House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
WELSH AFFAIRS Committee
TUESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2006
MR GERRY SUTCLIFFE MP, MR PETER BROOK, MS SIAN WEST and MR MICHAEL SPURR
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Welsh Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 12 December 2006
Dr Hywel Francis, in the Chair
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mrs Siān C James
Mr David Jones
Memorandum submitted by the Home Office
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr Gerry Sutcliffe, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Criminal Justice and Offender Management, Mr Peter Brook, Director of Corporate Services, National Offender Management Service, Ms Sian West, Acting Director of Offender Management for Wales and Mr Michael Spurr, Deputy Director General, HM Prison Service, gave evidence.
Q462 Chairman: Good morning; bore da. Minister, for the record could you introduce yourself and your colleagues, please?
Mr Sutcliffe: Gerry Sutcliffe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Home Office responsible for prisons and probation. On my team this morning are Mr Peter Brook who is the Director of Finance for the National Offender Management Service; Sian West who is the Director of Offender Management for Wales; and Michael Spurr who is the Deputy Director General of the Prison Service.
Q463 Chairman: Thank you very much. Could we begin by asking you some questions about new prison provision in Wales? In a letter to one of my colleagues, Mr Hywel Williams, in August 2006 you state, "We have no immediate plans to build any new prisons in North Wales". Is this still the position and, if it is, what are the latest plans for new provision in Wales in general?
Mr Sutcliffe: I will talk in general terms and then ask Mr Brook to give you the details, what members of the Committee will know is the issues relating to the present prison capacity and the fact that we have the highest number of people in prison and we do need to deal with the capacity issue. Since 1997 we have introduced 19,000 further places; we announced 8,000 places in July with a further 2,000 places to accommodate the capacity issues. We are looking at new prisons; we are looking at conversions; we are looking at ways of trying to meet that demand. That is in the short term; in the longer term clearly we want to look at who is in prison. In answer to the question about what is planned for Wales, we are looking at the possible provision of a new prison which is likely to be in South Wales and we would want that prison to have a facility, like all new prisons should have, for females. As to North Wales, my view - and it is my view - is that I am prepared to consider representations that are made to me. I have spoken to the Welsh ministers about that possibility. My mind remains open in terms of what needs to happen and I am clearly very interested in the work of this Committee in terms of the evidence that you have gathered so far and I look forward to your report on what the outcomes may be.
Mr Brook: The priority areas that we are looking at at the moment - the areas where have greatest shortfall between capacity of the prison estate and the population - are London and the South East, South Wales and the North West; those are the three priority areas we are looking at. As the Minister has already said, we are always prepared to look at other areas where the opportunities may arise, but those are the priority areas at the moment. South Wales is a priority area for us that we are looking at.
Q464 Hywel Williams: Would you agree that the 400 prisoners held in the North West of England from Wales are part of the pressure and the overcrowding on the North West and one of the reasons why you might be giving it some priority, and that might be eased if there were some provision in North Wales to be able to move those 400 prisoners from the North West? That may be one strategy of dealing with that issue.
Mr Brook: Yes, when we look at shortfall of places we look at the demand from that area rather than the people held in that area. Certainly by increasing capacity we are trying to even out the shortfalls across the estate as whole.
Q465 Albert Owen: Minister, you mentioned the 8,000 new prison places. How confident are you that these will be in place and it is achievable to get this by 2012?
Mr Sutcliffe: The Home Secretary has commissioned me to make sure that they are in place by that time and we are taking all reasonable steps to make sure we meet the requirements. There is already an existing building programme. What has happened is that contingency plans have been drawn up to meet the more immediate pressures so I have commissioned Mr Brook to make sure that we do deliver and as far as I am aware we are on time to deal with all the particular contingencies that have been put in place. We did change our view about the conversion of one army barracks in Dover when we decided we did not need to use that facility and opted instead for another contingency in the use of Operation Safeguard.
Q466 Albert Owen: With the pressures you talk about in the North West and taking your point in response to Mr Williams on the 400 and your open mind, how quick would it be to build a new facility either in the North West or in North Wales?
Mr Sutcliffe: About three to five years.
Mr Brook: I think that is right if you are talking about an entirely new facility. It is obviously quicker if we are expanding an existing facility. That is about it, three to five years, and that depends a bit on exactly how long it takes to get planning permission, that is the big variable in that timescale.
Q467 Mr Crabb: What proportion of places in police custody suites in Wales are currently held back for use by the Home Office as emergency prison places?
Mr Brook: I believe the figure is 41 places in Wales and those are in Haverfordwest, Wrexham, Aberdare, Cardiff and Port Talbot; they are spread across those five areas.
Q468 Mr Crabb: Have you received any representations as to how this might be impacting on local policing operations?
Mr Sutcliffe: Clearly in terms of using Operation Safeguard - which the Home Secretary has previously said - it is not ideal; we do not want to have to use that but in the circumstances that we are in that is the most appropriate use. We have discussed this with ACPO to make sure that there is no impact on policing. We are not using every force; we are using those forces that believe that they can offer up suitable capacity without impacting on local policing.
Q469 Albert Owen: What reassurances can you give the Committee, Minister, that the prisoners that are currently held in England - many of them Welsh prisoners - and dispersed over the estate will be held nearer to home in the future?
Mr Sutcliffe: There are difficulties. What we try to do is make sure we support the policy of getting people as close to home as possible because we are aware of the impact on families, on a whole host of circumstances. Indeed, this afternoon I intend to speak to Edwina Hart, the minister responsible for the Welsh Assembly; I have met with my honourable friend, the member for Cardiff South (I think) this morning about issues relating to the distances that people have to travel and the impact on family life. In terms of what guarantees I can give, we want to try to make sure that we meet the requirements of our stated policy of giving people support. It is something that the Director of Offender Management will look at in terms of the relationship with the provision that we have.
Ms West: We are very aware that the distances from home and from families do impact on visiting. We are specifically looking at it in our Reducing Re-Offending Strategy which we have developed jointly with the Welsh Assembly Government and the Children and Families Pathway in particular will be focussing on gauging and coming up with plans that can actually meet the needs. So far as locating prisoners close to home, I think I would endorse that it is everybody's aim to get prisoners as close to home as they possibly can.
