problem in dealing with persistent repeat offenders and persistent repeat breaches of conditions of community sentences. There is a popular myth that if offenders do not respond to other measures, a taste of prison will soon put them right. There is absolutely no evidence to support this principle. Indeed, all the evidence points the other way.
I used to chair the Justice Committee in the House of Commons, and that has had a continuing interest in this problem. Its report in 2018 recommended that the Government introduce a presumption against short prison sentences. The Government welcomed this and said they were exploring options. In a follow-up report, the Justice Committee noted the Government’s stated intentions to move away from short custodial sentences.
In 2019 the Ministry of Justice published an analysis which included the assertion that
“sentencing offenders to short term custody with supervision on release was associated with higher proven reoffending than if they had instead received community orders and/or suspended sentence orders”.
The relevance of a suspended sentence among the range of possibilities should be remembered. When David Gauke, who has been mentioned, was Lord Chancellor, he seemed quite strongly to support this direction of policy and referred to the large reduction in prison places which could be achieved by it. Robert Buckland was more reluctant. When he was in front of the Justice Committee, he referred to his experience as a recorder, which told him that there were times when short prison sentences should be available to judges and magistrates for repeat offenders who failed to comply with community orders.
Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and I are not arguing that a court should be wholly denied the use of a prison sentence if that is a realistic alternative which will satisfactorily deal with the particular case. We are simply trying to change the general drift of policy. In Scotland the presumption exists already, and it could be strengthened in some ways in England and Wales. We have to do something—we have to do a number of things —to deal with the burgeoning prison population and stop putting into prison people whose propensity to reoffend is not being reduced by putting them in prison again. The circumstances I have referred to do not seem to justify the extensive use of short sentences that we see now.
My Lords, I speak on behalf of my right reverend colleague the Bishop of Gloucester, who is unable to be in her place. She declares an interest as Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons in England and Wales. These are her words.
“I am delighted to add my name in support of Amendment 213, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I also have great sympathy for Amendment 212, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. Both aim to remedy some of the justice system’s current overemphasis on prison sentences without sufficient regard for whether prison is an effective remedy for the offender or a guarantee to the safety and benefit of the community. By and large, short sentences have proven ineffective on both counts.
Sentences of six months or less are easily long enough to be disruptive but not nearly long enough to be effective in any rehabilitative programme. Short sentences are bad news for families, as we have discussed previously in Committee, in terms of the impact of imprisonment on primary carers and their families. Short sentences damage employment prospects, mental health and more. They are therefore disproportionately punitive, not least when the majority are for non-violent offences. They are also ineffective. Close to half of all those leaving custody go on to reoffend within a year of their release. That increases to almost two-thirds of those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody. The social and economic cost of this level of reoffending has been estimated at £18 billion per annum by the Ministry of Justice’s own analysis, while the costs to the communities and victims who suffer the effects of crime are impossible to estimate.
We know that community sentences are far more effective at reducing reoffending than short prison sentences and cost far less than a prison place. How have we reached a place in the UK in which imprisonment is so overused and seen as a solution to all criminal justice problems when the evidence and data simply do not support this? The UK has some of the highest imprisonment rates in western Europe. England and Wales have a prison population rate of 133 per 100,000 inhabitants—that is 27 per 100,000 above the median for EU member states. We are even worse against the bigger European states. For example, Germany has an imprisonment rate of just 69 per 100,000. That is roughly half our rate. Perhaps not coincidentally, Germany has operated a presumption against short sentences since 1969. Overall, our prison population has increased by over 80% in 30 years, which seems to suggest a trend across a series of Governments of trying the same thing in the hope of achieving different results.
It has been estimated by the Prison Reform Trust that two-thirds of prisoners are in prison for a non-violent offence. These offences are often theft or drug-related and linked to poverty, addiction and trauma, as we have heard, yet we seem to think it better to lock someone up rather than focus time and money on addressing the root causes. For women the rate is higher still: an astonishing 80%. Almost half are on short sentences of six months or less—the majority of all custodial sentences given to women.
As I mentioned earlier in Committee, I was fortunate enough to host an event here in Parliament, and I was delighted to welcome the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson. I hope he will not mind if I remind him of some of the testimony we heard together. Niki Gould of the Nelson Trust, in which I declare an interest as president, told us that, ‘We fundamentally know that prison exacerbates women’s issues and leads to intergenerational cycles of trauma, abuse and reoffending.’ We heard that diverting 500 women through programmes such as the Nelson Trust not only is more effective at turning their lives around but comes at the equivalent cost of sending just five women to prison, and we heard, with some incredulity, from experts that 500 new prison places for more women serving more short sentences could be a better solution than long-term investment in women’s centres.
