Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am very pleased that the House has an opportunity to debate the causes of crime and reoffending and the effectiveness of rehabilitation, including the contribution made by the voluntary sector. I am also delighted to welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, to the Front Bench—I believe that he was here yesterday, but this is his first debate. He is very welcome. The whole House will benefit from his expertise and experience, including as a judge for the General Court of the European Union and president of the Competition Appeal Tribunal. Most recently, he gave forthright advice to the Government following his criminal legal aid review. It is a nice touch that his central recommendation of a 15% funding uplift for fee schemes, increasing investment by £135 million a year, was announced by the Ministry of Justice the week he makes his maiden speech. I am sure the whole House is anticipating what he will say as keenly as I am.
I am thankful to all noble Lords who put their names down to speak and look forward to hearing all contributions, particularly that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. His report on the contributors to the riots that began in HMP Strangeways in 1990 and spread to 20 other jails was an indispensable foundation for my own two reviews. These built on one of his 12 recommendations, linking prison safety with family contact. I emphasised the importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to prevent reoffending—including, of course, while inside prison, the focus of the Woolf report—and intergenerational crime.
Before I turn to the importance of healthy and supportive relationships in rehabilitation, I want to start with the causes of crime and reoffending. There is not time to do justice to the many criminological theories that try to explain these causes, each of which has its own strengths, weaknesses and gaps and applies only to some types of crime and not others. Simply, some see individuals as rational actors capable of making their own choices, including whether to commit crime, by weighing up likely benefits and disadvantages. Others focus on relative deprivation and suggest crime happens when individuals or groups see themselves as being unfairly disadvantaged compared to others who appear similar. Front-line practitioners describe the high prevalence among criminals of family breakdown, father absence and other adverse childhood experiences, as well as neurodiversities such as dyslexia.
The Prison Service refers to criminogenic needs: the characteristics, traits, problems or issues in an individual’s life that directly relate to their likelihood of reoffending. The “big eight” are accommodation, employability, relationships, lifestyle, drug misuse, alcohol misuse, thinking and behaviour, and attitudes, as well as three others which affect how offenders respond to support—learning disability and challenges, mental health conditions and low maturity levels. However, the idea that there are causes of crime is a relative newcomer. The late Professor Christie Davies pointed out that it was not until the 1890s that the thought processes of the educated and prosperous elite became “causalist”. They looked down, as he put it, at
“a mass of weak people divided into the virtuous and the offending only by chance opportunities and adversities that caused them to act as they did. They were not truly free agents”.
In today’s parlance they would be termed “victims”, in the sense of those who have come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment.
The half century up to 1900 saw a decline in deviance: a drop in crime and social disorder that was directly linked to the influence on popular morality of religious institutions, notably the Sunday schools. These turned out such relatively law-abiding young people that the average age of prisoners rose. The turning point of this decline was the First World War, which started a flattening out, and the late 1950s ended it, just before the dawn of the sexual and social revolutions of the 1960s. That is when we begin to see Davies’s “U-curve of deviance”, based on data, not theory. This U-curve reflects a fall and subsequent rise in crime, drug and alcohol abuse and births outside of marriage. He associated this rise with a decline in “moralism”—knowing the difference between right and wrong—which implies that individuals have autonomy to choose whether they behave with, as he put it,
“virtuous innocence or deliberate guilt”.
This was gradually replaced by an ever-expanding legal corpus. To give an example, when I started in the City in 1963, its famous motto was still, “My word is my bond”. The complete trust in a word and a handshake slowly disintegrated to a recognition that one was bound only by what the law allowed or forbade. Religiously reinforced moralism, with its totemic notion of free will, was replaced by the causalism I described earlier. The loss of commitment to and identification with religion, and country, led in turn to a loss of the idea of service, sacrifice and the moral driver of duty. Perhaps one reason we admire the Queen so is because she embodies these values, which are self-evidently right and needed.
Not for a minute am I saying that the century when deviance fell and flattened was a perfect golden age. However, no one can say the changes that have taken place since the 1960s have produced one either. The House of Commons Library describes the history of crime in the 20th century as being dominated by the sharp rise in offences since the late 1950s. The 1960s were the only decade in the last century when crime doubled. Family breakdown has also soared. Half of all children are born outside an explicitly committed relationship. Hence, one-third of children live in separated families, a million rarely or never see their fathers and 80,000 are in local authority care. So, as we talk about the causes of crime today, we need to hold that concept in tension with Davies’s sense of de-moralisation. Ultimately, the cause is always the freely exercised decision of someone’s will to commit a crime—which may, of course, involve coercing others, against their wills, to be involved. But there is in everyone a contributor, without which they would not have ended up in criminal behaviour.
Turning to what is effective in curbing reoffending, the Ministry of Justice’s own statistics highlight how good relationships with families and significant others can aid rehabilitation. When I wrote my first review in 2017, reoffending rates were running at 43% and over 60% of children of prisoners went on to offend themselves and end up in prison. However, prisoners who receive family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend than those who do not. Intergenerational transmission of crime is, if anything, higher when mothers have been incarcerated, presumably because they are more often primary carers whose absence typically makes life more chaotic. Possibly as few as 5% of children stay in the family home, for example.
Yet the stark truth is that, pre pandemic, around half of prisoners were never visited. Given that around 25% were in local authority care, this is perhaps unsurprising. Looking at very recent reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, the level of visits in some prisons has not yet picked back up to its rate in early 2020. The Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service must be congratulated on the swiftness of the implementation of my reviews’ recommendations to make video calls available when prisons locked down at the beginning of the pandemic. However, these should complement and supplement but not replace physical visits.
In some jurisdictions only video “visits” are available, and this is very far from my policy goal. I met prisoners who longed to see their children in the normality of their home environment. One man, who had been in care, and in prison for almost three decades, yearned to see his only remaining relative, his grandmother, who was too old and infirm to visit. I heard about teenagers undertaking exams which precluded a long, possibly overnight journey to prison. A video call can make a huge difference when physical visits are not possible, but a woman I met recently highlighted the value to her daughter of seeing her father in the flesh, saying “When my daughter visited the prison, the school said it was a breath of fresh air for her, they could see how the face-to-face contact brought a massive improvement.”
The quality of physical visits is also another very live issue following the pandemic. I visited eight prisons in late April and late May this year to see how they were faring with their strategies to improve prisoners’ relationships with families and significant others. While so much of the outside world really has returned to normal, many prisons feel far from that, even if it is a long time since an outbreak. High Perspex screens shot up during the pandemic for public health protection, and social distancing was still in force. Gradual changes may have been made since my visits, but normality must be re-imposed everywhere on the estate as quickly as the restrictions were brought into force. It will be very important to clear away all artefacts of the pandemic, so that in 10 years’ time they have not become so entrenched in visits that, for example, no one knows why officers are still behind Perspex screens. Prisons should not be among the large sections of the public sector which seem to have a case of long Covid.
There are many vacancies in the Prison Service, and officers are being lost to Border Force among other places. Can my noble friend the Minister outline what the Government are doing to recruit and retain them? Without adequate staff, rehabilitation is almost impossible.
Other important rehabilitation activity addresses prisoners’ lack of education, employment skills and accommodation, and helps them to get off drugs. I know other noble Lords today will do justice to these issues, but relationships provide essential motivation. One deputy governor I met recently impresses on his staff that, “Without a supportive family to return to he’ll return to crime regardless of the education he takes part in and the accommodation he gets upon release.” We need to ensure that relationships are truly embedded in the reducing reoffending culture. That means that in all national and local strategies, and in every speech from politicians, families and relationships are firmly screwed in as the third leg of the rehabilitation stool, without which it falls over. I see part of my role as ensuring that this happens.
I turn briefly to the voluntary sector, which includes prison chaplaincy. The sector has a vital role to play in weaving that golden thread of relationships through all the processes of prisons. Although prison chaplains can be the overlooked service, they stayed on the front line during covid, as did many family service organisations. They are statutorily required to meet all prisoners upon arrival at a jail. On my recent visit to HMP Durham, a reception prison, I realised that these early days are possibly the most stressful time of a sentence. Indeed, Professor Alison Liebling found that one-third of all prisoner suicides take place in the first week of custody.
The organisation Nepacs runs a dedicated early days in custody programme in HMP Durham, and all the men on the wings know Tracy, who runs it. Her work is rooted in awareness that the huge stress that comes from being in prison, after being on the outside, is compounded by not having your glasses, not having your own underwear, or not having your own false teeth. She sources these, and the messages she passes between prisoners and their family members dampen some of the shock and crises all are experiencing straight after arrest or sentencing.
The voluntary sector often excels at spotting important unmet needs such as these and filling them, but organisations have to go to charitable trusts and dig into their own reserves to do pioneering work. The commissioning process needs to incorporate and act on proven effectiveness of new ways of working. Can the Minister tell me if the Government are convinced that their commissioning process drives continuous improvement and innovation, rather than just preserving the status quo?
I will finish here because I am very keen to hear all noble Lords’ contributions, particularly my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy’s maiden speech. I thank noble Lords for contributing to this vital debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for getting the debate today, and for his very thoughtful—and for some, I suppose, somewhat controversial—contribution. He has been very brave and has said some things that need saying and that these days we are not prepared to say. I look forward with interest to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester’s contribution.
The causes of crime are the old fundamentals—the seven sins—such as greed, pride, lust and anger. Anger is one which causes a great deal of problems for families and society, and many people who have uncontrollable anger end up in prison. It is interesting that the Government’s 2018 strategy on anger and violence in society and in prison took it back to looking at what happens with alcohol and drugs, which is an area in which the House knows I have spoken fairly frequently. I will not labour on that today; I anticipate that my good friend the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who was chair of the Commission on Alcohol Harm—of which I was a member, so I declare an interest—will speak at some length on this topic. Alcohol and harm, and the Government’s responsibility in the way they handle alcohol and harm, is a big factor.