Q470 Albert Owen: However, you would accept that a South Wales' solution is not a solution for North West Wales and areas like that. Just because Wales is having a new facility that does not necessarily mean it is going to be closer for two-thirds of the population of Wales.
Ms West: Geographically and with the roads in the country as they are, it does certainly go to meet the needs of people in custody in South Wales but it may not meet as well the needs for people from Mid- and North Wales.
Mr Sutcliffe: It would be quite interesting for the Committee to have the figures that I have about where people are from at the moment. Female offenders in particular sentenced to custody from North Wales, there are 15, eight on remand; from Mid-Wales, 21, two on remand; for South Wales it is 111 with 26 on remand.
Q471 Albert Owen: Can I ask you as a matter of policy almost, are you prepared to look at Wales on a sub-regional basis rather than just thinking of Wales as a unit with demand from Wales being considered altogether? Or would you be prepared to look separately at the demands from North Wales and South Wales? Is there any reason why not?
Mr Sutcliffe: I think one of the things I am interested in, as I said, is looking to make sure that we get value for money for the tax payers wherever they are. I think there are opportunities in Wales to look at the prison population and one of the points of the phone call and the discussion I am going to have with Edwina this afternoon is about what we can do in the context of Wales. I am particularly interested in women in prison at the moment; there are 183 in Wales. I think we need to drill down about why those women are in prison, what are the issues around that. There is an opportunity, if you like, because of the unique circumstances that we have in Wales, to look at Wales in terms of how it can help the rest of the UK. One of Sian's responsibilities is to reduce re-offending. I think there are opportunities here and we have to get the relationships right because of the devolved responsibilities as well.
Q472 Mr Jones: You will no doubt be aware of a report in The Times recently which quoted: "An article in Building magazine which detailed plans to offer the public the chance to own shares in new prisons as part of John Reid's attempt to find an emergency jail-building programme. Home Office officials are considering the initiative after Gordon Brown refused to fund a huge expansion of the prison estate." Is that a rogue report or are there plans to introduce this?
Mr Sutcliffe: That is where I saw it as well for the first time, in the journal. Obviously I was interested in the press speculation around that. I think Mr Brook can give us the detail of what the considerations were but there are no active plans to move forward on that one.
Mr Brook: Yes, the Real Estate Investment Trusts are a sort of new public listed investment vehicle that is being created; they are not in existence yet, but they were developed in the US and Holland and are now being introduced in this country. For future prisons, our intention is that the private sector will raise the finance to build future prisons so it is a question for the private sector whether they want to use these investment trusts as part of that, but it is certainly not part of our plans to raise investment income in that way.
Q473 Mr Jones: So it would be an indirect issue if it took place at all.
Mr Brook: Yes.
Q474 Mr Jones: How confident are you that there will be adequate funding in place to fund the prison expansion that you regard as necessary?
Mr Brook: I think we are confident that we will have the funding to build the 8,000 places up to the end of the spending review period which is 2010/2011, which is where the spending funds are currently set out.
Mr Sutcliffe: That is why I think it is important that we do two things. We meet the prison requirements and the capacity and we look at the forecasts and we build the capacity based on the forecasts and the actual figures that are in place. That is why it is important to look at the other side of the equation in terms of who is in prison and what can be done to reduce the population, always remembering that public protection is of paramount importance to us. The dangerous offenders should be in prison. We need to do work and the Home Secretary has commissioned the first symposium on penal policy looking at what can be done in terms of what our current practices are in the UK, what happens elsewhere in Europe and elsewhere in the world and whether we can learn any lessons. There is also the consultation that is taking place on sentencing policy to look at what alternatives may be offered there. I personally believe that a strong community sentencing approach where the public feel confidence in the outcomes of community sentencing could be a way forward.
Q475 Mr Crabb: In your forecast what is your planning assumption for the projected number of prisoners from Wales in the future? Is going to go up? Are you forecasting a growth in the Welsh prison population over the next ten years?
Mr Sutcliffe: We are seeing projections and we have a sort of low, medium and high projection that are there and clearly it is. In the UK we are, per head of population, locking up more people than we do in the rest of Europe so it is something we want to look at, especially when you look at the costs of keeping somebody in prison (which is around £35,000; £50,000 for a young offender). We are constantly looking at what is happening. In terms of Wales I suspect Wales will follow the same profile.
Mr Brook: As far as I know we do not project the Welsh population separate from the whole of the population in England and Wales. The projections show the prison population going up under a number of scenarios so we would expect the Welsh population to go up in line with those projections. I think the answer is yes, but we do not do a separate projection for Wales.
Q476 Hywel Williams: You said that there might be a number of scenarios and a varying rate of increase. Are you plumping for one rather than another? Is the rate of overcrowding easing? How do you foresee it is going?
Mr Sutcliffe: I see the figures on a weekly basis and I am happy to report that the figures for last week were down. That is normal in terms of the time of year. In terms of the overcrowding, whilst not desirable, it is no different than it has been in the past. Michael might want to say something about the overcrowding issues in terms of how we manage that to make sure that no difficulties occur.
Mr Spurr: We are running at capacity within prisons at the moment. Levels of overcrowding are around 24%; 24% of prisons are overcrowded. That figure has remained fairly stable and that is because it is about the maximum level of overcrowding we think we can safely manage within the system. That is obviously why the Government is looking at producing more places at the moment because we are at that level of maximum capacity and that is why, as a contingency, we are currently using police cells and we would hope we would be able to come out of police cells before Christmas. Overcrowding is at the 24% level largely across the estate and that varies between establishments because the safe levels do vary depending on the facilities in individual establishments. We do not class dormitory accommodation that is set for a particular number of people as being overcrowded; we class a cell that is meant to be for one person with two in it as overcrowded. That is where we are and it is about being able to manage the level of population that we have as safely as we can.
Q477 Mr Jones: Mr Spurr, you say that the level of overcrowding has been stable; for how long a period has it been stable?
Mr Spurr: We have been running at about 24% certainly for the last three years that I am aware of. I do not have the historic data prior to that but we have been recording overcrowding levels certainly for the last three years and it has been around 24%.
Q478 Mr Jones: I find it extraordinary, therefore, that the recent panic which resulted in Operation Safeguard should have taken place if, in fact, for the last three years you have been experiencing that level of overcrowding.