This is one of those happy occasions when the moral case happens to align with making excellent economic sense. An effective justice system that is relational, responsible and restorative would cost less in the long term. Finding a way to move beyond short sentences would better support families and children made vulnerable by family breakdown. If implemented as part of a broader package of support for problem-solving courts, women’s centres, and good and effective community sentences, it would lead to better results in terms of reoffending and rehabilitation, and, therefore, safer communities. It would come at a fraction of the price of maintaining the current revolving door of short sentences.
As we heard, in 2019 it seemed like we might have been approaching a breakthrough when the then Lord Chancellor went on the record in favour of a presumption against short sentences. If Ministers do not accept these amendments, I hope we will hear what they see as the future of short sentences and how they can be reduced.”
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for moving his amendment, and to the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Beith, for speaking to theirs. Those noble Lords have far more experience in these matters than me, but I have something to say that might assist the Committee.
In September 2017, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, initiated a debate on prison numbers. That stimulated me to take a very close look at our penal system. It is fair to say that the increase in the prison population is caused by sentence inflation and might have little to do with short sentences.
I believe that the effectiveness of a prison sentence is inversely proportional to the appropriate length of the sentence. Thus, very long sentences to protect the public are effective in terms of incapacitation. On the other hand, very short sentences are extremely poor at rehabilitation and reducing reoffending.
The reason short sentences are so ineffective is surely that the current prison system and its regime do so little to address offenders’ weaknesses. The chief inspector’s reports have been telling us this for years. By definition, these are minor offenders and very often prolific ones. They leave prison after a short sentence with the same weaknesses in terms of education, training and conduct they arrived with. Therefore, there should be no surprise that we have a reoffending rate of about 65% within 12 months of release. The Committee should recognise that these figures are flattered by those who were never going to reoffend for one reason or another.
I am sure that the Committee will understand that most prolific minor offenders stop offending by the age of 26 or possibly 30. Moreover, this is despite a terrible start in life, the fact that rarely has anybody ever loved them, and the lack of a positive male role model. Therefore, these offenders cannot be hopeless, something can be done with them; some improvement in education, training and conduct must be achievable. The difficulty is that these improvements will not be secured through the current prison system.
Amendment 241, which we will debate later, seeks to create a system to address the problem of the ineffectiveness of short sentences. I do not have a view on which is the superior amendment of the two that we are debating—both are commendable—but I take on board the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I slightly worry about the inflation risk with Amendment 213, and I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Beith, acknowledges that. However, I feel very strongly that if the state does decide to take a minor offender into custody, it must be certain that it is going to improve matters and do no harm.
I rise to speak briefly to this group of amendments, which I strongly support. I declare my interest again in the register as a trustee and vice-chair of the Prison Reform Trust. We have already debated Amendments 215 to 218, principally regarding primary carers, which I believe are closely related to today’s amendments on short sentences, so I will not delay the Committee by repeating the arguments.
However, by way of further background, it should be noted that the prison population, as we have heard, has risen by 74% in the last 30 years and is currently projected to rise by a further 20,000 by 2026, with millions being spent on providing additional prison places. Yet there appears to be no link between the prison population and levels of crime, according to the National Audit Office.
More than 40,000 people were sent to prison to serve a sentence in 2020, the majority of whom had committed a non-violent offence, and almost half were sentenced to serve six months or less. Crucially, as many organisations have pointed out, including Revolving Doors and Women in Prison, short prison sentences are proven to be less effective than community sentences at reducing reoffending.
Of course, short-term prison sentences have a particularly harmful effect on women and primary carers, as we have debated. It is important to note that in a Parliamentary Written Answer on 30 June 2021, more than 500 women were in prison on a sentence of less than two years. We have already heard from my noble friend Lord Dubs the economic case against short sentences. In addition, the National Audit Office estimated that the cost of looking after short-sentence prisoners, not including education and healthcare, was £286 million a year.
It is also interesting to note, as we have heard tonight, public attitudes to prison sentences, particularly short sentences. I know that the Government take an interest in this. In a survey conducted in 2018 by Crest Advisory, fewer than one in 10 people said that having more people in prison was the most effective way to deal with crime. Early intervention, better parenting, discipline in schools and better rehabilitation were all cited as more effective responses.