I welcome the Minister to his role and, like others, look forward with great interest to his contribution. I hope we will have not just words but that he will be able to pull some levers and we will have some action.
I come at this from a long experience of personal problems with drink and drugs, many years ago. I have also spent much of my time working with people in recovery. I work also with people in recovery from prison, and later I will give noble Lords a message I have had from a friend who I spend a couple of hours every week with, who has been in Brixton prison three times. He comes from a difficult background but is now in recovery, training as a therapist and making very good progress. He has some useful insights into what we might be doing.
I agree basically that the family as a unit is the best one available to us, but let us not deceive ourselves and think that simply because we are in a family and we have that relationship that everything will work fine there—it does not. My experience is that many people come from backgrounds where, prima facie, the family is perfect, yet they end up drinking too much and taking drugs. Why does that happen? We should spend time looking at that. My experience is that it is often a combination of the DNA, the past history of the family, and then of course the environment in which the child is in—and it is mainly at the childhood level that this develops. We have got to be careful about making assumptions that there are simple solutions; there are not. This is a complex topic.
I pay tribute to the Cameron Government here. When David Cameron was in power, he came up with a number of quite notable and distinctive polices in this area, which regrettably were not followed through. For example, they produced a very good alcohol strategy, but it was never implemented; it had fallen by the wayside by 2015. Why have the Government still not got a strategy on alcohol when, at the present time, we have more problems with alcohol then we have had for the past 15 years?
Cameron also encouraged the development of a more participative society; it is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, cited the Queen and service. When this country is in difficulty, we have found that an extraordinary response comes from the people. When Covid began, 750,000 people volunteered to help the NHS. They were not used properly—what a waste of talent and opportunity. Everywhere we look, when we have a real problem, we get a great response. For example, we have had an outstanding response on Ukraine from people willing to accommodate refugees. When it comes to asking what we can do in prisons, not enough work is done in trying to tap into the good will of the British people and get them involved in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, is involved, and the way that many of the people I know working in AA go into prisons and try to get people into recovery.
I hope the new Minister might start thinking about how we can marshal that great British spirit. To a degree, this is a debate about spirit. We have spent so much time talking about material deficiency when, in fact, we have a great poverty of spirit in this country. However, if we can provide leadership, we can give a lift to people, and they will come forward and work with us. We need to do more because our record in prisons is very poor indeed in comparison with many other countries.
I am running out of time, and I regret that I cannot give your Lordships a quote from my friend who is an ex-prisoner, but I will write to the Minister with it. He gives some very good suggestions on what needs to be done.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on securing this debate. I welcome the Minister to his new position and look forward to working with him. I worked with his predecessor, who conducted himself with great integrity and conscientiousness, and I very much hope that the positive and constructive relationship we developed will continue.
In six minutes I can cover only a small number of points. The first part of this debate—the causes of crime and reoffending—is a herculean task in itself, but the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, treated us to a fascinating insight into that this morning. So I will focus on two areas of sentencing which frustrate the rehabilitation of offenders. First, we put people, especially women, into prison for short periods of time. I know that steps have been taken regarding sentencing in this area, but if the better development of women’s centres recommended over 14 years ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, had been properly implemented, it would have obviated many of the problems we see today.
If you tried to design a system to ensure that people had the worst possible chance of rehabilitation, you would take them out of their home, rob them of their identity, put them in a threatening environment rife with drugs, lock them away for long periods of the day, ensure they got little or no help with addictions, mental illness and re-education, and give them no home and no job on release. Release them on a Friday, when they are unable to get anything organised—money, accommodation, et cetera—and you have a perfect recipe for perpetuating the system. Short-term sentencing shows how amazingly successful you can be at robbing an individual of their self-respect and their former lives in a really short time—and when they reoffend, just give them more of the same: spend more money on what does not work.
At the other end of the sentence spectrum, we have those who do not know how long they are going to be incarcerated for. The duration of life sentences has doubled over the last 40 years from an average of nine years to 18 years, according to the Independent Commission into the Experience of Victims and Long-term Prisoners. Even worse, in my view, is the situation of indeterminate sentence prisoners, who are kept in prison for inordinate periods of time, long after the sentence has been abolished because of its unfairness. I will leave it to the other members of our small and select cross-party group to elucidate further on that.
I am sorry to say that the Minister is inheriting is a broken system, with any rehabilitation services trying to operate on a shoestring. We who have the temerity to point these contradictions out are branded lily-livered liberals. Well, I am a Liberal, for sure, but like many across this House I believe in evidence-based policy. The report of the Independent Commission into the Experience of Victims and Long-term Prisoners concluded that
“sentencing for serious offences has lost its way and is not working for victims, prisoners, or society as a whole.”
The report discusses the five purposes of sentencing, which are supposed to be the punishment of offenders, reduction of crime, reform and rehabilitation of offenders, protection of the public, and making of reparation. We have got the punishment side down really well—but the rest of it, not so much.
If all five purposes of sentencing are to be met—not simply locking people up and throwing away the key—we need more public awareness of what prison is actually for. We need a complete root-and-branch review of sentencing policy, incorporating all the resources at our disposal. We need the voluntary, private and public sectors all working together, throwing away the dog whistle and using evidence-based policy, doing what works, and thus serving the interests of all.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for securing this debate, and I welcome the Minister and his maiden speech. Others have spoken of his great attainments, but what must now be half a century ago, he gained first-hand experience of the real problems that people needing legal advice face in day-to-day life when we worked together at a legal advice centre. I shall return to this in a moment.
I do not want to speak about the causes of crime—that is impossible to get into in a few minutes, although the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, did so eloquently—but will deal instead with what needs doing now, what works and what does not work. First, I want to say a word about IPPs. I could not equal the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, or the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, in dealing with the sentence, but I think we ought now to appreciate that although there are just over 1,500 people who have not been released, there are nearly 1,400 people who have been recalled. We overlook the importance of rehabilitation. One appellant described to me once that she felt like a puppet on a string when released. We need to address the problems caused by indefinite detention and the possibility of recall. We have to await the report of the Justice Select Committee on other matters, but I very much hope that we can address proper support to those released so we do not find so many coming back.
Secondly, I turn to women offenders because here, again, there is something that works. Obviously, there are some crimes for which we must send women to prison for a significant period of time, but sending a woman to prison for short-term offending is, in my view, almost invariably wrong. When I chaired the Commission on Justice in Wales, we recommended in our report that:
“A commitment should be made, in our view, to establish a number of women’s centres and the supporting interventions. This would overcome the well-documented problems of women’s imprisonment and would enable women to serve their sentences in their home areas. These centres take a holistic approach to reducing offending by women, offering court-ordered support and supervision, access to mental healthcare and treatment for addictions, skills for employment, financial management and debt advice, parenting support and the opportunity to gain and maintain safe housing.”
The Minister has first-hand experience of knowing how vital those issues of safe housing and employment are to dealing with people.
I wish to say how grateful I am to see that the Ministry of Justice, in conjunction with the Welsh Government, will open next year a residential women’s centre in Swansea that will be an alternative to short custodial sentences. This is a very important development, but key to it—I am not sure how well understood this is—is the holistic support that is to be given. The probation service does an excellent job, but in dealing with offenders you need to bring in the whole community, including the voluntary sector. Certainly, it is quite clear from pathfinder projects being undertaken in Wales—there is not time for me to set out the details—that there is success not in criminalising people, to which I shall return in a moment, but in providing holistic support for them in the community, with debt advice, safe housing, employment and dealing with the consequences of abuse: a one-stop shop for rehabilitation.
It has shown in Wales that it works; it is one way of trying to stop reoffending and rehabilitate effectively. I commend the work being done by the Ministry of Justice and the very significant sums being spent by the Welsh Government on subsidising the third sector on a more permanent basis and funding the work being done.
Thirdly, I turn to the other aspect that needs urgent attention. In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act passed earlier this year, Sections 98 to 121 dealt with cautions. I very much hope that urgent steps are being taken to get the legislation under way, because another cause of reoffending is criminalising at too early a stage. The success of the projects in Wales, particularly those in Dyfed-Powys and north Wales, has shown that if you give people community rehabilitation and do not criminalise them, you can stop them going on to offend. I very much hope that urgent work is being undertaken by the Government to get the statutory instruments that are needed, and the necessary guidance, so that we can properly stop criminalising people and look for an alternative, rehabilitative approach.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for introducing this debate. His work is inspiring; I want to say “yes” to all that he has said and am sorry that I have only six minutes. I too welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and look forward to his maiden speech. I refer to my interests stated in the register as Anglican Bishop to Prisons and president of the Nelson Trust. Last week, I visited HMP Wakefield. In reflecting with the governor on long sentences, he said that he had asked a group of prisoners whether, if they had known the tariff for their crime, it would have been a deterrent. For all but one, the answer was no. Most crimes are rarely planned in a calculated way.
Earlier this month, the Independent Commission into the Experience of Victims and Long-Term Prisoners published a report with a comprehensive set of recommendations, holding together for the first time the perspectives of the offender and the victim. The report highlighted that the number of people in England and Wales given a prison sentence of more than 10 years has more than doubled in a decade, at an ever greater cost. Where is the evidence that greater severity equates to greater deterrence, or a safer society? We need to curb the unhelpful and inaccurate rhetoric about keeping the public safer through longer, tougher sentencing. What matters more than longer and longer sentences is how people are spending their time while in prison, in terms of not only education and purposeful work but meaningful interventions which prevent reoffending and someone else becoming another victim. Holding together justice and restoration is central to Christian theology; I believe it is vital for us to rediscover how those two dwell side by side.
As has been said, at the opposite end to long sentences are short sentences. These too are often not the answer. From my work with the Nelson Trust and women’s centres, as have been mentioned, I know the value of community sentences, police diversion schemes and other non-custodial interventions. Holistic intervention in the community for women, men and children can often address the root causes of offending, including drug and substance abuse. We know that offenders are often people of multiple disadvantage, and tackling those drivers to offending is key.