Mr Spurr: That is the number of places that we have been overcrowding at; there have been additional places coming on stream in prisons so capacity has been increasing. Whilst overcrowding has been broadly at that 24% level that does not mean that overcrowding in individual places has remained. There are changes to the individual establishments that have occurred but overall the level of overcrowding we have operated at has been about 24%. I think I would dispute the use of the term "panic"; I think it has been structured. If you look historically at the prison population - not a party political point but through previous governments - we have always been at a high level of capacity in terms of the appropriateness of the building regime alongside the figures. The figures are high; the contingency plans are in place and I am confident that we can meet those requirements. However, we still need to attend to the core issue about the number of people that we have in prison in the UK.
Q479 Hywel Williams: I think we had some evidence - but I cannot remember from whom - when someone said that if you build a prison it immediately fills up and however many prisons you build they will always be full and there will always be overcrowding perhaps to the level of 24%. What is your opinion of that sort of argument?
Mr Spurr: My personal view is that you cannot build your way out of dealing with the prison population. It is an element has to be there to protect the public from dangerous offenders. We do have to look differently at how we deal with offenders. One of the things that surprised me in my seven months in this job is the nature of the prison population. Of the 79,000 less than 5,000 are women. One could argue that that is too high a population as well, so there are issues to be looked at there. There are issues around mental health that we have to look at in terms of the number of people in prison who have mental health problems who should not be there. We need to do work with the Department of Health around that. Then you look at the bulk of prisoners who are in for a variety of crimes about what some of the issues are around that. That is why I want to see the National Offender Management Bill being successful; that is why I want to look at end to end re-offender management because I think there are opportunities there to look at the core problems that we face with the level of re-offending that we have.
Q480 Hywel Williams: Just pursuing the mental health point, have you or your officials had any meetings with the Department of Health regarding the new Mental Health Bill? Do you foresee that if that becomes law it will divert some people who have previously gone to prison to secure psychiatric facilities? Is that something that you welcome, that you foresee helping the situation?
Mr Sutcliffe: Home Office officials have been involved with the Department of Health in the drawing up of the Mental Health Bill. I personally have had a number of meetings with Rosie Winterton who is the minister responsible and I have another meeting scheduled this week. I think the Mental Health Bill will be a step in the right direction; I do not think it will be the panacea for all that we require. I certainly believe that health in prison is improved by the involvement of the PCTs, by the change in outlook that we have had. However, there is a real issue there that we have to look at in terms of how people are identified and what level of support they need. I think the Bill will help but there is still a long way to go.
Q481 Hywel Williams: Going back to overcrowding, we have heard from prisoners that the dispersal of Welsh prisoners throughout the estates and also the frequent transfer from one prison to another was something they felt to be problematic. Would you accept that? Would you concede also that the current overcrowding exacerbates that sort of problem?
Mr Sutcliffe: I think it is not so much the overcrowding, it is the capacity issues in terms of how people are moved from court to prison and what happens in the chain of events there. That is the issue. Certainly it is something that does concern me and we are keeping it closely under scrutiny. I think that we are dealing with it as adequately as possible and as sympathetically as possible. I would like to place on record the work that the staff and the prison authorities are doing to protect the public and make sure that the system which is stretched is working well.
Mr Spurr: It is true that when you are operating as we are at about 99% occupancy you have places across the system that are vacant but they are not all in the places that you would want them to be. When you are operating at that level of capacity the throughput and movement of prisoners does increase and in order to minimise the use of police cells we seek to use every place available and sometimes that has meant that we have had to transfer prisoners further away than we would want to do. The experience that the prisoner is talking about is real for individuals. It is true for Welsh prisoner; it is true for prisoners in London as well where they have been particular full and we have been having to use places far away from London and indeed from a lot of the local prisons. As the Minister says, it is the capacity issue specifically that is the problem. We will have a reduction in the prison population over the Christmas period and that will give us some respite which will enable us to actually manage with rather more head room which will reduce the amount of transfers certainly for that period. There will be capacity building to increase that capacity through 2007 which will help us manage that rather better.
Q482 Hywel Williams: The overcrowding problem that you are dealing with you are managing by people moving about. Are there any other managerial strategies you could use to avoid that moving about?
Mr Spurr: No. Prisoners are discharged from a range of different prisons and create vacancies. In an ideal world what you would do is hold prisoners in the local prison that they are in, transfer them once a week to the prisons that have the vacancies in the area that you want to hold them in. That is the ideal scenario; if we have headroom that is what we do and we try to make sure people are as close to home but in the prisons that serve their particular needs in terms of addressing their offending behaviour et cetera. That would take priority, offending behaviour first, then closeness to home alongside that. The problem at the moment is that in order to avoid use of police cells we are transferring on a daily basis so that if a vacancy occurs in a prison on a Tuesday, for example, we would transfer prisoners (who we might have waited to transfer to a better allocation the following week) there to fill that place so we can take prisoners in from court and reduce the use of police cells. That is a consequence of using all of your places all of the time rather than having any headroom. That is being managed as sensitively as we can do that. We are aiming not to transfer people who are in the middle of an offending behaviour course because the damage that that can do to the individual and also in terms of trying to reduce risk to the public is significant. We are trying to avoid transferring people on educational courses et cetera. If we are doing short term transfers - people further away from home - the aim is predominantly to try to transfer people on short sentences so it is an impact on them but it is less than someone who is serving a longer sentence who is going to have closeness to home issues and the offending behaviour need has to be addressed in a rather more detailed way.
Q483 Mark Williams: Just now you touched on education and the effects of some of those movements and transfers. I am thinking about basic levels of literacy and numeracy, the commonality of some of the programmes used in different establishments. What arrangements are in place to ensure there is some continuity in the delivery of those core education needs?
Mr Spurr: There has been for some a basic core curriculum in terms of how education would be delivered in prisons which is now for English prisons, as you will be aware, the responsibility of the Learning and Skills Councils and in Wales it is now being directly provided by the Prison Service Commission from the Director for Regional Offender Management in Wales. In terms of basic literacy and numeracy and basic communication skills - IT skills - I am very confident that when prisoners transfer we can meet their needs and there is a consistency in terms of how we deliver those particular courses. We struggled for a long time but we are improving that in terms of transferring data and we are working with the Learning and Skills Councils in England to have a data IT system whereby we can transfer data with the prisoner immediately. That is very important, but in terms of the basic curriculum for those very key skills areas we can do that.