Similarly, Revolving Doors undertook a survey which found that 80% of the public think that the theft of daily essentials such as food, sanitary products and nappies does not warrant a prison sentence, and that 74% of the public think that people with drug and alcohol addictions should receive treatment programmes not prison sentences.
It is clear to me that robust, effective community sentences are preferable to a short, disruptive and cost-heavy prison sentence. Therefore, when considering sentences there should be a presumption against short prison sentences, as laid out in the amendment. To reinforce this position, we can look at the experience in Scotland, where a presumption against prison sentences of 12 months or less was introduced in July 2019 following its successful introduction of three months or less in 2011, leading to many more community sentences and a consequential reduction in short sentences. Community Justice Scotland stated that evidence shows that short-term prison sentences are not effective in meeting a person’s needs and reducing their likelihood of reoffending, and in fact do more harm than good.
We must ensure that as we try to make a real shift away from short prison sentences to community sentences, members of the judiciary have real confidence in and knowledge of the options available to them with community sentences. Magistrates, in particular, and judges, sometimes, raise with me a number of problems with community sentences, which my noble friend Lord Ponsonby mentioned in his opening remarks: first, the number of people who reappear before them having failed to complete a community sentence, with the consequence that a short prison sentence is the only option open to them; secondly, and related to that, poor local supervision of community sentences; thirdly, the lack of capacity in local areas to deliver support of community sentences, especially those with a treatment requirement; and, fourthly and finally, sometimes a lack of detailed knowledge of community sentences with such a treatment requirement.
There are a number of ways we can address these problems. The first is better understanding of treatment requirements. They essentially cover three areas: mental health, alcohol addiction and drug addiction. As these issues are often interrelated, sentences should consider not just one of the treatment requirements but, where appropriate, more than one treatment requirement at the same time to meet the often complex needs of the individual to ensure the best possibility of successful completion of the sentence. To assist the judiciary in this, information about the complex needs of individuals should be presented to the court at the earliest opportunity, combining assessment information from liaison and diversion services and probation pre-sentence reports.
Secondly, we need real investment in local mental health, alcohol and drug services so that members of the judiciary have confidence that the sentence they impose can be delivered. Thirdly, as a consequence of the reconstruction of the National Probation Service, improved supervision must be rolled out. Fourthly, there must be better training of the judiciary to ensure that the options for community sentences are well understood. Fifthly and finally, as a member of the Government’s advisory board for women offenders I say that there is a good example in the Government’s strategy for women offenders, which clearly supports a significant shift to community sentences and recognises the need to invest in locally based women’s centres as the hub for the supervision and support of sentenced women.
Taken together, I believe the presumption against short sentences would be successfully introduced, with overarching benefits across the whole criminal justice system, and therefore I strongly support these amendments. I hope the Minister will accept the arguments.
My Lords, I offer Green support for Amendments 212 and 213, with a preference for Amendment 213, which this debate has made clear is the stronger of the two. I return to the Committee after two weeks away from your Lordships’ House at the COP 26 climate talks. There we heard again and again about the need for evidence-based policy-making on the climate. It is very clear from the powerful introductions from the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Dubs, and all of the subsequent debate, that the evidence here is clearly that short prison sentences do not work.
I very much agree with the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that those words are there in the Sentencing Code, but clearly we need to strengthen this prescription. The figures from 2019 show that more than 44,000 prison sentences of less than six months were handed out. That was nearly half of all people sent to prison. Some 68% reoffended within a year of release, and for theft offenders, the rate was 82%. Two-thirds of the women in prison are serving a sentence of less than six months. Like other noble Lords, I go to the excellent group, Revolving Doors, and the experience of one person, Robert, subjected to a whole succession of short sentences. He said:
“Any support with drugs and alcohol I had in community stopped when I went to prison. I didn’t access any support in prison and certainly there was no planning when I was released.”
Very briefly, I turn to the reference to children in Amendment 212. The report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Human Rights and the Government’s Response to COVID-19: Children Whose Mothers are in Prison, indicated that the Government do not have clear figures on the number of women in prison who are separated from dependent children. It recommended that the Government undertake a census and ask all women coming into prison whether they have dependent children and what ages they are, and that those figures be collated and reported regularly. Can the Minister tell me, either now or in the future, whether that recommendation from the Joint Committee on Human Rights has been acted upon?
