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14 Mar 2007 : Column 113WH—continued

As I said, I made several legal visits to prisons over a number of years, but it was not until Monday that I had the opportunity, with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), to visit Pentonville and Holloway to see a little more of what
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they were like inside. I certainly would not describe the experience at Pentonville as a comfort break—far from it. Given the structural problems faced by prisoners in inner-city prisons such as Pentonville, those who seek, quite properly, to bring about true rehabilitation—I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s words in that regard—face great difficulties from the word go. The problems that Pentonville has had in dealing with basic safety issues have certainly been well documented. Those who come to Pentonville and other prisons have chaotic lives, which are predominantly affected by alcohol, drugs and poly-substance misuse. They also have low literacy levels—those of a 12-year-old, on average—and there are problems with family breakdown and the like. When people come to the prisoner reception area in that state, it is difficult to think of anything to do with rehabilitation, and stability is the first port of call.

In the cells at Pentonville, I saw how opportunities for rehabilitation in the general sense of the word are limited by the time spent in the cells. This may not be the case, but my clients told me that they spent 23 hours in a cell. There would be two of them, eating there, using the toilets there and the rest of it. Efforts are being made to introduce some kind of activities, but they are extremely limited, not least by capacity. Pentonville is full, and the prospect of making the place safer is prescribed by that limited capacity. Indeed, that is true up and down the country, and when the Minister deals with drugs policy and rehabilitation, he needs to respond to the basic point that our prisons are full. How can we deal properly with rehabilitation in those circumstances?

To bring hon. Members up to date, Pentonville has responded to the report about it and to concerns about deaths in custody, and it is now seeking stability, which is an improvement. Such changes have come about because of the introduction of the Central and North West London Mental Health NHS Trust as a provider, and that is to be commended. However, progress is extremely limited and consists, in effect, of simply being able to give low-level prescriptions for methadone and being more sensitive to the needs of those arriving in the prison. As I suggested, that sensitivity is limited, with prisoners queuing up to be assessed to see whether they need treatment. That leads to methadone. The focus is on trying to maintain prisoners on a stable and safe level, but that seems to be about it. That is probably all that Pentonville will be able to manage structurally, although it now has a separate unit to deal with substance misuse, which is extremely welcome. The unit’s managers are making every effort, but their actions are prescribed by several things, including, not least, the prevailing structure and funding.

My hon. and learned Friend and I also visited Holloway on Monday. Holloway is the most improved prison and has received awards for the improvements that it has made in terms of rehabilitation. Again, it has a separate unit to deal with substance misuse, and the whole environment there is much more conducive to rehabilitation; it is based not so much on the Victorian prison set-up as on a hospital regime. In that, it is similar not least to Rampton.

The improvements at Holloway were also based on clear leadership, and leadership is vital in our prisons. We talk about the problem of revolving doors, and I certainly saw that with my clients, who were in and out
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of prison, having been affected by alcohol and drugs. That is a particular problem for prisons such as Pentonville, which has many short-term prisoners who go off to other prisons or out the door. At Holloway, however, the issue has been leadership. As with other prisons, what happens at Pentonville is affected by the governors, who do not stay long, but move on after 18 months at the most. Holloway, however, has had steady leadership over a number of years, which has enabled it to introduce improvements. It has therefore been able to make significant progress on drug rehabilitation, and that is to be commended.

Unfortunately, such progress is limited. One trigger point for drugs policy and intervention funding from the Government appears to be deaths in custody. Obviously, such things make the headlines and affect politicians, but dealing with them does not necessarily deal with the underlying problems or reward good progress. Holloway is making good progress on rehabilitation and good management and has been able allocate and ring-fence moneys.

However, there are problems for other prisons. Indeed, Holloway itself is not getting any extra resources for the integrated drug treatment system. That money has not come to Holloway or Pentonville. As for Wormwood Scrubs, £500,000 of its allocated money has been taken away and £325,000 has gone to Brixton because it had a death in custody. So the money is not necessarily being used to deal with rehabilitation or management systems.

There is concern about integrated drug treatment systems, which have effectively been cut by 60 per cent. from the projected funding of £20 million in 2006-07. Funding was supposed to rise to £40 million.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I accept the figures that the hon. Gentleman gives—he has raised the matter with me in parliamentary questions before—but does he accept that the integrated drug treatment system represents new and additional support for drug treatment in our prisons? I accept what he says about Holloway and Pentonville, but the fact that the money is there is a step in the right direction.

Mr. Burrowes: It certainly is a step in the right direction, but it has been taken from some prisons that had included it in projections as part of their budgets and planning for rehabilitation. There has been a cut to in-year funding and also for the future, so the good progress that has been made in Holloway may not be sustained to get us beyond the point of simply parking people on a maintenance programme. That may keep them safer, but it does not necessarily lead to the recovery and treatment that everyone wants. We need to get to a stage at which the 28-day programmes are in place, something that the integrated drug treatment systems would make possible.

