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Drugs (Prisons)

6. Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): What steps he is taking to tackle the availability of illegal drugs in prisons. [192758]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): Prisons have a comprehensive framework of supply reduction measures and have achieved considerable success. Drug use as measured by random mandatory drug tests has dropped by 64 per cent. since 1996-97. I have announced today that the director general of the Prison Service has commissioned David Blakey, former inspector of constabulary, to conduct a review of the effectiveness of the measures to disrupt the supply of illicit drugs into prison.

Lyn Brown: I thank the Minister for his answer and welcome today’s announcement on the control of the supply of drugs. Can he confirm that the review will include the tightening of controls around the smuggling of items such as mobile phones into prisons? I understand that some prisoners use mobile phones in their cells to continue the criminal, drug-related activity that they were happily pursuing outside.

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because she highlights one of the key issues that we need to address—mobile phone usage in prison. We are examining closely what else we can do, and I am sure that the former inspector of constabulary, Mr. David Blakey, will consider that issue as a particular concern. We have employed mobile phone detectors in high-security prisons, and we are analysing recovered phones and working hard to monitor mobile phone traffic so as to take strong action. We will take further action in due course in the light of the report.

Mr. Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): Dartmoor prison in my constituency has an excellent resettlement unit, but it has been devastated by a Prison Service decision to remove those who were working in the unit and ship in, as a result of overcrowding, people in the last few weeks of their sentence, thus undoing all the unit’s good work. Will the Minister look into what has happened at Dartmoor prison and urgently restore the resettlement unit to do the good work it has been doing for the past few years?

Mr. Hanson: Following Question Time, I will certainly look into the situation in Dartmoor, as I am not aware of the issues that the hon. and learned Gentleman raises. I give him an assurance that we are committed to ensuring that we have reintegration back
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into society and resettlement of prisoners when they leave prison, and to trying to make prisoners drug free and rehabilitated away from the problems that often led them into crime in the first place.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): May I support the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox)? When the Minister considers the issue, will he also look at schemes in Plymouth that try to stop the revolving-door syndrome, not just from Dartmoor prison but from Exeter prison, which has been doing some very good work but needs additional support?

Mr. Hanson: I am keen to ensure that we take action on drugs in prison. The vast majority of people who go into prison have a drug problem. Unless we use their time in prison to tackle that problem and to reintegrate them into society, they will continue to have a drug problem outside, and that will lead to further crime.

I am happy to look at the schemes in operation in Plymouth and at Exeter prison. We have already announced an additional 1,000 mandatory drug schemes in the community across the country for the next financial year, and I hope that the review announced today has given impetus to what else we can do to stop the vile trade of drugs in prison, which can involve people outside prison. We certainly need to take strong measures to stop that.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Is it not shameful that there is not a single drug-free prison in the country at the moment? Will the Minister accept my challenge to create one drug-free prison by the end of the year?

Mr. Hanson: I point out to the hon. Gentleman, as I did in the answer, that there has been a 64 per cent. fall in drug use in prison in the past 10 years. I know, and I am sure that on reflection he knows, that it is immensely difficult for the Prison Service to prevent drugs from entering prisons in every circumstance— [Interruption.]— but I hope to do that. If he looks at the paper produced in January on the prison policy update, he will know that we are trying to introduce drug-free wings in prisons. One of this year’s objectives is to secure and increase the number of drug-free wings in prison. I hope that we can have a drug-free prison in the next 12 months, but he will know that that is a tremendous challenge. We have improved matters with the 64 per cent. drop in drug use since his Government were in power and we intend to do more.

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East) (Lab): May I commend my right hon. Friend on the fall in the number of drugs circulating in prison? However, what can be done about the way in which some people outside prisons try to smuggle drugs in, not by coming into the prison, but by, for example, stuffing the bodies of dead birds with drugs and throwing them over the walls of the prison so that prisoners can retrieve them, as highlighted in the report of the all-party prison health group recently?