My Lords, I support both these amendments, but I want to add a brief comment on the mechanism which they both have in common: the giving of reasons. I know from my own experience how valuable it is to marshal your thoughts when you are having to give reasons, and sometimes when you write them down you wonder whether your thoughts in the first place were correct, and you may think again as a result. So the mechanism that is being suggested is a good one and, with great respect to my noble friend Lord Pannick, I think Amendment 213 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, does add something to the code.
Of course, the code encourages care in passing custodial sentences and it sets it out very well, but it is this additional element which is of value. One particular word in the amendment adds force to it, and that is “must”. Everybody will have to do this. The noble Lord will know better than I do how often magistrates in particular pass custodial sentences without giving reasons. The point is that this discipline, which both amendments seek to inject into the system, adds value.
That having been said, I hope that these reasons will not just become a rota, because there is some experience in the Supreme Court where we had to give reasons for refusing leave to appeal; we had many of these cases to deal with, and we adopted a mechanism which I think the Minister will know quite well—it was the same reason given every time. That does not really meet what I think the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is getting at, and I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us that when the word “must” is put there, together with the other matters in his report, it will actually add value and people will really think before they give their reasons, and not simply adopt a formula.
My Lords, I would like to add a little to the evidence which has already been provided to the Minister, but he must of course know the evidence which has already been made available to him. Just in case it has not, I repeat what the recent sentencing White Paper says: short sentences
“often fail to rehabilitate the offender or stop reoffending.”
It goes on:
“A Ministry of Justice 2019 study”—
an analytical exercise, full of figures—
“found that sentencing offenders to short term custody with supervision on release was associated with higher proven reoffending than if they had instead received community orders and/or suspended sentence orders.”
In other words, the Government’s own evidence points to supporting these amendments—not necessarily in the same words, but certainly the thrust of them. We should remember that, pre-pandemic, nearly half of those people who were sentenced to custody in England and Wales were subject to short sentences of less than, or equal to, six months.
There are many reasons why we must support the change—more effectively reducing reoffending, dealing with issues such as drug use and producing better outcomes for women. Short prison sentences do not provide sufficient time for addressing those issues, such as dealing with substance addiction, or benefiting from any education and training facilities on offer. There may not even be sufficient time for the prison authorities to devise a programme to address the prisoner’s needs on release day. The best we can say about short sentences is summed up by one of the former Conservative Prisons Ministers, of which there have been many in recent years, who said that short prison sentences are
“long enough to damage you but not long enough to heal you.”
Almost two-thirds of prisoners sentenced to these terms of less than 12 months will reoffend within a year. The amazing statistic is that nearly half of adults are convicted of another offence within one year of release, but anyone leaving custody who has served two days or more is now required to serve a minimum of 12 months under supervision in the community. As a result of not fulfilling their supervision orders in some minor way, 8,055 people serving a sentence of 12 months or less, and sometimes of only a few days, were recalled to prison in the year ending December 2020.
What has happened to the Conservative plan to secure a reduction in the use of short sentences? I think I know the answer, but it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm to the House what has happened to this idea. The Bill can address this issue. To finish with the words of a former Conservative Secretary of State:
“For the offenders completing these short sentences whose lives are destabilised, and for society which incurs a heavy financial and social cost, prison simply isn’t working.”
Offenders are less likely to reoffend if they are given a community order. These are much more effective in tackling the root causes behind criminality.
Given the evidence of both Conservative Secretaries of State and the evidence produced in the Government’s own studies, can the Minister explain whether there has been a U-turn or a Z-turn, or whether the course is laid out as described in the evidence that they have received?
My Lords, this debate has raised two important issues: the justification for short custodial sentences and how we curtail their imposition in practice.
The debate saw an interesting exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lord Beith, and I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the law requires courts to avoid unnecessary custodial sentences where alternative sentences are appropriate. However, my noble friend Lord Beith is right that far too many short sentences are still imposed. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, gave us some of the figures. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, made the point that the amendment does add something to the existing law. One thing it adds is that it is focused entirely on short sentences, whereas the Sentencing Code provisions are not.
This House has heard endlessly of the damage that short custodial sentences do. There simply is no evidence to justify their regular imposition. If the Minister has any such evidence, perhaps he can tell us what it is. We regularly stress the extent to which the rate of reoffending following short sentences greatly exceeds reoffending rates for community sentences, a point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, using the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester; it was a point also made by my noble friend Lord German a moment ago.