Q484 Mark Williams: In terms of delivery are prisoners having an assessment at each establishment? Is this something that follows them around?
Mr Spurr: There are too many duplicate assessments which reflects the fact that we are not transferring the data as quickly as we should do it. That is not an issue that they have to be assessed separately, it is more about how you get data transferred when people are moved.
Q485 Mark Williams: Is that a problem? Is it working smoothly enough?
Mr Spurr: It is not working smoothly enough. We need to improve how we transfer data. That is what I was trying to get to. That is clear and we are working with colleagues in the Learning and Skills Council in England to get an IT system that will allow immediate transfer of data. That is what they want and it will also give data transfer to their providers who are responsible now for offenders in the community as well. That needs to be improved. The actual delivery of basic skills in terms of the curriculum delivery is consistent. We have maintained, for all the pressures that have been around, high levels of delivery of basic skills. There were over 50,000 basic skills accreditation completions by offenders. That is a significant level and still rates at about 10% of all basic skills qualifications in the country delivered in prisons. I think despite that we have maintained a focus on education and the offender needs within prisons.
Q486 Nia Griffith: The Youth Justice Board has, as one of its key principles, the idea that juvenile prisoners - those under 18 - should not be in accommodation with adults. How can we ensure that to progress towards that would not compromise the problems that we have at present with the overcrowding in the juvenile secure estate?
Mr Sutcliffe: There are clearly problems in Wales around the provision that is there and I am aware of that and how we need to look at that. We try, as far as possible, not to put people into a dangerous position; people are risk assessed as they are moved around.
Ms West: Certainly those young men under 18 who are at Park are kept separate from both the prisoners who are 21 and over and also those prisoners who are 18 to 21 whom we call young adult offenders. The issue about who is the adult, it is a difficult one because certainly we are treating the 18s to 21s at the moment as people who are deemed young adult offenders. For the young men under 21 in Park they are kept very separate. There may be some establishments in England where young men under 18 and young adult offenders (18 to 21) may be housed within the same establishment, but again, because the Youth Justice Board commissions that accommodation they will be help in separate accommodation.
Q487 Nia Griffith: Perhaps you could take on the issue of the 18 to 21 year olds because I understand there are some plans possibly to end the system whereby they are kept separate and obviously there are a number of organisations that have made representations about this and are obviously quite concerned. Again, it is the same issue really of them needing particular input to try to prevent a pattern developing for life. The question really is what are the actual plans for that 18 to 21 year old group?
Ms West: We are still looking at all aspects of what might be the implications of enacting that piece of legislation that abolished detention in the young offender institution and therefore looking at how we would manage young offender institutions. It is very clear that the 18 to 21 year old age group do have needs, often very much more marked than people who are older. Some of the research and evidence we have looked shows that some of those needs do not just go away at 21, they go up to perhaps 23 or 24, so you can almost look at a slightly wider age group. We are considering all of those issues and carefully thinking what would be the impact of creating a slightly more mixed regime. Certainly what would be paramount is the safety to the individuals and where there is vulnerability we would need to be able to assess that as accurately as we could and put in safeguards to make sure that that young man or that young woman was not put in any way at risk, and then to address his or her needs in a way which was specifically geared to somebody who was still developing their maturity. Obviously that deals with issues which are quite difficult to quantify so we have to be very considered in the way we progress it so that eventually if there is an arrangement where we mix people it will only have been done with a very thorough risk assessment of the maturity and resilience of those young people.
Mr Sutcliffe: There is an issue about the category of prisoner as well. One of things I am looking forward to is the results of the Young Adult Offender Project that was commissioned in November 2005 which is looking at people in terms of the management of standards for 18 to 20 year olds both in custody and in the community. That is due to report back in the early part of next year so I will be looking at the impact and the outcomes that that report looks at which will then help our thinking about how we deal with these matters. Within the NOMS Bill there is an issue which got publicity around our ability to put young offenders into children's accommodation. I think it is entirely sensible to do that in certain circumstances where people have been properly risk assessed if that young offender is coming out to educational projects or coming out for work but the media hostility to issues like this concerns me. If, as a society, we want to tackle re-offending, we have to look at all provision that is available to us and understand how we tackle these re-offending issues.
Q488 Mrs James: It was very interesting to hear the figures you have because you are aware that we have been experiencing great difficulty in extrapolating the figures and I am very pleased to note them. Several witnesses have made that point to the inquiry and they are also very frustrated by the lack of readily available statistics. What should we do to address the problem in the future?
Mr Sutcliffe: As I said to you I met the member for Cardiff South this morning who is heavily involved in the effects on families of women in prison. One of the concerns was how do you get the breakdown of the numbers in prison, what are the offences that are there and what is the impact on family life for those people in custody? I am happy to offer as much information as possible. We agreed this morning that that is what we would do in terms of the 183 women who are in prison in Wales at the moment; to take a snapshot on a particular day to find out what the requirements are for those people, what their sentences are around, what is the impact on their families, what type of families have they got so that we can gather as much information and evidence as possible to try to tackle some of the issues that people are facing. I know that there have been difficulties in the past and I make no criticism of individuals, but Home Office statistics since May have been a concern to ministers when we have not had a consistency and sometimes we have not had accurate figures. I am keen to make sure that we are as open and as transparent as possible, that the figures are relevant to the circumstances that people require. I think the short answer is yes, we want to be more open and I want to give as much support in terms of the figures as possible.
Q489 Mrs James: That would be on-going.
Mr Sutcliffe: Yes.
Q490 Mrs James: We have also heard evidence from a number of witnesses of the problems faced by Welsh women in English prisons, the issues relating to family contact, mental health issues and the different needs for resettlement that women have. A case has been made of possibly looking at providing smaller community based units and making greater use of community sentences for those not considered a danger to the public. What is your view of this?
Mr Sutcliffe: What I said to you right at the beginning in terms of the prison population, I was quite surprised to find that there were less than 5,000 women. I think there is an argument about the size of that population, as you say, in terms of mental health issues and around sentencing issues. What is important to me is that the public have confidence in the criminal justice system, that the public understand the requirements. There is a view that community sentencing is a soft option; I do not believe that to be the case. I want to make sure that the alternatives that we offer up to custody are understood and acknowledged by the wider society as being relevant. I think there are opportunities here, particularly in the women's prison population, to come forward with some positive outcomes. I would be very interested to see the report that Baroness Corston is doing on vulnerable women and their experiences in custody. I believe that we are gathering a pace about getting the public to understand that there are alternatives to custody, again with the public protection issues key to the forefront. I am keen to make sure that we put in as much effort as possible to look at reducing the number of women that are held in custody.