We also know that if men and women are to cease from reoffending, they need purposeful work, strong relationships, addiction intervention and a home. A project I have advocated for in the diocese of Gloucester is the prisoners building homes programme. These prisoners are working with a modular housing provider to build low-carbon, modular homes for local communities and vulnerable people across the south-west, hopefully including for prison leavers. The prisoners are acquiring skills for future employment. I would love to see more projects like this, but it will take significant cross-departmental and interdepartmental working and the will to think outside the box when commissioning or securing funding.
A recent IMB report on HMP Bronzefield found that 65% of women face homelessness on release. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to continue to engage on this issue in a meaningful, interdepartmental way and with a gendered approach.
Turning to the voluntary sector, the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, has highlighted the importance of relationship. As a Lord spiritual, this is not a surprise. Restored relationship sits at the heart of Christian belief, and I am glad that the noble Lord has highlighted the importance of chaplaincy, paid and voluntary, in prison and beyond the gate. Relationship sits at the heart of so much of the work of the voluntary sector, supporting the charity sector in a commitment to the flourishing of individuals and communities, not least with prison leavers.
We have many examples in the faith-based sector, such as the Welcome Directory, which signposts prison leavers to worshipping communities of all faiths to find a place of welcome and community. There is also the Prison Advice and Care Trust, PACT, which has volunteers and staff in courts, prisons, probation services and the wider community. There are so many local and national initiatives with stories to tell of transformed lives. People in the charitable and voluntary sector stand ready to be part of the solution, but it needs the Government to intentionally work with them and tap into their considerable experience, wisdom and insights.
Returning to the overall focus of today’s debate, I would argue that sustainably funded community intervention and purposeful rehabilitation in prison and beyond the gate need not carry a high financial increase if we realign the funding, stop a focus on more prison places and address the pervasive issue of more and longer sentences which are failing both victims and prisoners.
I urge noble Lords to join me in pushing for a national debate informed not by the occasional sensational Daily Mail headline but by evidence, so that we can turn the tide for the sake of our overcrowded prisons and for real justice for victims of crime, so that reoffending is tackled effectively once and for all. I invite the Minister to meet with me and those behind the independent commission to reflect further. It is of course easier to file all this in the “too difficult” drawer and continue to focus on lengthening sentences and building more prisons. But I hope for a better way, and I look forward to the rest of today’s debate.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate. I tip my hat to the work of the Church of England—indeed, of all faith leaders—to do with prisons. I too draw particular attention to the report chaired by the former Bishop to Prisons, James Jones, who has been a great influence on me and the way in which I try to think about prisons.
I start by declaring an interest. I am a patron of Unlock, a prisoners’ charity, and a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust. I see that my first chairman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, is in his place; I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
It is interesting—and no surprise—that two former Lord Chief Justices are listed to speak in this debate; one, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has already spoken, while the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has yet to speak. Once again, I welcome my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy to the Front Bench. I look forward to him gripping this vexed question of what to do with prisons and prisoners with some degree of enthusiasm—even evangelism—because, unless a policymaker in the Government takes charge of this issue and owns it, it will just dribble on uselessly.
My noble friend Lord Farmer is to be congratulated on obtaining this debate. If I could bottle his speech and have it delivered by the crateload to every Whitehall department, I would. I have a suspicion that not every Cabinet Minister will condescend to read the Hansard of today’s debate but they jolly well should because everything that my noble friend said goes straight to the heart of the issues that my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench now faces.
Everything that has been said in this debate has been said time after time, ever since I became interested in this question. I was appointed shadow Prisons Minister by David Cameron in 2006, I think it was, when he became leader of the Opposition. I set about visiting as many prisons, YOIs and secure training centres as I could to see what was going on, in order to produce for my party evidence-based policy. In the end, after two or three years, I produced a paper called Prisons with a Purpose. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, mentioned, a number of the ideas in that paper were taken up by the coalition Government when they came into office in 2010 but, sadly, so many of them have fallen by the wayside. So we are still here. I am like a cracked record, repeating what I have been saying for the past 15 or 20 years. I dare say that I will go to my grave and wave from the hole in the ground, saying, “Do you remember? Why have you done nothing about this?”
If I may say so, there is not only a moral and justice case for dealing with prisoners in a productive and sensible way but a hard-headed economic case. The cost of housing a male adult prisoner in a long-term secure prison is enormous. If, when that prisoner is in there and is literally a captive audience, we do nothing to prevent him—it usually is a “him”—reoffending, are we not letting ourselves down? Are we not letting our fellow citizens down by fooling them into thinking that a Government with a policy of sending more and more people to prison for longer and longer while doing nothing constructive with them when they are in there are achieving something positive?
When I became the shadow Minister, the first person I rang up was the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham; he is no longer in his place. I have learned a great deal from him and many others who know an awful lot about this subject. He asked me to think about three things; noble Lords have mentioned them already. The first is what we do with prisoners when they are released. He said that they need a job, a stable place of accommodation and a stable relationship. Those things come through their families and the system, be it the Prison Service, the Parole Board or the voluntary sector, enabling people to leave prison in a condition in which they can get a job.
If you leave prison and you cannot read or write—bear in mind that the average reading age of an adult prisoner in our system is 11—you cannot get even the most basic manual job. So why do we send people to prison for all those years and not teach them to read and write or to add up? Why do we send drug addicts to prison and not effectively treat their addictions? Why do we send mentally ill people to prison and not effectively treat their mental health problems? I guess it is because it is easy just to keep on doing the same thing over and again.
I have been saying the same thing over and again. My six minutes are now up but I urge my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench to launch out on a new path—one of real reform and real positive advance.
My Lords, it is an honour to take part in this debate. My main reason for signing up to it was to listen and learn. Much of the discussion has focused on whether prison works and I want to highlight this issue in relation to older prisoners. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, rightly stressed the importance to prisoners of having a job when they come out of prison but, of course, a small proportion of prisoners are pensioners. Their specific needs must be given greater attention; I ask the Minister to say at least something in his reply about the specific needs of older prisoners, including in terms of their rehabilitation and their re-entry into society.
I have just two specific points to add to that general call. First, the punishment is what is levied by the court, but prisoners lose out in other ways. Prisoners of working age lose their national insurance contributions. There is a whole debate there but inflicting poverty on prisoners when they get to retirement age should not be part of the punishment. I suggest that one reform would be for prisoners who work or are in full-time training to be entitled to national insurance credits so that they can look forward to an adequate pension. That must be part of a policy for rehabilitation and re-entry.
My second, main point relates to the removal of the state pension from those prisoners who are of pensionable age. It is always difficult to engender sympathy for prisoners—it is perhaps even harder to do so for older prisoners given the typical nature of their crimes—but this is an issue not of sympathy but of rights. We have a state pension system based on contributions. In my view, if prisoners have paid their contributions, they should receive their benefits. Often, broadly, the argument is reduced to, “Well, we need to recoup part of the cost”, but we do not do that for prisoners under pension age. Why should we take a pension away from those who are over pension age?
It is notable that prisoners do not lose their occupational pensions. There is a technical point here, to a certain extent. Currently, for many older pensioners, part of their occupational pension is a replacement for the state pension. There is a lottery element: if you get a pension from the state, you lose it in prison, but, if you get an identical pension from an occupational scheme, you do not lose it. Given the national insurance position of a large number of older pensioners, their wives—it typically is wives—lose their pensions as well. That cannot be right.
This is not a new point. In the past, the Prison Reform Trust and Age UK have expressed dismay at this policy, and my main point is that it is directly relevant to prospects for rehabilitation and return to society that we should not inflict additional penalties which move people into greater poverty, with the consequent knock-on effects on their future.
My Lords, I welcome my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy and look forward to his maiden speech. I also thank my noble friend Lord Farmer for this very important debate. It is full of so many key and important issues that matter to me and many of your Lordships here today, and I am grateful to be focusing on the contribution made by the voluntary sector in reducing reoffending and helping to deliver successful rehabilitation outcomes.
Many of us will be aware of the contributions made by the voluntary sector and of its work in delivering early intervention and helping to divert people away from the criminal justice system. Much of this work is increasingly dependent on the work of the voluntary sector and passionate volunteers. However, sadly there are those who end up in custody. The youth and adult secure estate is without doubt a deterrent and a form of punishment. However, it is equally important for us to address and rehabilitate those who want to be helped, while inside and when they leave custody.
We know that people in contact with the criminal justice system face significant health inequalities compared to the general population. The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly added an extra burden to these complexities. The HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Annual Report: 2020 to 2021 highlighted that prisoners spent
“long periods of isolation, in … cells”
sometimes with “no company” and “without purposeful activity”. This “had a profound effect” on their well-being. Purposeful activity is defined as an activity that is likely to benefit the prisoner, such as work, vocational training, education, and programmes to address their offending.
An underutilised and under-resourced intervention is physical activity and sport. This can be one of the best ways to engage prisoners, children and young people, acting as the hook to draw them into the wider valuable support that they need to help their rehabilitation and to tackle health inequalities such as addiction. A Sporting Chance: An Independent Review of Sport in Youth and Adult Prisons, carried out by Professor Rosie Meek in 2018, included some statistics which showed that reoffending data for sports-based initiatives can be as low as 6%. The contribution of the voluntary sector and its focus on the use of physical activity is highly beneficial, and I would like to draw attention to some of its work.
In declaring my interests, I am involved in trying to improve and develop the ability for sport and physical activity to enhance the health and well-being of those involved in, or at risk of entering, the criminal justice system, as co-chair of the APPG on Sport and Physical Activity in the Criminal Justice System, and as chair of the Alliance of Sport’s taskforce on physical activity and sport in the criminal justice system. To be complete, I am also vice-chair of the APPGs on Sport and the APPG on Charities and Volunteering.