In conclusion, I want to discuss the way forward. Good progress is being made. The Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust—RAPt—is making good progress in prisons such as Wandsworth, where it is making use of 12-step programmes with a therapeutic element. Those programmes work, ensuring that we do not just maintain people but try to move them towards recovery. The chief executive, Mike Trace, says that it gives results, because recovery and being drug free
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mean that people can rebuild their contribution to society, including work and family relationships.

Elsewhere, Grendon has its critics, but it has also received plaudits. A recent Home Office report on reconviction rates showed that treatment had an effect on men who attended Grendon, compared with a matched sample of other men. The outcome was certainly affected by the fact that they were there for a good period of time—at least 18 months—rather than going in and out of the door of Pentonville. I invite the Minister to respond with his view of the progress that he saw at Grendon, and how the radical view taken there to therapy might be applied elsewhere.

Another example is “Beyond”, the Bristol Believe project’s holistic approach to reoffending, in which issues such as debt, money management, family structures and relationship issues are dealt with. Those should be attended to, in addition to maintaining people and dealing with their underlying health problems. It is possible to look further afield, too, and what happens in other countries has been mentioned. A successful participant in the RAPt programme made the point that we cannot just deal with issues of safety, but must deal with the whole person, challenging previously negative attitudes and patterns of behaviour, and looking at the link between someone’s drug use and their life. That person now takes responsibility for his life. He says that no one else can make the changes and that he cannot blame others for his behaviour. He now has the opportunity, with a national vocational qualification, to bring other people through to the level of rehabilitation and recovery.

3.23 pm

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) on securing this extremely important debate. I have just received the annual report of the independent monitoring board that inspects Forest Bank prison just outside my constituency in Salford. It is a young offenders institution as well as a prison for adults, and it is all male. The report is for December 2005 to November 2006, and I thank the chairman, Eileen Howard, and her colleagues, for all their hard work in monitoring the prison on behalf of the prisoners and staff.

The prison opened in January 2000 with a population of about 800, although invariably it has more people than that. Fifty per cent. or more of the inmates come from Bolton, many of them from my constituency. I have visited the prison, which is run by Kalyx Ltd, so it is one of the unusual private prisons. Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, was very critical of the prison in the year before the annual report that I have just received. Drugs were getting inside in staggering numbers. I saw tables full of drugs. The report contains the following figures, and this is a picture of a good year when there has been a crackdown: 9.885 kg of cannabis, 220 g of heroin, 93 g of cocaine, 43 g of amphetamines, 427 g of steroids and 62 g of Subutex. It will not surprise hon. Members to learn that they were ordered by mobile telephone, and that 355 mobile telephones were confiscated during the year in question, as well as, I dare say, many SIM cards as well. Those are all sold and bought in prisons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North referred to debts incurred in prison. Those debts extend
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beyond prison too, as does the intimidation of families. People are visited regularly, and there are no invoices for buying drugs, so those on the outside must take the recommendation of the criminal who knocks on their door collecting debts about the amount of drugs bought by their relative in prison. That leads to massive intimidation.

I want to draw attention to an important fact. The prison put up a vertical net to stop drugs being fired into the exercise yard from an adjacent canal bank, whose tow path is at roughly the height of the prison wall. It is claimed that that has worked, but I have challenged that claim, because crossbows are now being used to clear the top of the net. The people involved are very clever, and will find a way around anything. However, the matter that I want to point out to the Minister relates to the reduced mandatory drug testing rate of 5.8 per cent. in this prison. According to the report—this is not my advice to the Minister but that of an independent monitoring board—the prisoners have switched to using buprenorphine, or Subutex. There are two reasons for that. The first is that the prison dogs cannot detect buprenorphine, which is frankly as good as heroin—it will give that kind of buzz if enough is taken; the second is that in many prisons the mandatory drug testing does not cover buprenorphine. I advise the Minister to check that, but that is what the report says. Mandatory drug testing for buprenorphine is not happening in Forest Bank prison.

I chaired the release of the Royal Society of Arts report the other evening in John Adam street, and the panel discussion was very exciting. We had a dinner afterwards at which the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) was also present. I think that he will agree that the discussion was extremely vigorous, and some very important people were present, including top cops from around the country. The Science and Technology Committee also recently produced a report on the ABC classification of drugs. If I had been fortunate today and Mr. Speaker had reached Question 14 at Prime Minister’s Question Time, I would have asked the question that I put to my hon. Friend the Minister now: in light of the Select Committee report and the RSA report, and, indeed, many other reports going back to Runciman and beyond, is it not time that we looked again at the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971?

In many people’s opinion the Act is out of date and we should include in it tobacco, alcohol and other substance abuse. One of the recommendations of the RSA report was that we should now have a misuse of substances Act. It agreed with the Select Committee that the ABC classification of drugs is useless and that we should consider the Blakemore and Nutt harm index, which I understand was published in The Lancet last week. We should base our drug policies on a harm index, rather than on a useless classification that we argue about all the time. It is surprising where ecstasy lies on the harm index—it is quite low down—and where alcohol lies. It is much higher up. Heroin and cocaine are at the top, of course.