Q491 Mrs James: Do you think that in the short term at least Welsh women prisoners will continue to be held in England? What steps can government take to address their needs in terms of maintaining family contact? Some of the figures that we have had quoted to us actually state that fewer women than men, for example, go home to the address that they were sentenced from. If they have been displaced from their families they find it much more difficult to effect a settled, successful resettlement. Do you have comments on this?
Ms West: We are doing work on this. Through probation in Wales we are working on producing as accurate a picture as we can of what the accommodation needs are of women who are returning to Wales from custody. We do think re-offending has to be as individually focussed as possible because if people re-offend that is from their individual point of view and we need therefore to be very, very sure that if women are re-offending in Wales we need to have identified what factors may have caused or triggered that or be related to it. Accommodation is one of our pathways of our strategy with the Welsh Assembly and we are working very, very closely with Welsh Assembly Government. We know that Welsh Assembly Government does commit to housing people coming out of custody where possible if they are going back to their home areas. There are many issues that we want to sort out. Our mapping exercise takes place through the rest of this business year and we will use those conclusions to strengthen the actions that we will be coming up with for the re-offending strategy.
Q492 Chairman: Minister, you mentioned Baroness Corston's report; when is this likely to be published?
Mr Sutcliffe: Pretty soon I think. An interim report has come out. I will write to you, but I think it will be very early in the New Year.
Q493 Mark Williams: How distinctive approach to criminal justice can Wales develop and the provision of custodial facilities in the light of some of those needs we have talked about, like the geography and the linguistic demands in Wales? How distinctive could Wales be and how much would you welcome?
Mr Sutcliffe: For me personally I think Wales can be very distinctive. We acknowledge the uniqueness and differences within Wales and that is why in terms of the National Offender Management we have a Director of Offender Management in Wales as opposed to a Regional as we understand Wales's position. I think there are opportunities there. It seems to me that there is a great deal of cooperation with the Welsh Assembly and local government on criminal justice issues that perhaps does not exist elsewhere. I think the Director of Offender Management with the things that exist in Wales there are opportunities there that we can help to develop new ways of thinking, help develop new approaches that get the confidence of the public. I keep referring back to this but I think there are many innovative, alternative ways to custody. We have talked about community sentencing, restorative justice. There are a whole number of issues that are there and with the relationships that exist in Wales I think there is a wonderful opportunity for us to try to deal with these issues in a productive way.
Q494 Mark Williams: How important in that approach is the roll-out of the ten new community courts, one of which is in Merthyr Tydfil?
Ms West: We are looking with great interest at how the roll-out of the Merthyr court will happen. I do have regular liaison with HM Court Service in Wales and there is certainly a strong commitment in the Merthyr Tydfil community to get this court up and running and to make it feel that the people of that local area have a vested interested in how everything goes. We are pleased that that is happening in Wales.
Mr Sutcliffe: One of the things that has interested me in the short time I have been in this job is that I tended in the past, both as an MP and a local councillor, to put criminal justice matters in a box that somebody else ought to deal with; it was not part of my responsibility. Yes, we represented people who had family in prison or who had particular issues, but in general terms did not associate offenders with out local communities. If we are going to deal with re-offending we have to deal with the people in our communities who become offenders. I certainly think there are opportunities in Wales, because of the relationships that exist, because of the community spirit that is there, to address some of these issues perhaps quicker than might be done elsewhere.
Q495 Mr Crabb: The Committee has heard some evidence to suggest that restorative justice would have a potential benefit for victims of crime and perpetrators as well. How would you describe the prevailing view within your Department about the value of restorative justice and whether there are any personal nuances that you would want to add as the Minister?
Mr Sutcliffe: I do not think it is the panacea for everything; I do not think it works for all occasions. We have to be careful about putting it up as something that would apply in all circumstances. My personal experience in the role as Minister is that I saw in Stoke an eleven year old boy who had been attacked by an 18 year old and the mother was enquiring to find out why the attack had taken place. The two were brought together and in that circumstance it worked. The best story comes out of that in terms of a friendship developed and people have moved on. I think it is an option that should be given to victims. One of the things we are keen to do is to make sure that victims are put at the heart of the Criminal Justice System. The difficulty at the moment is that an offence occurs, the victim is dealt with at the point of the offence but then is left behind in that the Criminal Justice System takes over. The victim is not kept informed or kept in touch with what has taken place and sometimes only hears about the outcome through the local newspaper if the person has been convicted. I think we need to make sure that we put the victims at the heart of what we are doing and restorative justice can have a role in that. Of the figures that I have seen in terms of satisfaction for victims, there is a 75% satisfaction rate in terms of restorative justice.
Q496 Mr Crabb: Does your Department have any plans to fund restorative justice schemes in Wales?
Mr Sutcliffe: Not that I am aware of.
Ms West: No. Certainly so far as the victim contact is concerned, I do expect the four probation areas to be ensuring that they carry out their statutory duties and they can carry those out through sub-contracting if they so wish. Certainly we, in Wales, are very proud that the restorative justice initiatives that have taken place have seemed to be quite impressive. I would hope that through our development of the Reducing Re-offending Strategy we can link in even better the fact that if somebody has been exposed to a restorative justice approach that greatly affects, for instance, the pathway of our attitudes and thinking and behaviour, it actually raises that offender's awareness of the impact of his or her activity. It certainly is firmly on our agenda. Specific funding at this point, I cannot give any plans for that.
Mr Sutcliffe: The Government did look at restorative justice and did a consultation on 22 July 2003 and as a result of that in December 2004 best practice guidance was published so that people could understand the practicalities. The National Criminal Justice Board in March 2005 issued guidance to local criminal justice boards to look at the issues around restorative justice. Again, we only invested around £5 million in the Crime Reduction Programme, Restorative Justice pilots, which ran from 2001 to 2004. These are now being evaluated and we are looking again at the re-conviction rates, at the cost effectiveness of these things and we will be publishing some new in 2007.