We must work to improve and prioritise the health and well-being of children, young people and adults in the secure estate. This can be done through introducing more activities with qualified and appropriate mentors who can support and deliver successful outcomes. Working in partnership with a very busy and specialist prison service in this way can be a huge asset, not a hindrance. A broad range of sport and physical activity-based voluntary organisations are already doing great work across our prisons, an example being the Twinning Project—a football-based programme that connects local clubs with prisons to support prisoners through professional coaching qualifications, refereeing and employability skills. Aston Villa Football Club collaborated with HMP Birmingham to support a cohort of men who were approaching release back into the community. One recipient in 2020 gave it the ultimate testimonial:
“Aston Villa Foundation has saved my life and my mental health.”
A further example is parkrun, which now has 31 events taking place in custody each week. In addition to running or walking 5k, the event allows participants to volunteer as marshals or timekeepers. Participants can also take part in a community parkrun on their release from custody. Therefore, from football to rugby and rowing to running, along with activities including trauma-informed yoga, many organisations are already addressing prisoners’ health and well-being, while supporting them to learn new skills and improve their employment prospects.
However, this provision remains patchy across the secure estate, and how it impacts supporting the continuity of care remains unclear. Without proper funding and co-ordination, potential opportunities for tackling reoffending are being missed. Can the Minister say how he can improve the access to prisons for our voluntary organisations and at the same time support the Prison Service, which in partnership is making greater contributions to delivering better outcomes for those in the secure estate and beyond?
We should not underestimate the impact of voluntary organisations and volunteers who make a difference day-to-day in dealing with the range of pressures across our prisons at present. It is a win-win to look at how these organisations can work better together with prisons. More work should be done to evaluate and deliver greater investment into these partnerships, and to help make an even greater difference to the future of those prisoners who want to turn their lives around and go on to live crime-free lives.
I welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, to his new job. I hope that he does better than all the others ever did. Look at it this way: one thing that we are not embracing is that whatever we are doing is not working. Until you recognise that something is not working, it is like carrying an illness around with you and keep saying, “I’ll go and see the doctor”, but you do not—and then one day you do go and see the doctor, which means you move nearer to the solution than by doing nothing about it. We have a problem over prisons. We have problems with all sorts of things that the Government are expected to respond to but, with prisons, we spend £4 billion largely on warehousing people for a particular period. Then we let them out on the streets and they return to crime.
When I made my maiden speech here six years ago, I was being serious when I said that I got into the House of Lords by lying, cheating and stealing. I did not mean that I had to brown-nose a lot of people and leave a lot of envelopes around. I meant that the class of person I came from—we always like to avoid “class” now, post Thatcher—did not get an education. You got a form of babysitting from the ages of five to 15. I was blessed by the fact that every time I got nicked, I was taught something. In a boys’ prison at the age of 16, I learned to read and write, and even though it took me another 15 years to get out of being a naughty boy and a naughty young man, I had laid the foundation stones of a complete and utter transformation in my life. Why is the illiteracy rate in prisons so high? Why is it that 35% of children who pass through our schools are failed? They join the working poor and the long-term unemployed, and they become 90% of the prison population. I repeat: 35% of our children are failed at school.
I like the idea that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, can find a magic bullet. I am not being rude but we are always looking for a magic bullet. My magic bullet is for us to address that we fail 35% of our schoolchildren and condemn people to poverty. Behind all of this is poverty. That is what it is. How did you do in the poverty argument? When you come into life, you could say, “Where am I in the poverty argument?”. When you leave life at the other end, maybe you should also ask “How did I do in the poverty argument?”. Most of the people who end up in prison did badly in the poverty argument.
It is a class issue, not just one of families. God above, I would not want my family anywhere near children —my mum and dad could not organise a urination in a whatever. They were absolutely useless, because they did not see the importance of education or ballet lessons—which they never paid for. They did not see that, to bring me out of poverty, they had to address the fact that they knew nothing about education or the social opportunities that it can bring.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, has raised the issue of families because I agree with him. Is it not terrible that, if a child does not see their parent in prison, the reoffending rate of the prisoner goes through the roof—some 60% of them are likely to reoffend?
We need to address issues that are nothing to do with prisons. Prison is an emergency response to a social crisis. If you have been a bad boy or girl, we are going to lock you up. We then say we are going to do all sorts of things for you but do not do them. Why is it that, when I talked to 150 prison governors in the north of England a couple of years ago and asked them to tell me how much time and money they spent on rehabilitation, it was next to nothing? They put rehabilitation as maybe a fifth or sixth consideration. The first thing was the safety of staff and the second was the safety of prisoners—no one running away and those sorts of things.
The problem is that rehabilitation and education—which can get people out of the sticky stuff and move them on—are not there. We must address the problem that 35% of our children are lost in the education system and become the working poor. They are the ones who cannot handle inflation; they will become long-term unemployed and then become our prison population.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Farmer on securing this debate and making a speech that I thought was one of the most important, courageous, thoughtful and worth re-reading of any speech that I have heard since I have been in this place. Indeed, all the speeches so far have been important contributions and well worth reconsidering. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, with whom I do not always agree, said, as she focused on rehabilitation, that those of us who do so are often accused of being lily-livered liberals. She is a Liberal and my liver is undoubtably “Lilley’s”.
I get most of my original interest in this subject from a great Christian Tory, Samuel Johnson, who, back in the 18th century—and little has changed since, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, indicated—said that prisons are academies of crime. People go in because they have not been good at their crime, and they are more likely to learn from fellow prisoners than they are to be taught or helped by anybody else to be rehabilitated and leave crime behind them when they leave prison.
My experience of the prison system is far more limited than that of most people contributing to this debate. It is limited to visiting and talking to friends and constituents who have had the misfortune to go there. They confirm the impression that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, brought home forcefully: that though we pay lip service to the importance of rehabilitation and there have been initiatives—my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier endeavoured to emphasise the importance of rehabilitation—it has not had much impact. My impression is that it is incredibly hard, physically and culturally, to change the culture of prisons, which are basically about incarceration.
I suspect that we need to set up an entirely new prison, as a pilot project, focused primarily on rehabilitation. It should be staffed, equipped and designed with architecture to make rehabilitation possible. Such a prison would put great emphasis on literacy. As one of the speakers has pointed out, illiteracy is a major problem in the population of our prisons—and certainly in the experience of my constituents who have found themselves there. The day would be designed around work, to give people work and reinforce the habit of work, so that when they return to the working world they have not lost touch with it. There should be links with employers who are willing to take on former prisons, so that jobs will be available to them. There should be training in skills suited to the individual, so that they can take up work when they leave prison.
Such a prison would tackle drugs more seriously than we do. Something that I learned when visiting a friend in prison on an open day was that most of his fellow inmates were on marijuana. He said that in the drugs wing—where prisoners are not allowed out on visiting day—they were all on heroin. I asked if you only go in there if you are on heroin. He said, “No, you go in there if you are caught taking marijuana, but once inside, you learn that you cannot wash marijuana out of your system for the fortnightly test. If you take 16 litres of water, you can wash heroin out, so they all switch to heroin once they are in the drugs wing.” If that is going on in prisons, and we are encouraging people to move from soft to hard drugs, it shows what little thought is being given to one of the most prevalent and damaging problems that causes and prolongs lives of crime.
We should also build into the system at this pilot model prison aftercare services, so that people have planned accommodation and planned work, and links, I would hope, with the charitable and voluntary sectors so that they have people to call upon for support and help. Hopefully, that would work. We would then have some experience that would then be possible to spread throughout the prison system. If not, the chances of converting existing prisons and changing the priority from incarceration to rehabilitation are, I fear, limited.
My Lords, it is with some hesitation that I rise to my feet to talk. There was a time—the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, has identified that time—when I knew a lot about prisons. However, that time has long passed and I have now got to a stage where, I am afraid, I would have difficulty in identifying the large number of prisons I visited, both in this country and abroad.
However, I am sure that having this debate is of great value, because it gives people who are aware of the current situation an opportunity of explaining the problems that we have. As the people who visit prisons constantly find, the experience is shockingly sad, given the fact that it has resulted in the situation today. Bearing in mind the vast sums of money that are spent on our prisons and the criminal justice system in general, it is extraordinarily sad that we cannot make a bigger impression. I believe that we can, and that the money could be deployed.
I also believe there is a very simple answer: we have to find the resistance to the siren song that comes out from the media asking for longer and longer sentences. The message we need is that we must reduce the need for the length of sentences we already have. What can be achieved by our Prison Service at present could be achieved without extending the length of sentences, if only the culture would change. I hope our new Minister, who I hope will have continuing responsibility for this, realises that we have to change the culture. Nothing less than that will achieve the result we all want.
Of course, there will be opposition. When I retired from being a judge, the department of the courts that looks after public relations sent me a little present. It was one of those shields that you get if you play rugby or some other team sport, and it said in the middle “Hated by the Daily Mail”. I regard that as a considerable honour, and it is the one thing I got that I have treasured ever since, because it told me that I did at least some things right in the office I was privileged to hold.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for his kind remarks on my now ancient report into the prison situation that existed after the prison riots in 1990, in particular in Strangeways prison. At that time, it was remarkable how many worthy people were working hard to try to make the system work, but they unfortunately found that they could not fight against it. If we could get across the message that it is possible to make a change, we could produce improvements. Every now and then, we have marvellous examples of the best possible practice. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, was talking about another example: they come into existence, prosper for a time and then, I am afraid, disappear from sight—despite everyone’s efforts.
To conclude, every word I have heard in this debate was absolutely right. Noble Lords have identified the nature of the problem and what can be done about it. Somehow or another, we have to change public attitudes, so that politicians feel that this is what they must bring about. I thank the noble Lord for giving us this opportunity. I wish that every word your Lordships have said is heard by the widest possible audience.