The immediate effect of imprisonment is dramatic: families are split, jobs are lost and housing is imperilled. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made these points. None of these adverse events is reversible for short sentences, any more than for long ones. The disruption of lives for the short periods that short sentences inevitably involve far outweighs any possible good that can come of those sentences. Such sentences necessarily offer no proper chance to arrange treatment to address issues—often long-term—of mental health, drug abuse and alcoholism. They offer little or no prospect of courses, training or rehabilitation, and they do not enable contact with potential employers, offer any opportunity for engagement with the voluntary sector with a view to arranging support in the community on release, or help with family or housing issues.
The programme that short sentences impose on the Prison Service and probation service can be bluntly summarised. Step one: cut all ties that the offender has with family and any employer, risking housing stability and probably posing difficult and intractable financial problems on the offender and the family in the process. Step two: lock up the offender, not at a predictable prison or one selected in any way to meet the particular needs or problems of the offender in question but at one that has the space for a short-term prisoner suddenly added to the prison population. Step three: allow no time to organise meaningful help or support. Step four: release the offenders with less support than they had at the time of sentencing.
Amendment 212 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and my noble friend Lord German attempts to force sentencing courts at least to spell out a justification for short sentences. This would be salutary. The principles in proposed new subsection (2B) seem most important, and I will focus on paragraph (b), which states that
“custody should not be imposed where a community order could provide sufficient restriction on an offender’s liberty (by way of punishment) while addressing the rehabilitation of the offender to prevent future crime”.
But other principles are equally important. I particularly mention proposed new paragraphs (a) and (c), which encourage sentencers to get away from the habit of courts to commit to ratcheting up sentences from one community sentence to another and then to custody. Amendment 213 would have a similar effect to Amendment 212, with the important presumption against short sentences. It is stronger than the present Sentencing Code, in clearly focusing on short sentences.
The second issue raised by this group is that of primary carers and pregnant women. We discussed this at some length on the amendment moved by right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on 1 November, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley. We considered the report of the charity Women in Prison, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in the debate on the second group today. The sudden effect of separation is important. It is felt not just by parents who are primary carers but by their children.
We mentioned the loss of the homes of 95% of children whose mothers are imprisoned and therefore forced to lose their homes. For the children of primary carers, parental prison leads to low educational achievement, truancy, mental health issues, alcohol dependence, drug abuse and later criminality. But similar outcomes are also to be expected from short sentences passed on the primary carers of those children. The appalling effect on pregnant women and their children was also dealt with in an earlier group today.
The Government need not only to restate their opposition to short sentences but to reinforce it. For the support in principle for these amendments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to become a reality, the law needs more teeth than it has at present. These amendments provide those teeth.
My Lords, it is important to remember what is in the amendments and what is not. We are not really debating whether short sentences are or are not a good thing; government policy on that has been stated frequently and I will restate it shortly. I am not proposing to make any sort of turn, whether a U-turn or a Z-turn. Instead, I will keep on the straight and narrow, if I can use that phrase in this context.
It is important to remember what the amendments seek to do. They would prevent the court passing a short custodial sentence unless it is satisfied that no other sentence is appropriate. They would also require the court, if imposing a short custodial sentence, to explain why alternative sentences were not considered appropriate. Let me be clear: I understand absolutely the sentiment behind the amendments and appreciate, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made very clear, that this is not saying that there are no circumstances in which a short custodial sentence could be appropriate—I fully take that on board.
I agree that short custodial sentences can, in many cases, be less effective at tackling reoffending than community sentences. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, was very clear about the importance that magistrates attach to community sentencing and how it is important that they have confidence in the community sentence regime. The words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester that were read to us also questioned whether short custodial sentences were, to use her phrase, an effective remedy. I think I have dealt with that point. I listened with real care to the testimony I heard at the event she organised and which I was very happy to attend.
The Government cannot support these proposals because they reflect existing law which is sufficiently robust. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Beith, when it comes to statute, I do not believe that saying something again makes it stronger. If something is already in statute and is not being done, it is critical to investigate why it is not being done, and not simply say the same thing again. I therefore gratefully adopt some of what has already been said to the Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
Section 230 of the Sentencing Act 2020—let us just see how it works—places important restrictions on the courts imposing discretionary custodial sentences. It starts with a negative:
“The court must not pass a custodial sentence”—
the starting point is that the court cannot pass a custodial sentence; that is the default—and then continues:
“unless it is of the opinion that … the offence, or … the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence.”