Q497 Mr Crabb: There is a scheme that we looked at briefly as a Committee, the SORI scheme. As I understand it, there is no Home Office funding for that at all. Would that be typical of restorative justice schemes across England and Wales?
Mr Sutcliffe: We do not see restorative justice as being the panacea for everything but where it is practical and it works and it gives people confidence in the system then clearly we would be interested in that. It probably needs to have a separate stream for funding and we would need to look at that. As the Home Office Minister responsible for the prison capacity you will be well aware of the restrictions that there are on the Home Office system, but certainly I am willing to look at it.
Mr Spurr: I think the SORI programme is a good, developing programme. It is not yet fully formulated but it is one of a number of interventions that we trialled in prison as a means of attempting to address offender need and restorative justice plays a part in that. It is one part of a menu of interventions that operate. Sycamore Tree is another restorative justice type programme; SORI is one that is being developed with chaplaincy input as well in terms of a restorative basis. I think they play a part in our range of options for dealing with the needs of individuals. Restorative justice can play a part but it has to be handled, as everyone would appreciate, very carefully, particularly when people are in custody and if you are dealing directly with victims or as, in this case, where you are dealing generally in terms of victim empathy and understanding.
Q498 Mr Jones: The Committee has had evidence which I personally found impressive from Victim Support which I consider to be an excellent organisation. Are you able to confirm that the Home Office studies the work of Victim Support and that it will continue to support it financially and otherwise?
Mr Sutcliffe: Very much so. Victim Support, I believe, is an excellent organisation both in terms of the services it provides and the volunteers that take part. It is going through a re-organising process which is necessary. I am heartened by the work of Gillian Guy who is the Chief Executive in bringing people together. I acknowledge a great deal of positive work that has gone on by Victim Support in re-organising themselves when the ability might have been to say, "We don't want to do this; we want to carry on in the same way that we've done in the past". They know that there is a need to improve the circumstances for victims as I have already outlined. Yes, we are going to continue to support Victim Support but very much a new type of Victim Support organisation. I want to introduce victim care units; I want to make sure that they can deliver for victims. We have three pilots running at the moment. The answer to the question is yes, we want to continue to support Victim Support but we want to do that in a modern and appropriate way for victims.
Q499 Mr Jones: On that basis would you be willing to support Victim Support Cymru as a standalone organisation?
Mr Sutcliffe: I do not think it is possible to see them as standalone organisations. I do not want to interfere in the organisation and running of Victim Support. As I have outlined, they are handling that very well themselves in terms of their re-organisation. I am happy to support how they see their own development. What is important to me is that the outcomes that we want to achieve reflect the needs of victims and Victim Support, as an organisation, is able to do that.
Q500 Mr Jones: Do you continue to support it financially?
Mr Sutcliffe: Yes, we have a heavy commitment to Victim Support, but what I have said - the mantra that I did put down and it was not in any way meant as a threat although I suppose it could be read as a threat - is that if there was not the ability to change, to be more pro-active, to meet victims' needs, then the Government may consider alternatives. I am happy to say that that is not the case, that the work is being carried out and I am very happy with the organisation and the way they are performing.
Q501 Albert Owen: If the Home Office was to set up a new scheme for, say £5 million, in Wales how would the funding reach that programme? Would it be via the Welsh Assembly Social Justice or would it be direct from the Home Office, to an area or to an individual project?
Mr Sutcliffe: I would have to reflect on that. I would want monies to be channelled through the commissioning roles of the Director of Offender Management. I think I would have to reflect on what the best way to do that is and perhaps that will be one of the issues that I have in discussion with Edwina Hart this afternoon, about how we can take these things forward and what contributions can come from the Assembly.
Q502 Albert Owen: The problem is, in some other areas if it goes to the Assembly it arrives late and is actually diminished in the amount or it could be adding value to another scheme.
Mr Sutcliffe: We could take a pro-active look at that. I do not think I can commit myself to £5 million; I said it may be a possibility.
Q503 Hywel Williams: Can you tell us, what is the Home Office policy on Welsh language provision in prisons?
Mr Sutcliffe: I can try. Certainly I understand and recognise the importance of the Welsh language to Welsh prisoners and others, and I understand we try to give support where that support is requested but I do think we need to go further. I do not think that is the answer you are looking for in terms of the detail. We have made a start and I now look to Sian to rescue me at this point in terms of what is going on.
Ms West: Certainly so far as prisons in Wales are concerned they are very, very aware of their needs to provide as much opportunity for Welsh speaking prisoners to speak in Welsh. I cannot lay down a policy for prisons in England because I cannot commission; I can certainly do my best to influence but I would turn to Mr Spurr on this. We are certainly very, very aware that Welsh offenders need to be able to communicate in a language that they feel is serving their needs best and if it is going to be seen as part of the broader strategy to help them reduce their own re-offending then we would be very, very supportive of it.
Mr Spurr: As you are aware we hold Welsh prisoners in a number of English prisons. We recognise our responsibility in terms of the Welsh language and do have access to services in the Welsh language (information booklets in Welsh language and we do have the option of interpretation or Language Line should that be required). However, I would not try to suggest that we are able provide speaking in Welsh in all of the English prisons for Welsh speaking prisoners; that is not something that we are doing. The key issue for us is for prisoners to be able to access the services they need within prisons and to be able to address their offending behaviour when they are in prison. If we have Welsh speaking prisoners they need to be able to access information in that language. It does vary, depending on the individual prisons, about the amount of resource and support given to Welsh prisoners. I guess that is not really surprising. There is much more effort made in a place like Eastwood Park that is primarily the prison for female Welsh prisoners from South Wales and they go further than other prisons that might be holding only a very small number of Welsh prisoners. I know you have visited Eastwood Park so you will seen they have done induction leaflets in Welsh, they have a range of DVD support in Welsh. It does vary and our responsibility is to make sure that we are able to enable Welsh speaking prisoners to access services in Welsh; we recognise that. We put more effort into trying to ensure that that happens in Wales (because the prisoners in Wales are predominantly Welsh) and in those prisons that hold a significant number of Welsh prisoners, Eastwood Park being the most obvious one.