My Lords, it is humbling to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. I welcome this important debate, so I have a special thank you for the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and for his thought-provoking speech. There is so much to say on the topic. I am glad that many have referred to IPPs and that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, will continue to try to do something about this ongoing blight on the criminal justice system. I hope that imprisonment for public protection sentences will, one day, for ever be gone.
Showing such regard for these or any prisoners can grate with the public. Too often, attempts to raise issues of prison reform can be met with an angry rolling of the eyes. “What about the victims of crime?”, people say. At present, I note that this goes far wider than the hard-line trope to lock them up and throw away the key or a repetition of the myth that prisons are cushy holiday camps. It reflects a larger problem of public despair at the state of criminal justice and the crisis of trust in the UK, in particular with policing.
On the one hand, many citizens feel that the criminal justice system is becoming oppressive and inconsistent in the application of laws over policing and penalising what were erstwhile non-criminal activities—whether that is a protest from the one-man foghorn Steve Bray or those at the Sarah Everard vigil, or the seeming obsession of some police forces with trawling through social media and threatening those who tweet offensive or hateful comments, in their opinion, with criminal sanction.
I also look at the squandering of resources spent on investigating tens of thousands of non-crime hate incidents, despite the fact that these NCHIs have never been voted for by Parliament and have even been declared unlawful by the courts in the Harry Miller case. In 2018, Sara Thornton, the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, stated that the police should
“solve more burglaries and bear down on violence before we make more records of incidents that are not crimes.”
Yet the investigation of these NCHIs continues, while burglaries and violent crime are neglected, and the public feel that they are being ignored. So many feel underprotected by agencies charged with their safety.
As an example, you need look only at the story in the news this week about the release of the report on the Oldham grooming gangs. It is shocking reading and many still feel it is too evasive and a whitewash. Vulnerable young girls, who no one in authority would listen to, were drugged, raped and sexually abused with seeming impunity, as the police and local authorities looked the other way, refusing to investigate for fear of providing
“an opportunity for far-right racist elements to capitalise politically”.
This politicisation of policing adds to a sense of grievance, especially as similar stories have emerged from Rotherham, Rochdale, Telford and so on. This set of failures of the criminal justice agencies to live up to the public’s expectations can breed a wider cynicism about the importance of focusing on the plight of criminals and rehabilitation initiatives. We must not be deterred, but we cannot ignore that either.
I have some points on how we can improve prison life—a vital tool in deterring reoffending, as many have said. I recently visited the new early days centre at HMP Bronzefield, a Sodexo-managed women’s prison for the MoJ. It made a real impact on me: it is a hugely impressive initiative, enthusiastically backed by management and staff, which allows a smooth settlement into custody. This has been shown to have a positive reduction on self-harm, violence and suicide, as the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, explained that these initiatives do. These early days centres really work to cut down the volatility that new prisoners feel when entering the prison estate, allowing them to reach out for help without fear of repercussion, providing access to practical rules and being taught all the ropes of the prison regime by peer mentors.
I met three peer mentors—or young women residents as they were known then, or prisoners now; I cannot keep up—whose dedication to their role was meticulous. Their attention to detail was so impressive and they were organisationally competent. That not only contributed to their accumulation of skills for their own rehabilitation—I hope they might get a job at the MoJ when they are released—but helped to take some of the time burden from hard-pressed officers.
I make special mention here of Michael Campbell-Brown, who arranged over 160 of these specifically trained peer mentors. There are 15 of these early days centres; a new one opened earlier this week at HMP Addiewell, and HMP Peterborough is launching one in its female prison this week. I hope the Minister will back rolling out these programmes far more widely and look at these kinds of innovative new initiatives.
We now understand that setting the right tone at the start of the prison sentence is important, creating a positive contract between prison and prisoner, ensuring that incarceration is not just an extension of a turbulent, fearful and violent life outside. But this can all be undone by the circumstances of release, which so often set people up to fail. All that good work is ruined when prisoners are just dumped into the outside world. Often, those released are given unachievable tasks by probation officers; many are not given travel warrants or means to attend probation meetings and they end up being recalled to prison.
Often the focus of post-prison rehabilitation is on helping prisoners to gain employment, which is a good thing, but there is less focus on leaving jail without accommodation. Tens of thousands leave prison without anywhere to live. Not everyone has a family home to go to. This is crucial, and we know that there is a clear link—
My Lords, it is a pleasure, as always, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. I thank my noble friend Lord Farmer for bringing this matter to the Chamber today and for his impressive speech. I echo the welcome to the Front Bench for my noble and learned friend Lord Bellamy.
In a former life, I spent most of my time detecting and arresting criminals and putting them before the courts. While I appreciate that there may be those who disagree with me, the reality is that we put the more serious offenders in prison because they need to be punished for their wrongdoing and, more importantly, because victims and the public at large must be protected from further harm. However, that does not mean that we should not make every attempt to engage, and we have a responsibility as a society to rehabilitate the wrongdoer.
I have long been mystified about why the reoffending rate remains so high. The Ministry of Justice estimates that it costs the country somewhere in the region of £18.1 billion—a staggering figure, I am sure your Lordships will agree. We know that people commit crime for a number of reasons. Some do it for drugs and profit. Personal circumstances while growing up can give some individuals a higher propensity for violence. We know that alcohol plays a substantial part in many offences against the person, such as domestic violence. However, for many offences there is also an undeniable link with deprivation and lack of opportunities, a factor I have seen first hand in my policing career here in London over many years. This lack of opportunities captures my interest more than anything else in respect of the rehabilitation process.
Last year Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons reported that those who engage in prison and probation education, training or employment activities are more likely to be employed and less likely to reoffend than those who do not. Around 70,000 prisoners are released from prison each year, and recent figures from the Prison Reform Trust in the Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile: Winter 2021 tell us that some 28% of prisoners had been in employment the year after custody. The same source tells us that 39% of people are less likely to be reconvicted if they secure a job after their release.
It is not all bad news. There is some good news, which brings me neatly on to a fantastic initiative called the New Futures Network, a specialist part of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. It brokers partnerships between prisons and employers in England and Wales. These partnerships help businesses fill skills gaps and prison leavers find employment. More than 400 businesses already work in partnership with prisons to provide work and employment opportunities. Of the employers surveyed, more than 80% positively rated those they employed as reliable and hard-working. As part of this structure, each prison has an employment advisory board, which is a platform to connect employers with prisons. Two weeks ago, I attended the inaugural meeting of one such board at Swansea prison. The enthusiasm and passion to make this work was impressive.
I cannot let the opportunity pass without a mention for the Timpson Foundation, which specialises in the recruitment of marginalised groups within society. It is worth noting that Timpson is one of the largest employers of ex-offenders in the UK.
Among other things, the purpose of these employment advisory boards is to help develop a positive culture of employment within the prison for the long term, to help prisoners get job-ready—with focus on CV building, interview practice, skills training and a knowledge of what opportunities there are for them to apply for—and to encourage local businesses to engage with the prison and offer their resources, connections and knowledge to help those living and working in the prison to prepare for and find work on release.
Opportunities in the building industry, hospitality and road transport are all catered for, and Swansea prison has secured funding for a heavy goods vehicle simulator, which allows prisoners on the scheme to gain driving qualifications. It was interesting, speaking to the governor, to learn that one of the hold-ups in the system was that they had to get £35 to apply for a licence. That seems rather crazy. I am sure that the Ministry of Justice could speak to the DVLA or the Department for Transport on that.
The New Futures Network can help by working with prisons to field appropriate candidates to join a business on day release, which enables serving prisoners who are within two years of release to leave prison to work in the community. It allows individuals to gain valuable experience of the way organisations work and to receive essential training before being permanently released and possibly joining a business. Timpson has a long history of working with the Prison Service to employ ex-offenders. James Timpson, its chief executive, has said that far more people go into its shops because of what it does with ex-offenders and see it as a really positive thing.
A scheme such as this has to be a very positive step forward, and I am bound to say that I was so impressed with it that I very much hope it will expand throughout the UK. As politicians, we should take note of the good and very positive work that is being carried out to assist ex-offenders and do everything that we can to support it.
My Lords, like others, I welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, to his position on the Front Bench. I must declare that I chair the Commission on Alcohol Harm. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, predicted, I will talk about alcohol as one of the things that leads into the funnel that eventually ends up in prison, an area that so many noble Lords have spoken about today.
Like my noble friend Lord Bird, I think it is particularly important that we focus on some of those antecedents. Last year, more than one-quarter—28%—of homicide suspects were under the influence: 13% with alcohol, 5% with illicit drugs and 10% with both at the time of the homicide. The cost to the country of alcohol-fuelled crime is £11.4 billion a year, and 20% of offenders supervised by the probation service have a known alcohol problem. Last year, Dorset neighbourhood police received more than 8,000 crime reports that were linked to alcohol in the 12 months to September 2021.
As has been said, alcohol is consistently found to be linked to domestic abuse, and 37% of domestic violence is alcohol related. To bring this to life, I shall quote Alexandra, who features in the Commission on Alcohol Harm’s report:
“I stayed in my bedroom, it was like a cage but the safest place possible. I was too scared to leave or to talk to anyone. The solution was to be invisible and quiet, hoping she would not come after me. But she did. She abused me, and my dad, mentally, emotionally, sometimes physically. For years, on a regular basis.”
How does somebody like Alexandra stand much of a chance when she grows up and goes into the world outside having been hidden away for years with that problem?
Knife crime has increased in our society, but for every such offence there are 15 violent crimes in which the victim judges that the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol. The crime survey indicated that 39% of victims of serious offences believed that alcohol played a factor in the incident. Overall, alcohol-fuelled incidents account for 40% to 60% of violent crime, year in, year out.
The problem is far worse in areas of deprivation. Alcohol-related mortality is 20% higher in the north-east than the English average and alcohol-related violence is 5.5 times more prevalent in low socioeconomic groups. There is an important figure here for the levelling-up agenda, and this debate should feed into it.