Section 77 of the Act goes further and makes clear that even where the threshold for passing a custodial sentence has been met, the court may still pass a community sentence after taking into account any mitigation. Even then, where a court has formed the view that only a custodial sentence can be justified, even in light of any mitigation, it may still suspend that sentence so that it does not become an immediate custodial sentence, taking into account factors such as realistic prospect of rehabilitation, strong personal mitigation, which would obviously include the effect on dependants, as we discussed in earlier groups, and significant harmful impact on others of immediate custody. We suggest that, taken together, this provides a very robust framework which would ensure that short custodial sentences are passed only where there is really no other alternative for the court.
I accept that they do not refer specifically to short custodial sentences, but when the court is considering a short custodial sentence, the particular factors the court would have to go through before imposing it—and particularly before imposing an immediate short custodial sentence—would be all the starker. It is important that we have a consistent regime. For the reasons I have set out, I do not think it necessary or helpful to have a separate regime for shorter custodial sentences. The position on that, I suggest, is already absolutely clear, as is the requirement for a court to explain its reasons for passing sentence. It is important to recognise that the court has to explain its reasons for passing any sentence, not just a custodial sentence; otherwise, the Court of Appeal will have something to say about it. That is set out in Section 52 of the Sentencing Act.
I hear the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that when it comes to courts explaining the reasons for their sentences, it is very important that they are bespoke and not off the peg—if I can put it that way. That is very important, not least for the offender to know why that sentence has been passed. I will not say any more about the reasons given by the Supreme Court for refusing permission to appeal, but the noble and learned Lord was certainly right that I was all too familiar with receiving those reasons in my cases.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, goes further because it sets out a list of “principles” the court must take into account. I suggest to the noble Lord, who is very familiar with this area, that those principles are by and large set out very clearly already in the guidelines from the Sentencing Council. I suggest that the principles enshrined in legislation would not take us any further.
As the noble Lord knows, there are five statutory purposes when it comes to sentencing, set out in Section 57 of the Act:
“the punishment of offenders … reduction of crime (including its reduction by deterrence) … reform and rehabilitation … the protection of the public, and … reparation by offenders”.
A sentence can serve one or more of those purposes. The Act also states that, even when the threshold for custody has been passed, that does not mean that a custodial sentence is inevitable—particularly for offenders on the cusp of custody.
Imprisonment should not be imposed where there would be a disproportionate impact on dependants. We touched on that today. We looked at that in a lot more detail in an earlier group, so I hope the Committee will forgive me for not dealing with that in any more detail. I have set out the position in some detail already. It is fair to say that, when this amendment was tabled in the other place, Alex Cunningham MP fairly recognised that the principles are already accepted in the sentencing guidelines, which all courts are required to follow; they are not optional. I suggest that the amendment is unnecessary.
Proposed new subsection (3) of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, concerns the impact of custody on the children of primary carers or the unborn child of a pregnant woman. I think that is almost identical to an amendment we discussed earlier, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. Again, I have responded to that in some detail already, so I am not proposing to say any more about that.
I will pick up two other points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, talked about Scotland. The position in Scotland is different. It has a very different sentencing regime from that of England and Wales. The Sentencing Code here, which I have set out, contains the requirements and protections which I have sought to explain. For those reasons, we do not believe that the amendment is necessary; nor, with respect, do we believe we get much assistance in this regard from looking at the Scottish law because there is a very different system for sentencing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked me about the JCHR recommendation. In the time I have had, I have an answer here for her. It is fair to say that it is slightly off-topic. Perhaps she would be happy if I were to write to her on this point, rather than take further time. I will set out the answer in writing; I hope that is acceptable.
For those reasons, we suggest that this is already covered in legislation and in the sentencing guidelines. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for summing up his response to the two amendments in this group. I feel I have been around this track a number of times over the years and we hear the same arguments again and again. The central point is surely that made by the noble Lord, Lord Beith: the current state of affairs is not satisfactory. We have the merry-go-round of short sentences so that sentencers, including myself, feel that we have to make short sentences because we have repeat breaches of community orders and some sentencers do not have confidence in them. So the merry-go-round carries on, with all the disruptive and damaging consequences which we have heard about from many noble Lords in this debate.
I am not saying that my amendment is significantly better than that of my noble friend Lord Dubs. I am saying, however, that there needs to be a holistic response of shorter sentences and better community sentences which people have confidence in, and which the offenders stick to and benefit from.
I will just come to the question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, about giving reasons. Magistrates’ courts are not a court of record. However, we give reasons and write them down—particularly if we think that we are going to be appealed. So, yes, we do give reasons. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 212 withdrawn.
Amendment 213 not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 9.02 pm.