Finally, I want to draw attention to the integrated drug treatment system for prisons, which I understand is now handled by the primary care trusts in the regions where the prisons are. I am disappointed at the 60 per cent. cut this year from £28 million to £12 million. I
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accept the Minister’s explanation that it is extra money, but it was made available in recognition of the fact that drug treatment services in prison were pretty hopeless and had to be improved. People who go to prison without a drug habit who are not lucky enough to be put on a drug-free wing are intimidated to such an extent that they start taking drugs. Non-drug takers can end up as drug addicts. Indeed, if they start to exchange needles—if they get to that state—they will get HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases. That is a shame.

A point not made so far is that 73 per cent. of male and 70 per cent. of female prison inhabitants are mentally ill. We should not treat only the drug addiction. All available therapies are needed to treat mental illness in prison, and we should allow dual diagnosis and allow people to be treated both for mental illness and for drug addiction if they are dually diagnosed.

I have been told by inmates at Forest Bank prison about the easiest way to bring drugs into prison. A person who goes to court will see his relatives there. The drugs are passed from the relatives to the prisoner; the prisoner is then transferred back to the same prison—or sometimes to another—and the drugs go back with him or her. I have heard that prisoners are not searched on return from court; it is not realised how many drugs come in via that route.

I am very interested in the subject, and I have a lot more to say but I want to give the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) the chance to speak.

3.31 pm

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) on securing this important debate. I shall be brief.

Ford prison, as the Minister knows, is in my constituency. Over the past five years, it has been having problems with prisoners absconding from prison at the rate of about two a week. I believe that drug problems are a contributory factor, and I want to explain why.

In 2005, the full report of the prison inspectorate said that nearly half of prisoners at Ford had easy access to drugs; it said that they were largely soft drugs but that

However, the report of the independent monitoring board of November 2006 came to a rather more worrying conclusion. It said that as a result of an increase in the number of shorter term offenders going to Ford prison, a move towards class A drugs was prevalent there. The board said that that was of considerable concern, and it asked the prison to consider providing a drugs dog and to make additional funding available for staff and surveillance to improve the situation.

Following a freedom of information request in February, Brighton’s evening newspaper The Argus claimed that Ford prison was among the worst 40 prisons for drug taking and that one in seven inmates now failed mandatory random drug tests. That situation was thrown into sharper relief as a result of a
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meeting that I had with prison officers in the House last month that was convened by the Prison Officers Association.

Officers from Ford prison said that drugs were being passed into the prison but that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service had not been sufficiently supportive of those officers who intercepted them, and that when prison officers apprehended traffickers little was done. In particular, the officers said that children as young as 15 were being used as drugs traffickers. Reports of the arrest of a 15-year-old outside the prison have since been confirmed by Sussex police, but as yet no action has been taken and the circumstances of the case are not yet clear. I have written to the Minister about that, and we are due to visit the prison next week—I thank him for the invitation—but if true, it is a serious matter. I urge him to look into the case as part of his inquiry into the continuing security problems at Ford prison.

3.34 pm

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) on securing the debate, which has provided us with an ideal opportunity to discuss an important and sometimes overlooked subject. I commend other hon. Members for their contributions, particularly the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) who touched on an area that I think is particularly relevant and interesting—the cycle of reoffending. People come out of prison with low numeracy and literacy, often having never done any meaningful work, and having had no fixed abode before going to prison, they have nowhere to live after their release. It would be an extremely enlightened employer who chose to take on someone in such circumstances. How people in that position can be helped to stand on their own two feet and to establish themselves in mainstream society is a huge challenge for us all.

There is no doubt that drug use in prison has reached epidemic proportions. The majority of people going to prison are problem drug users. In 2005, a Home Office spokesman estimated that there were about 39,000 problem drug users in the prison system at any one time—that is about half of the United Kingdom’s prison population. Of them, 66 per cent. of males and 55 per cent. of females sentenced had used drugs in the previous year. Drug use is not the exception in prison; it is more likely than not for those who pass through our prison system.

Other hon. Members who have spoken today touched upon some of the ways in which drugs can be smuggled into prison. They include social visits, the postal system and receptions and occasionally prison staff. Sometimes they are thrown in over the perimeter wall and, as we heard from the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), sometimes they are brought in through receptions after court visits. I understand that in 2005-06 400 visitors were arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle drugs into prison. However, compared to the scale of the problem, 400 arrests seems a modest tally. The very existence of drugs-free wings tells its own story: it tells of the acceptance of the scale of the problem and of the attempt by prison authorities to manage the problem rather than tackle it. That is the scale of the problem that confronts those responsible for maintaining order and discipline in prison.

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The problem is not new and it is not as if the Government have not been alerted to it. Many speakers referred to the RSA report that was published only a few days ago. It stated:

In a slightly oblique analysis, the report also stated that

The RSA report follows on from many other reports that have touched on similar themes. In 2001, a Turning Point report pointed out:

The Prime Minister’s delivery unit said in 2005 that

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