Q504 Hywel Williams: We also visited Altcourse and were impressed with the efforts the staff there were making as well; it was very praiseworthy. The problem that I - and perhaps other members of the Committee - have from the response now and also from our visits is that it is re-active and if there a problem something will be done about it. The 1993 Act says that Welsh and English should be treated on the basis of equality and that pertains for organisations from outside Wales and in that sense prisoners, even held in English estates, might be construed as being services into Wales. We have also heard evidence that it is difficult to identify the number of Welsh speaking prisoners within the system. We have heard various figures for the numbers of prisoners. I think the percentage of Welsh speaking prisoners identified within the system does not match the percentage outside. Are you aware of that problem and do you accept that there is a need to firstly identify them so that you can plan and provide the proper provision? How are you going to be doing it?
Mr Spurr: I am aware of that problem because I have seen some of the evidence to the Committee. If you asked me if I was aware of that problem, then the answer was no, it was not something that was on my horizon as something that we needed to address. That has come out on my agenda much more in terms of the evidence that you have taken. In terms of identification the vast majority of Welsh prisoners other than women come into custody for the first time in Wales in the south and in specific prisons in the north, Altcourse being the main local prison in the north. It is in those prisons that we would target in induction, trying to get the right level of understanding of who are Welsh speakers and who are not and I suspect we have simply not put any great emphasis on that. We would ask people if they are able to speak English and people have not pursued that. The point that you have made that we have re-acted rather than been pro-active about it I think is probably fair. The responsibility that we have to make sure that we are taking the Welsh language seriously is coming clearly through the work of this Committee.
Q505 Mark Williams: How are the language needs of other prisoners whose first language is not English met?
Mr Spurr: We have over 22 different languages which we have translated information into. We can access a Language Line facility for a range of different languages. We know we have over 22 different languages in prisons; we have some 40 different nationalities held in prisons at the moment. We have literature for the main core information that prisoners would need. We can get access for specific interpretation services for key issues for individuals and those can be used. It is a growing issue for us in prisons in terms of being able to facilitate how we work with those whose first language is not English.
Q506 Mark Williams: It must be amazing to find staff who can converse.
Mr Spurr: I would not claim that our staff can converse in the 22 languages.
Q507 Mark Williams: It is quite a challenge.
Mr Spurr: Dealing with a much more diverse population in prisons has been a significant challenge for us. Our aim is to try to address the individual needs and that is more complicated where there is a communication barrier, to understand what that individual need is and what the requirements of that individual are. We have to try to work through those. Increasingly we are appointing dedicated foreign national prison coordinators in establishments to try to bring together the support groups, the support literature that we have for a range of different prisoners.
Q508 Mark Williams: You have acknowledged there is a problem; you have acknowledged it is largely due to the work of this Committee. We have heard that at Altcourse there is a lack of Welsh language materials, the use of Welsh being seen by prison authorities as a security risk. We have heard from the Youth Justice Board that there is insufficient Welsh language provision for juveniles held in England. Are there any specifics you can tell us that you are trying to work towards on these matters?
Mr Sutcliffe: We will obviously consider the report the Committee comes up with and I think I tried to indicate that there are opportunities in other areas where we can be pro-active. Clearly we will want to look at the detail of what the report considers. It is appropriate, as you heard from Mr Spurr, that we have been responsive rather than pro-active.
Mark Williams: It is good to have that acknowledgement, thank you.
Q509 Mrs James: As you are aware, the new Offender Management model is being rolled-out and evidence from the Probation Service in Wales suggests that the implementation of the new model will stretch resources due mainly to the fact of the dispersal of so many prisoners across the prison estate in England. How is the government intending to address these resource implications given that we have this particular problem?
Mr Sutcliffe: I think that Welsh prisoners will be supported in the same way as English prisoners are in terms of the commitment of what we want to try to achieve. The Offender Management model was rolled-out as recently as 6 November so we are in the early stages of seeing what the impact is around that. We want to look at the facilities that are available. We think that the video links are an opportunity to help and support offenders in terms of keeping in touch in some areas. There is a lot that we are doing but I would not see that Welsh offenders will be treated any differently from English offenders in terms of the resources.
Ms West: Whilst we planned for implementation in custody in early November it is only now that we have actually gone live that we really are going to start to see where the points of stretch appear to be coming. I talk regularly with the Probation areas in Wales and formally review their SLA progress every quarter. Certainly I am very aware that if they are trying to plan a sentence and review the sentence planning of a prisoner who has gone to an English prison and may be there for some years then attending for every sentence planning meeting is going to be a very tough call. There are ways to address that. We have to, as the Minister says, look at all the video conferencing things we can do. We also need to make sure that they are building up good relationships with the people in the prisons, for instance every offender will have an offender supervisor who is based in the establishment and they are the person on the ground that can do a lot of the communications. I know that it is going to feel as though it is stretch; I think what we have to do now is monitor very closely, as we roll out custody over the next couple of years to a wider section of the population than those that are currently covered. I will be doing that in my role as the commissioner for the service,
Q510 Mrs James: In the quarterly review do you discuss the resource implications because obviously the feedback will cover that. What we want to hear is that there is the commitment there on the Government side that those gaps will be plugged if they are identified, that people will get the support that they need.
Ms West: Resource issues will be covered and if a gap is not easily plugged then we will all have to sit down and look and see how we can re-engineer the business that we have to meet the needs that we need to. Certainly it would be wrong to concentrate all my thinking about rehabilitating people who are coming out of prison because certainly their progress and their sentence planning whilst they are in custody is also very important. In those quarterly reviews we will look at resource issues and do our best to come up with ways to meet the needs according to prioritisation.
Q511 Mrs James: There have been proposals made to introduce more voluntary public sector involvement in the Probation Service which has been announced by the Home Secretary. How will this improve the management of Welsh offenders?
Mr Sutcliffe: We had the second reading of the Offender Management Bill yesterday, an overwhelming success in terms of the outcome of the vote. There were serious concerns discussed by contributors to the debate and I am sure that through the life time of the Bill through its committee stages we will need to look in more detail at some of the issues that were raised. I certainly see the role of the voluntary/private sector being vitally important in the management of offenders in two particular areas which will be priorities for me: community sentencing and the unpaid work that flows from that, and resettlement. I think that with resettlement the expertise that exists in the voluntary sector is there, it is untapped. We have the debate and argument about the voluntary arrangements of probation buying into that voluntary sector which, when there were targets, was around 7% and when the targets were lifted it has fallen to 2%. I just think that we need to look at that provision that is there. Resettlement to me is important. It was mentioned in the debate yesterday that the organised crime are better re-settlers than we are in that in a sense organised crime tend to pick people up from prison, give them the support in terms of new trainers, new clothes, find them accommodation, give them that support; they talk about being in the family and then they are being groomed for re-offending. If organised crime can do it, why can we not put together packages that meet people's requirements?