The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, when introducing this debate, made an astoundingly important speech and I hope it resonates. It is not only his speech; it reflects his commitment to trying to solve some of these problems over the years.
I will focus on one solution relating to alcohol and driving. Recently I spoke to a magistrate. She said that drink-driving used to be the main offence, but now it is either both drink and drugs or drug-fuelled driving offences. Driving rehabilitation schemes provide a way forward. I will focus in particular on the alcohol abstinence monitoring requirement, which the amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 allowed to be piloted.
This idea came from South Dakota, where Larry Long, a judge, had recognised that alcohol was the root problem of people repeatedly coming through his courtroom, and that the antecedents to alcohol abuse needed to be addressed. The catalogue of rotating cases, suspended licences, ignition locks, impounding vehicles and prison sentences were all known to fail. But with the abstinence scheme, and what are called sobriety tags, people are required to be sober for up to 120 days. In the pilot, 3,121 offenders were monitored and over 3,000 remained sober during the period. For 97% of the days monitored, they remained sober. Interestingly, afterwards they continued to remain sober, and that becomes really important because it shows the effectiveness of this scheme. As one offender said:
“I was pulled over on a Saturday morning and was devastated to blow over the limit. Like many others, during lockdown a drink at the weekend had turned into maybe a glass of wine … and it made me reflect. I’ve not found wearing the tag hard, but it has given me extra motivation to reduce my intake.”
There are other schemes as well: Checkpoint in Durham is trying to address this.
In relation to drugs, I hope we can learn from Hawaii, where the Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement—HOPE—scheme is trying to do the same with substance abuse probationers, who are addicted to drugs.
I would love to continue, in this debate, and talk about other factors, but time does not allow. I will mention simply that in Cardiff, John Shepherd has done a great deal of work with the police to try to decrease crime on the streets, particularly when there are celebrations going on in those city streets. We need to address these antecedents head on, and not be seduced into thinking that somehow a little bit of education will cut down the alcohol abuse that we see.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Farmer for initiating this debate. If noble Lords will indulge me, I propose to spend all of my few minutes talking about the continuing scandal of IPP prisoners.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, have already given some background facts on that, but to summarise very briefly: between 2005 and 2012, when this form of sentence was no longer given, nearly 9,000 people were sentenced to it. Of those, over 1,500 are still in jail, never having been released. As an instance of the egregiousness of that, nearly 200 of those had a tariff of two years when they were sentenced and are still in jail having served 10 years over that tariff.
The figure of 1,500 still in jail does not represent the full tally because in addition, as of March this year, there were 1,400 who were back in jail, having been recalled. Nor is the problem going to get any better: in a Written Answer given by my right honourable friend Kit Malthouse to the Member of Parliament for West Ham in another place in December last year, the Ministry of Justice said that it estimated that the number of people to be released over the next four years, from the IPP prison sentence, was of the order—it is a round number; it is an estimate, I accept that—of 600 prisoners. Asked, at the same time, to estimate how many it expected to be recalled over the same four years, it amounted to 2,600 people currently out on licence. So, to the 3,000 currently in jail, we may confidently look forward to a further 2,000 being added over the next four years.
The situation is moving more quickly, in policy terms, than noble Lords might be aware. The Deputy Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor announced in a press statement a few weeks ago that he was arrogating to himself the decision of when prisoners were to be moved from closed to open prisons—not to be released into the community, but when they might be moved from closed to open prisons. The move, of course, is an indispensable step for them ever to be released. The decision is no longer to be taken by the Prison Service, but by the Secretary of State or his delegate. The test for whether they are to be transferred from closed to open prisons has moved from being a balanced assessment of the risks and benefits to being three separate tests, all of them harder and all of them set out for me, very kindly, in a letter in response to a question I asked, by my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook, a copy of which is in the Library of the House.
So, things are not moving forward, they are moving backwards, when it comes to addressing this injustice. I would like to take just a few seconds to remind noble Lords—I know they are aware of it—that nearly all these people have families. The families suffer as well from simply not knowing when, if ever, these sentences will be discharged and when they will be able to have their family member back as a normal member of society. Other members of those families suffer from the simple fact that they have seen their relatives successfully commit suicide—not merely attempt it—while serving these sentences, in simple despair at the very thought that they might be able to escape the system.
If it is hard for Ministers, especially in the other place, to do anything for prisoners who are clearly there because they have committed crimes of violence—that was a condition of why they were there in the first place, I fully accept that—let me at least make two propositions that they might take on board to support those who are out on licence and living in the community.
First, as we discussed in debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, they have to be out for 10 years—that is the qualifying period set in statute—before they can discharge the sentence finally. That 10-year period could be cut to five years with no risk to public safety, because they are out already and because if they have been out for five years, the likelihood that they will offend and be recalled in the second five years is minimal.
The second thing that Ministers could do relates to the current IPP action plan that they have said they will revise in the light of the report of the House of Commons Justice Select Committee, which we are all avidly looking forward to. That plan says a great deal, properly, about the Prison Service and the Parole Board, but very little about the probation service. The plan needs greatly strengthening in terms of the probation service and the support that is offered to these poor people as they try to rebuild their lives in the community. If my noble and learned friend the Minister could give assurances to the House that action will be taken on those two things at least, he would allow me not only to welcome him to his place but to give him hearty congratulations in advance on his maiden speech.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for speaking in the gap; I was not quite properly organised enough to get on the list, but I will not make a habit of this.
When it comes to the prison system, most of us here have long memories. I remember working over 30 years ago for the Apex Trust, which tried to deal with the offending cycle by getting people into work. Most of the problems that I bumped into on my first day are still there. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, put his finger squarely on the primary one: that the group you are recruiting from is chaotic and educationally underachieving. Most of them—the scholars among them—have made it to year 9; the rest were out of the education system before that. Secondary education has been patchy at best, and primary education may not have been much better.
The incredibly high percentage with what I would call the hidden disabilities—I remind the House of my interest in dyslexia and related fields—is so overrepresented as to make it ridiculous. These are people of, shall we say, a working-class background—the non-exam-passing classes—where you do not find this. Dyslexics like me who had a tiger parent who expected them to get through identify the problem, but the rest do not. A good reaction to the system is then, “Well, I don’t like school, so I won’t go”. If you are an 11 year-old who is at the bottom of the class, failing everything and unable to handle the situation, that is a perfectly logical thing to do. No one is telling you otherwise; no one is getting into it. The prison system has to deal with these people who have failed.
The special educational needs review will do a better job of giving some more information here, I hope, but it is a big ask. The prison system will have to back up that work by identifying such a person and telling them, “You’re not terminally stupid. You have a problem with learning that is called X”. Just think how much easier that person is to deal with after that. Think of the psychological effect of saying, “You haven’t been written off”.
What can you do to address this lack of confidence? One thing—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, referred—is sport, which is a good thing for this predominantly young and male population. Remember that these people have been out of school, and the normal links to sport and organised activity have been removed from them. Their families probably do not provide this or back it up in other ways. These young people are stuffed in an institution; why not give them some exercise and structure? Professor Meek’s 2018 report—the pandemic means that it is still very current—says that, if you get in there and give a positive role model to people, they will respond well. If you teach a sport, you teach discipline, organisation, control and regard for rules—you cannot succeed without these—and you give a positive role model. This is not surprising. I am sure that the arts can do a similar job for other groups.
When he sums up, could the Minister, whose maiden speech I look forward to—I wish he had a few more friends here—give us an idea about how these types of interventions will be structured in the ongoing situation? One thing that we are agreed on is that what is happening now is not working.
My Lords, this has been a thoughtful debate, and we have been treated to a glitterati of expertise. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for addressing the major issues before us. In welcoming the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, to his seat, I say that we have had to welcome too many Ministers of Justice in recent years. I wish that his response to this debate will give us some hope for the future.
I was drawn to two remarks. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said that this has all been said before in this House. I am afraid I will be paraphrasing what he said until the end of my life, although I sincerely hope that that is not the case. But it is certainly true that all the points have repeated what we have heard in the past in this Chamber, and it is important to remember that.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester invited us to have a national debate. The source of the issues that it might cover have been laid out today. When the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, opened this debate, he focused on the causes of crime, and it is not often that we would have such a debate right at the heart of these matters. The House has today focused on those causes, whether they be alcohol, drugs, poverty, poor education and background, and so forth. We have also heard about the injustice of IPP sentences. That is something which I think this House will not allow any Minister to forget.
One thing on which the House has been united is its ambition. There is a sense that we all know what problem we are trying to solve. Though there might be a difference in emphasis, the House has shown that it wants to shift the dial back from the punitive to the rehabilitative elements of our justice system. It has recognised the importance of reducing the rate of reoffending, which, in the Government’s own words, is “stubbornly high”. So we give good marks for ambition, but it is in the delivery against those principles or ambitions where nearly all the work remains to be done and where we need to hold the Government to account for their actions.
The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, talked in his report and earlier reports about that “golden thread”, and he has talked today about the link through the prison gate, both before and after, of family life. One thread from this debate has been the need to build a seamless line of support for offenders through the prison gate. That should start from sentencing. Judges and those sentencing can be encouraged to outline the nature of any support required having sat through the case on which a custodial sentence is determined, but of course prison should be not the automatic choice anyway. There is now widespread evidence, as evidenced by my noble friend Lady Burt, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, that short prison sentences do not lead to better outcomes in rehabilitation, and particularly for women they can be irreparably damaging to family links and bonds. The number of women in custody has fallen since 2010, but the statistics predict an increase in the coming few years, especially as the courts backlog is cleared. Custodial sentences for women should be the very last option, as my noble friend Lady Burt and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said.
