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Prisons

6. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): What estimate he has made of the incidence of mental illness in prison. [50395]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): The most comprehensive national assessment was published in the Office for National Statistics survey of mental ill health in the prison population in England and Wales in 1997. It indicated that 90 per cent. of prisoners have at least one mental health disorder. Our five-year strategy for reducing reoffending includes a commitment to do more to make sure that people with mental disorders who offend get the treatment that they need.

Dr. Cable: Further to that answer and to last Thursday's statement, what action do the Government propose to take in respect of the 5,000 prisoners who are regarded as profoundly mentally ill to ensure that, when
 
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they are released, they are not turfed out on to the streets, seriously ill and homeless, so that they then live rough and almost certainly reoffend?

Fiona Mactaggart: We have two main approaches. We work through mental health in-reach teams in prisons, which work with community teams on a care plan. On an offender's release, they work together to pass that individual into the care of a community mental health team in a negotiated transfer. That did not happen before.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My hon. Friend is aware of the national disgrace whereby individuals were freed from mental institutions under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, but found that the only safe and secure place for them was prison and they offended to get back into a secure environment. Can she tell the House how many people who had spent time in a mental institution and who were released under the care in the community programme are in a normal prison today? If she cannot do that today, will she send me a note?

Fiona Mactaggart: As my hon. Friend predicts, I cannot give him those precise figures without prior notice. However, I can ensure that they are made available to the House. I can also assure him that we have put in place a series of steps to reduce the revolving door of offending and mental ill health. Proposals to amend mental health legislation will enable us to put more robust procedures in place to do that.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Will the Minister also agree to consider the disgraceful situation in which many ex-servicemen find themselves when they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder which exhibits itself as alcoholism and, again, domestic violence, and they end up in prison? Will she consider those people alongside the emergency service people mentioned earlier?

Fiona Mactaggart: In terms of responsibilities for former servicemen, the hon. Lady's question is probably best directed to the Ministry of Defence. I will ensure that my colleagues in that Department are made aware of it. Offending as a result of people's previous experiences is a critical consideration in everything that we are trying to do to reduce reoffending. She will have seen in the reducing reoffending action plan, which we published last week, that one of our ambitions is to bear down on all the features, including mental ill health, that lead to reoffending, and to have a much more comprehensive programme to achieve that. I can give her the assurance that she seeks when someone has offended and will draw her question to the attention of my colleagues so that we prevent the offending that concerns her.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that one difficulty in dealing with prisoners with mental illness is the shortage of psychiatrists working in the prison medical service and the problem of getting transfers to psychiatric hospitals. What progress is being made on recruiting more people with psychiatric qualifications into the prison medical
 
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service? Has there been any progress on shortening the time for the transfer of prisoners to psychiatric hospitals?

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is right; that is a substantial challenge. There has been an increase in the number of transfers in recent years. In 2003, 721 prisoners were transferred. In the most recent year, that had increased to 892. Our ambition of ensuring that we have mental health services in prisons that are the equivalent of those in the community is critical to ensure that they work on all fours.

To achieve that, we have done a couple of things that assist in that regard. The first is to reduce the difficulties, through an agreement between the Department of Health and the prisons department, by identifying the primary care trust responsible for mentally ill offenders. That has been communicated in a Prison Service instruction and a letter by the Department of Health. Secondly, we are consulting the Royal College of Psychiatrists about ensuring that—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I expect briefer responses to questions. It is unfair to Back Benchers.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): There is no doubt that among the mentally ill in prison are a considerable number of low-level criminals who are repeat offenders. Is it time to review the sentencing guidelines, because many of those people should not be in prison?

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have a Sentencing Guidelines Council that can take such things into account. He will also be aware that, in our recent reducing reoffending action plan, we ensured that greater emphasis was put on community sentences. If those sentences include the proper support, the end that he mentions should be achieved.

Binge Drinking

7. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What progress is being made in tackling binge drinking. [50396]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): The Licensing Act 2003, which came into effect in November 2005, and a series of alcohol misuse enforcement campaigns have been central to the Government's wider strategy to reduce the harms caused through the misuse of alcohol. The results of the recent enforcement campaign show that, in participating basic command unit areas, all violent crime decreased by 11 per cent.

Ms Keeble: I congratulate my right hon. Friend and all the local police forces, particularly my own force in Northamptonshire, on the excellent results of their Christmas campaign. When the police receive extra powers to tackle binge drinking under the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, will she ensure that there is an equally proactive campaign so that they can use those powers to crack down further on binge drinking?
 
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Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend makes an important point and I congratulate her on her tenacity and determination in taking a lead in her constituency to make sure that those powers are used. I am delighted that, in the latest enforcement campaign, the police used new powers to issue more than 8,000 penalty notices for disorder and I will certainly make sure that alcohol disorder zones, drinking banning orders and the closure powers in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill are used in a similarly proactive way.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): As the Minister knows, the consequences of binge drinking are not confined to vomit in the gutters and fighting in the streets. Some individuals go home quietly and beat up their wives and girlfriends. On 19 January, I was told that it was too early to assess the impact of the new licensing hours on domestic violence. When will we be able see genuine, unspun comparisons, and what steps will the Minister take, not just to deal with the effects but to prevent alcohol-fuelled domestic violence?

Hazel Blears: The figures showing that violence has been reduced by 11 per cent., and serious violence by 14 per cent. following the latest campaign are not spun. They are absolutely accurate figures based on a comparison between October and December last year. Moreover, the Government have an extremely proud record of massive decreases in domestic violence and other crimes. An advertising campaign will start tomorrow and we are conducting a thorough evaluation of the impact of the licensing changes in five different areas that will look at a range of issues. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge the Government's genuine achievements in tackling domestic violence.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is well aware of the problems of binge drinking, but under-age binge drinking, too, causes violence, antisocial behaviour, vandalism and so on. What powers can be given to the police, not only to tackle people who sell alcohol to minors but to ensure that the culprits clean up the mess that they leave behind?

Hazel Blears: A few months ago, 50 per cent. of supermarkets sold alcohol to under-age youngsters but, following the latest enforcement campaign, the figure has gone down to 17 per cent., which is a dramatic achievement. I am grateful to the supermarkets for the pressure that they have brought to bear on the problem, but there is more that we can do. I am concerned about people urinating and vomiting in the street, which is why I am delighted that several hundred fixed penalty notices have been issued. My hon. Friend raised the important issue of reparation, which is certainly something that we could look at.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): In Windsor, a wonderful thing has happened. More policemen were put on the beat in crime and binge-drinking hot spots, and violent crime went down. Is the Minister saying that it is the 24-hour licensing laws that have brought about that change, or is it more policemen on the beat?

Hazel Blears: I think that it is a combination of things. There are more policemen are on the beat as a result of
 
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Government policy—there are an extra 13,000 officers since we came to government, and we will have an extra 24,000 community support officers up and down the country as well. However, the change has also taken place because thousands of young people are no longer thrown out on to the street at the same time, leading to fights for a taxi and to fighting in the kebab shop. The licensing changes are sensible and there has been a reduction in violence. I hope that that continues in the long term and we will certainly monitor the impact to make sure that that is the case.


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