Q512 Hywel Williams: Going back to the Offender Management model just to give you some feedback that we picked up when we were in Altcourse, I know that hard cases make bad law but a particular case was drawn to our attention by the North Wales Probation Service in terms of end to end management. You have someone who comes from the courts in Caernarfon and ends up in Altcourse and the probation officer managing the case spends a whole day dealing with one offender. That might be an extreme case but I just mention it in passing, irrespective of our previous discussion about a prison in North Wales.
Mr Sutcliffe: I understand that and it is something that has hit me in terms of the visits that I have been on about the concerns about OASIS risk assessment tool that we use, the time it takes to fill in an OASIS report and how sometimes you might need to see an offender two or three times and the difficulties that occur there. It is something that I am aware of and am prepared to look at.
Q513 Nia Griffith: We have already covered the issue of mental health, so perhaps you could tell us a little bit about any further work that is planned to address drug and alcohol abuse, particularly the problems for prisoners from Wales.
Mr Sutcliffe: Again we are looking at drug intervention programmes. We have transferred £5 million to the Welsh Assembly for the implementation of through care and after care elements of the drug intervention programmes. We are seeing progress in Wales on delivery has been slower than in England so we need to look at that and address that in a positive way. I said earlier about health provision in terms of the devolvement to the PCTs; I actually think that is a step in the right direction but there are lessons and there are learning curves to be developed there in terms of relationships. I think there are pro-active discussions taking place with the Department of Health about what services we need to provide and what support needs to be given.
Ms West: I think the fact that so much of health services are devolved to the Welsh Assembly and my co-location in the Welsh Assembly means that I can and have built up very good relationships with many people in health. The drug intervention programme is very much driven by Welsh Assembly colleagues and they are all very much aware of how we need to fantail the needs when it comes to detoxification because certainly we need to be able to get that right. If we are detoxifying people in Welsh prisons when they go out into the community there needs to be provision ready to support them. The Welsh Assembly is also undergoing a review of the secure mental health estate and we are very much taking part in that as well because we feel that there are many issues that impact on us because of who we see in Welsh prisons. It is the interesting bringing together of things that are coming out of the Department of Health and how we are putting them in through the Welsh Assembly in the Welsh prisons and in Welsh offending. Drug and alcohol misuse actually makes up a separate pathway of my Reducing Re-offending Strategy from health. The health issues are covered in one; the substance misuse issues are covered in another. We are almost putting double influence through many of those issues that cross both lines.
Q514 Nia Griffith: Could we lastly focus on the issue of visiting prisons. Obviously we have talked about the difficulties for probation officers going to see prisoners but the sheer distance makes it very, very impractical for many prisoners to receive visitors. I wondered in what ways you are actually addressing this problem at the moment.
Mr Sutcliffe: We were trying to explain in our earlier contributions to the debate and discussion that we try as far as possible to place people as close to the home situation as is possible. That is difficult in North Wales for the reasons that have been said. I have talked about the provision in South Wales that we are hoping to bring forward which would carry a female prison very similar to the Peterborough design. If we are successful then looking at pathways around re-offending and looking at alternatives to prison - some of the medium and longer term issues - but we recognise that there is a problem in the current situation and we do what we can within those boundaries to be able to mitigate that but I accept there is a problem.
Mr Spurr: When people are held and visiting is a problem we know that trying to maintain family ties helps in terms of resettlement which helps to reduce the risk of returning to crime so it is important to us to try to do that. Geography makes it difficult. We obviously have the availability of telephones; that is not a substitute for face to face meetings on visits but it is an improvement on what we used to have because we do have telephone access now. There is an assisted visitors scheme where people can claim support to be able to visit because there is the obvious expense of visiting and we would provide information on that. I recognise that if you are in Dartmoor and you come from South Wales it is a long way to be able to get there. It is a real difficulty for families in Wales to visit; it is a difficulty for families around the country if the prisons are some distance from home. What we try to do is mitigate that as best we can.
Q515 Nia Griffith: Are the costs of probation officer time and the costs of assisting some families to visit prisoners as well as the space that would be freed up in Altcourse being taken into consideration when the possibility of a prison in North Wales is being looked at?
Mr Sutcliffe: As I said to the Committee, my personal view is that I am prepared to listen to what options are put to me. I am in an interesting position so I will say no more on that. I shall look to see what the Committee's report suggests as to possible sites.
Q516 Mr Crabb: Coming back to the drug and alcohol issue, you may be aware that there is a massive lack of resources and facilities in Wales for addressing addiction of alcohol and drug use. There are a number of charities in Wales working in this field, there are also one or two faith based organisations. Do you or your Department have difficulty in seeing Home Office funds used to support programmes being run by faith based organisations in this area? I have had some correspondence which I am happy to send to you suggesting that there may be some difficulty on the part of the Welsh Assembly in seeing the funds go towards programmes for tackling drug and alcohol abuse.
Mr Sutcliffe: I am just aware of the problem that there was in the south west around a faith group but I do not have any difficulties.
Mr Spurr: In prisons there is no bar to faith based groups. The key thing is about equal access for people to be able to access the services, which is the issue for us. We do have a number of faith based groups who run programmes for us in the prisons and, as I say, it is about access and accessibility for people.
Q517 Chairman: Minister, just one last question. You mentioned Baroness Corston's interim report; was that actually published or was it an interim report to the Home Secretary?
Mr Sutcliffe: I think it was a verbal report at an event at Church House or somewhere like that where she gave a verbal report to an invited audience of stakeholders about the progress that she was making towards the final report.
Q518 Chairman: We should be able to get access to that then.
Mr Sutcliffe: I would hope so. Again, I will communicate with you.
Q519 Chairman: We are anxious to get her report and obviously it may well be published after we have completed our work so whatever we can receive from her deliberations we would be extremely grateful.
Mr Sutcliffe: If I can I will give the information to you.
Chairman: Thank you for all your evidence this morning. Thank you also for rearranging your programme so that you could come to meet us today rather than last week and we look forward to your response to our report.