The challenge for government is to reduce reoffending through routes to employment. Only 8% of people leaving prison are in paid employment six weeks later, and after a year that figure rises to just 17%. England and Wales has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in western Europe, with approximately 80,000 people incarcerated, rising to 100,000 by 2026. Yet prison is not working. Reoffending rates remain stubbornly high; 45% of adults released from prison go on to reoffend within a year. For those who have served a sentence of less than 12 months, this increases to 61%.
Research by Nacro shows that around 1,000 people leave prison homeless every month, leading to an increased risk of reoffending. Even with the extra funding and support available during the pandemic, that was still as high as 650 people a month.
Ambition 1 in the Government’s prisons strategy White Paper is:
“Clarity over who is accountable for improving rehabilitation and resettlement outcomes to reduce reoffending.”
That is their ambition, but, as we have heard today, a plethora of bodies fall into this statement of principle. A few have been mentioned today: prison officers, prison trainers, the probation service, local authorities, the NHS, housing associations, benefit provision offices, employment advisory boards, and a plethora of skilled third-sector organisations.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said, we need to have a holistic approach to bring together all these bodies in a way that makes it work for everyone. The great problem for the excellent third sector bodies—we all know of the Clink example—is that scaling up is a very difficult thing to do across the whole of the country. There is no hope for running all this out of the Ministry of Justice in London. Devolution is welcome, but it has not gone far enough. The Ministry of Justice should be able to set a framework of actions; it must then have the mechanism for it to be delivered locally.
If through-the-gate support is to be meaningful and workable, a consistent and deliverable structure is required. Prison governors will need the ability to influence those providing services not only within the custodial setting but immediately on release as well. Local authorities with housing, social care and a multitude of other required services will need to be adequately funded for the work they undertake. Too often, there has been an expectation that they will carry out the work without additional resource to ensure adequate delivery.
Some people are entitled to the discharge grant, for example, to help them on release. Last year it was raised from £46 to £76—the first increase in 26 years. Inflation has now bitten well into that increase. Thousands of prisoners remain ineligible, including those released on remand, fine defaulters and people serving less than 15 days. So perhaps the Minister could explain how the extra £200 million the Government plan to spend in two years’ time on supporting prison leavers will enable them to access the services they need for help. How will that money be committed? Will it be given to the released prisoners directly, or to training providers, housing associations or the NHS? Who will administer these funds; will it be the probation service acting as a commissioner? These are all critical questions to understand whether the delivery mechanism the Government are proposing will actually work.
Fundamentally, of course, is £200 million enough to meet the need? After all, the savings to the public purse of reducing reoffending is a massive financial bonus to the country—£18.1 billion, as we have been told in today’s debate. So this is a perfect example of how the Government can spend to save money for the people of this country. As my noble friend Lady Burt said, an easy way to get cracking on all this is to end Friday releases. That is an easy first step to improving the co-ordination of all these services, which find that they are not in place on that day of release.
The White Paper refers to several pilot schemes. I would be grateful for further information from the Minister on the Grand Avenue scheme in and around Cardiff. There is a Grand Avenue in Cardiff; I can tell him more about it should he wish to know when it was built and so on. This 10-year project may provide guidance on the way forward in respect of commissioning support services. I hope that we will not have to wait 10 years to learn the lessons, because we need to be getting on with this holistic approach and commissioning now.
In conclusion, there is much to encourage us in the Government’s White Paper, but many questions remain about resourcing, devolving and co-ordinating the vital services to reduce reoffending. The goal is obvious but the solutions have escaped government over these last decades. I hope that this does not become another false dawn whereby ambition is failed by inability to deliver. I look forward to the Minister’s maiden speech and, hopefully, his answers to this fundamental question.
My Lords, I too look forward to the noble and learned Lord the Minister’s maiden speech. He joins us as an expert on legal aid, an illustrious report on which he put his name to last year. I gently point out to him that his three predecessors resigned on principle, and I hope that he does not find himself in a similar position in the months to come.
I would like to open by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for tabling this debate. It has been extremely wide-ranging and a lot of expertise has been demonstrated. I also acknowledge the two reports the noble Lord has written—his 2017 review of reoffending by male prisoners, and his 2019 report on the importance of strengthening offenders’ family relationships and its impact on intergenerational crime. The two reports have been debated a number of times in several debates, and they will have an enduring legacy. For me, the statistic that summarises the conclusion, in a sense, is that 39% of prisoners who receive visits from family members are less likely to reoffend. The noble Lord quoted that statistic in his speech.
I first took an interest in criminal justice matters about 20 years ago, through the voluntary sector. I became a trustee of the Wandsworth Prison visitors’ association, which led to my becoming a magistrate and having a long-standing interest in these matters. Over the last 20 years we have seen a lot of changes to the wider criminal justice system. Some have been driven by funding cuts, others by ideological commitments to particular organisational models—for example, in the probation service. But of course, on top of that there has been a huge increase in the prevalence of drugs in the prison estate and in the mental health issues of people who are sent to prison. All this has added up to a feeling that the wider criminal justice system just is not working. It is not keeping victims safe, rehabilitating offenders or providing staff with long-term rewarding careers during which they can use their expertise to reduce reoffending.
Since this such a wide-ranging debate, I want to concentrate on particular themes and ask the Minister a couple of questions. First, offenders are more likely to come out of prison addicted to drugs than when they went in, making our communities less safe. Drug crimes in prison have leapt by 500% since 2010, while the number of inmates accessing NHS alcohol and drug treatment programmes has fallen by 12%. One-third of adults released from custody go on to reoffend within a year and, as we have heard from other noble Lords, this costs the UK taxpayer £18 billion a year. Part of the problem is that the average prison officer in England and Wales now has only four years’ experience in the job. In 2017, the median time served by a front-line prison officer was 12 years. Surely, this has an impact on the availability of rehabilitation within prison.
In today’s Times newspaper, Charlie Taylor, the current Chief Inspector of Prisons, wrote about the uneven performance of and lack of purposeful activity in the prison system, particularly in category C prisons where offenders are supposed to be prepared to be released into the community; this is simply not happening in a number of those prisons. Current prison conditions mean that inmates are not given the opportunity to engage with meaningful education, substance misuse reduction or rehabilitation programmes. Does the Minister accept that this is a failure of the Government and needs the primary concentration of Ministers to reverse the situation?
Turning to youth justice, the Government have slashed £1 billion from youth services in our communities since 2010, leaving a gaping hole in respect of the clubs and support that used to exist for young people in the community. In 2020-21, 73% of youths in custody were in YOIs, 17% were in STCs and 10% were in secure children’s homes. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has issued urgent notifications for one YOI and two STCs where there is a significant concern about the treatment of young people in custody.
When I first became a youth magistrate some 13 years ago, about 3,000 young people were in custody; now, there are about 800. That is significant progress, but its inevitable consequence is that those young people who are in custody are more entrenched in their criminal behaviour and need more support to try to stop them reoffending when they come out of prison. Does the Minister agree that this is the situation, and extra support is needed for young people as they come out of custody?
Next, I refer to public confidence in the criminal justice system regarding rape. Some 41% of rape cases now end with the victim withdrawing their support. Does the Minister accept that this is a result of a lack of confidence in the justice system? What does he believe can be done to reduce the 1,081 days between a rape taking place and a verdict being reached by a court?
I return to community sentences. A number of noble Lords spoke about the importance of community sentences. I need to declare an interest here, as a sitting magistrate, in that I occasionally sentence women to short terms of imprisonment—although I think I can say that, in the 15 years that I have been sitting as a magistrate, I have only ever done that when the woman concerned has served multiple community sentences and, for one reason or another, those have failed.
However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester about the importance of women’s centres. They are a very important element in trying to stop women reoffending. It is worth quoting the Chief Inspector of Probation, who has described the probation service as being “in survival mode” due to staff shortages. Can the Minister say anything about the recruitment activities of the probation service? To make community sentences work as they surely must, we need to reinvigorate community sentences and the probation service.
As I have said, this has been a wide-ranging debate and all the contributions have been extremely worth while. I understand that we are talking about intractable problems that are difficult to deal with. A number of noble Lords have a decades-long interest in these matters, but I just want to reflect on the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. He opened by saying that when one walks into a prison, one walks into a shockingly sad situation. That is true in my experience of going into prisons over the years as well. The noble and learned Lord’s call was for shorter sentences and a reinvigoration of community sentences. Those two elements will do more to improve our situation in the wider criminal justice system than anything else. I urge the noble and learned Lord the Minister to listen to the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf.
My Lords, it is an honour—and, I must say, something of a challenge—to make my maiden speech in response to this particularly powerful debate. First, I thank all those who have made me so welcome in this House and assisted with my introduction, not least my supporters: my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. I also thank noble Lords for their personal kindness and for the courtesy with which they rightly raise the most direct and challenging questions.
To give, briefly, a little personal background, I take my title in respectful tribute to my birthplace, the ancient settlement of Waddesdon in the Vale of Aylesbury, which was rebuilt in the late 19th century as a so-called model village to house the estate workers of the newly constructed and amazing edifice known as Waddesdon Manor, now in the care of the National Trust. My late father, then recently returned from the war, was the local GP in a sprawling, single-handed rural practice. In those days, the 1950s, a family doctor, as well as holding morning and evening surgeries, spent his day largely on the road, in home visits, visiting his patient in the local hospital—it was your duty as a GP to go to see your patient in hospital in those days—and, as often as not, the call would come in the middle of the night, in the mud and the snow, to deliver the baby on some distant farm.
I mention those things because this occasion enables me to salute not only that generation, the founding generation of the NHS, but all those, then and now, who dedicate themselves to front-line public service, often under the most appalling pressures. In the present context, I make special mention of the staff of HMPPS, who are working in most difficult circumstances, as has been pointed out, picking up the pieces of what has already gone seriously wrong at a much earlier stage. As the noble Lord, Lord Bird, pointed out, it is the social crisis that has led to people being in prison in the first place. Many prisoners have already fallen through the cracks: that, essentially, is our challenge. I disclose, as I should, that I have a niece who works for HMPPS in the probation sector and that my sister, also “of Waddesdon”, has spent a lifetime in this sector.
One point I would make, relevant to our debate today, which perhaps resonates with one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, is that the rural society of the 1950s I have just been describing was not, in any sense, a prosperous society. Few possessed a car, a telephone, a fridge, a washing machine, a television or, indeed, a bathroom; but as I recall it, there was in the village and the surrounding area a sense of community, of social cohesion, of family stability. I would argue that there was a social strength despite material poverty. That kind of stability has, I fear, frayed in the meantime under the pressures of modern life; this has perhaps contributed to the causes of crime and the problem of reoffending which preoccupies us in the debate today.
So, to delay the debate and the Government’s response to it no longer, I hope noble Lords will allow me the briefest, telegraphic description of my own career. I spent 22 years at the Bar, from timid beginnings in the London magistrates’ courts—a salutary education in the school of real life—and at the legal advice centre in north London mentioned by my friend, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, all those years ago. Then I became a little more specialised and found myself at one stage as one of the UK judges in Luxembourg. There was the setting up of the Competition Appeal Tribunal, followed, some years later, by a long period on the other side of the profession, working with one of London’s major international law firms, chairing one of the firm’s global practice groups, working all over Europe and in the US, Asia, the Far East and elsewhere—a striking reminder in this last period of the global reach of the common law and the strength of the UK in that sector. However, that is all for another day. Personally speaking, it has been something of a zig-zag career, and whether my present role turns out to be a zig or a zag will be for your Lordships to decide.
On to today’s debate, I first particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and his advisor Dr Callan, not only for his speech today but for his extremely valuable reports of 2017 and 2019, for his ongoing work with the ministry, and his tireless and constructive interest in the matters under discussion. I cannot in the time available deal with all the points made; we have ranged extremely widely. I will do my best on other occasions to follow up those points or deal with them outside the context of the present debate. One of the matters I do not think I can really deal with today, in terms of rehabilitation of prisoners, is sentencing policy. With the House’s permission, I will not deal with the problem of IPP sentences but I have assured the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, that I will come back to him and the cross-party group on this subject, and that we will come to grips once again with that intractable problem.
Many other issues have been raised: I think of older pensioners and alcohol abuse; I think of rape and youth justice. All those things are extremely important but I would like to concentrate today on the main themes of the rehabilitation of prisoners, what the ministry and the Government are trying to do about it, and where we are going. I readily recognise that this is a difficult and intractable subject that many of us have been thinking about and discussing for years and years, but perhaps your Lordships will arrive at the conclusion that, at long last, we are really beginning to come to grips with the detail of the problem. Your Lordships have already heard mention during the debate of some encouraging matters: the new centre in Swansea, the New Futures Network mentioned earlier, the work initiatives mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, and other matters. The Government’s, and my own approach, is as follows.
The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, is entirely right to regard the importance of family life, family connections and the maintenance of family relationships as the golden thread that runs through the whole problem. But a thread by itself needs to be woven into a stronger fabric to form, if you will, the warp and weft of a fabric that can sustain, develop and last into the future in a robust way. I would select today, respectfully, five other threads in the fabric that the Government will seek to strengthen and develop in the coming period.
The first thread, which I would regard as the most important, is the question of education. That has been raised several times before, and rightly. The Government have established—perhaps I should say re-established—a prisoner education service with the specific role of improving literacy, numeracy and technical skills in prison. It is entirely right that a very substantial proportion of the male prison population is dyslexic; it is as simple as that. For that reason, as eloquently explained earlier by noble Lords, many of the prisoners the system is dealing with have simply dropped out of school and fallen through the crack. Those difficulties have not been addressed earlier. This underlines another aspect that has come across so forcefully in this debate: the fact that we are dealing with widespread social problems that just happen to finish up in the prison sector.
The words that cropped up most frequently today included “holistic”, “interdepartmental” and “cross-government”. All those aspects need to have a co-ordinated response from government as a whole. To give one very small example from a Ministry of Justice point of view, I intend to make it one of my personal priorities to focus on the special educational needs tribunals which are responsible, as the House knows, for dealing with the provision of special needs in the school system, working with local authorities and the Department for Education to help address that problem at an earlier stage. But we have to think laterally the whole time when dealing with these types of problems. Better education of the prison population is the first thread, weave or strand in the overall approach to the situation.
The second strand, also mentioned today, is accommodation. Some 12,000 people a year are discharged from prison with no home to go to. The Government are setting up a community accommodation service with the objective that no one should leave prison with nowhere to go. That has been rolled out so far across five regions of the government: that accommodation should be provided for a minimum of 12 weeks, and homelessness protection teams and strategic homing specialists should be fully involved in the accommodation needs of discharged prisoners. That is, at least, another first step. One of the questions I have asked of my department in recent days—I am still quite new to all this—is how you plan in advance a prisoner’s release so that he knows he has accommodation to go to, the family knows what is happening and everything is already set up, as it were, across all the relevant services and departments. I gather that one of the initiatives in train is that a proper discharge packet should be prepared so that the prisoner has an ID, a CV, a certificate that he is fit to work and a home to go to. These are detailed, small steps but they are vital. Accommodation, therefore, is the second thread.
The third is employment. As your Lordships will know, it has always been difficult, to an extent, to overcome employers’ reluctance to employ offenders. I submit that this is perhaps beginning to change. An employment innovation fund of £21 million has been set up to improve work on how to get prisoners back into employment. The intention is to have an employment advisory board in every prison, so that prisons themselves can start equipping their prisoners with the skills they need to enhance their chances of employment.
Those boards will be chaired by a local business executive who knows what the employers are looking for. That will, over time, improve the situation. About half our prisons now have such an advisory board, and it is hoped that the rest will be installed by April of next year. The prisons themselves will have prison employment leads in them to match candidates to jobs. It is hoped that by April of next year, all 91 resettlement prisons will have such a mechanism to again encourage prisoners into employment.
I make particular mention of the New Futures Network, already mentioned by the noble Lord, which is an online resource broking and matching prisoners to available vacancies and jobs. We shall later on introduce legislation to facilitate prisoner apprenticeships, which is being welcomed by employer organisations. In this context I again salute a particular employer that has been mentioned: the Timpson Group, which is particularly active in this area. The proportion of prison leavers employed at six months post-release rose by two thirds between April 2021 and March 2022 and now stands at around 23%. Not high enough, I know, but slow progress upwards.
In continuing the threads, the next one, which I will mention briefly because it is a large topic, is control and improvement of substance misuse. It is no use releasing prisoners if they are still in the grip of substance misuse. As noble Lords know, the Government have appropriated more than £900 million to deal with drug problems generally. A substantial proportion of that goes to the prison community. Important measures have been taken in prisons to reduce drug availability and drug usage, and that is a key element of the programme.
Finally, there is the integrated probation service, which has been reorganised entirely over the last few years. It has had a considerable uplift in resources and is a vital part of the ongoing need to support and encourage prisoners when they are released.
So, those five threads are woven together with the family considerations, which I venture to suggest are now pretty firmly embedded in the culture of the Prison Service. The governors are very alert to and supportive of this. Every prison has to publish its policy on family matters. There are various initiatives, particularly virtual family video calls to maintain family contact; there is the “stories with Dad” or “stories with Mum” type of call. There is always more to be done, of course, but with the encouragement and leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, I think that that is now, as a matter of culture, growing in the Prison Service. Also, there is the Grand Avenue project in Cardiff—it too has been mentioned—which is part of the programme. So, there is a lot being done.
According to my figures, over the past 10 years, the number of reoffenders—that is, the number of people who are released and then reoffend—has halved, roughly speaking, from nearly 800,000 to just under 400,000. However, that is not the end of the story, because those who do reoffend are reoffending more often. Just over 25% of offenders who received a caution or a non-custodial conviction or were released from prison in 2019-20 reoffended within a year. That has fallen by about 5% over the past 10 years. It is not enough but it is at least a decline in the trend. Those are the matters on which we are working.
In conclusion—and I must finish, I am afraid, although I could go on for a long time—we are very conscious of the issue of staffing in prisons, which my noble friend Lord Farmer and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, raised, and the need to increase the number of prison officers. The intention is to increase the number by another 5,000 over the next few years. At the moment it is not easy to recruit people of the necessary calibre, but the Government are conscious of the problem and we are doing our best to resolve it as soon as possible.
I have not got the solutions to the problems raised but I can, I hope, assure noble Lords to some extent that we are on the case and doing our best to improve the situation.
My Lords, on behalf of the whole House, I thank my noble and learned friend the Minister and congratulate him on his excellent maiden speech. It is not easy on entering this House to combine your maiden speech with a ministerial response to a debate, but I can say on behalf of us all that he did an excellent job.
The Minister is roughly the same age as me, I think. When one gets to this age, serving in this House is an optional decision, really. I suggest that it is a service for the common good rather than for one’s personal ambitions. From the Minister’s speech, one can derive that his heart is connected to his head in the role he has taken on here; I am also pleased that we now have a specific Minister for family justice in your Lordships’ House. He has internalised those ideals of service, sacrifice and duty, which we talked about before. When we look at his CV, which he presented to us today, we can see the wisdom and experience that he has garnered over decades, the benefit of which we will now receive. Again, I congratulate him and welcome him to our House. I am sure that I can say on behalf of us all that we wish him the very best. We will give him the best support we can; it may sometimes be quite critical, but we very much welcome him to our House.
I want to keep things short as I am sure everyone is looking forward to lunch. I thank all noble Lords for a rich debate. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said, this debate can be of great value. We have had two and a half hours of discussion on a difficult subject, from many different angles. I hope that it will be taken away by those in government and in the whole of the sector and studied. I also hope that recommendations can be drawn from it.
I thank noble Lords for their rich contributions. I had better close.