Mr. Hanson: The Prison Service and the police are vigilant to all methods of trying to secure the flow of drugs into prison. We have to look at attempts to
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project material over walls into prisons. There are ways in which prisoners and people outside try to smuggle drugs in through the supplies to prisons. Occasionally, a very small number of staff are convicted of trying to smuggle drugs into prison. We take the problem extremely seriously. The continuing use of drugs in prison is one of the most dangerous aspects of prison life. I assure my hon. Friend that we will do all we can. Today’s announcement, and indeed announcements that I hope to make in the next few days on further initiatives on drugs, will, I believe, reduce still further the amount of drugs in prison and improve on the 64 per cent. fall in drug use that we have achieved in the last 10 years of a Labour Government.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): The Minister’s answers have been deeply unsatisfactory. A number of convicted women prisoners in Send prison in Surrey are bravely trying to tackle their drug addiction by going through the RAPt—the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust—12-step rehab programme. They tell me—is this not astonishing?—that their efforts are hindered by the ready availability of hard drugs throughout that prison. It is not just one prison that we need drug-free, but Send prison and many more need to be drug-free as well. We need action, not words.

Mr. Hanson: I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in the matter for genuine and important reasons. If he looks at the prison update policy paper produced in January, he will see that it records what we are doing: 440 active search dogs; CCTV surveillance on all social visit areas; low-level fixed furniture in category C prisons and above; measures taken in conjunction with the police to police visiting areas; mandatory drug testing with around 60,000 random and 40,000 targeted tests each year; telephone intelligence; new machinery to recover mobile phones; and the supply of good practice to prisons to help to have effective measures nationally.

A tremendous amount of work is going on. The review that I announced today is a precursor to further recommendations coming to the Government by May this year. I intend to make further statements to the House before the end of the week on other measures that we are taking. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support us in those efforts.

Community Sentences

7. Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of non-custodial community sentences in preventing reoffending. [192759]

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): Not all the data that I am about to give can be explained by the sentences imposed. That said, the latest available data for the 2004 cohort of adult offenders show that reoffending by those serving community sentences decreased by 6.7 per cent. between 2000 and 2004. Among the 2004 cohort of offenders the proven rate of adult reoffending within two years of custodial sentences was 64.7 per cent., compared to 50.5 per cent. in the case of community sentences.

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Mr. Simon: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer and I am glad that everything is going so well with adult non-custodial sentences, but when I visited the Erdington youth offending service team last week I was struck by the wide variety of strategies and programmes existing under the overall umbrella of non-custodial sentences. Will the Secretary of State tell us a little about how the Department assesses programmes, and how it decides what works and what does not? It is important to be able to explain that to people. Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to meet me for a little chat about it.

Mr. Straw: Yes to the little chat, or even a long chat.

It is fundamental to the effectiveness of and public confidence in community sentences, whether they are imposed on juveniles or adults, that they work and are rigorously assessed. My Department and the Home Office spend a considerable amount of public money on research and statistics to ensure that that happens. The new chair of the Youth Justice Board— [Interruption.] She is a woman, which is why I am not calling her the chairman. She is well aware of the importance of ensuring the effectiveness of community sentences.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): A few weeks ago, I had an exchange with the Secretary of State about the possibility of introducing phased community penalties. The first few months would be devoted to getting people off drugs, while the next few months would be concerned with employment and reintregrating people in society. Would either the Secretary of State or the Minister of State be prepared to meet me, and representatives of the National Association of Probation Officers, to discuss the matter further?

Mr. Straw: Of course. There is no single truth about how such sentences can be made to work better, but we all agree about the aim. The more effective we can make them—and there is no monopoly in ideas—the better it will be for our communities.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Given that we know that non-custodial sentences are just as effective in preventing reoffending as custodial sentences, why do the courts still persist, in breach-of-trust cases, in sending individuals who pose no danger to the public to prison for long terms? Is it not time that we adopted a different approach to, for instance, those who commit theft from employers, and punished them effectively in the community rather than in prison?

Mr. Straw: It is important for the courts to have at their disposal a wide range of sentences to deem appropriate in the circumstances with which they are dealing. It is an important part of our democracy that we have an independent judiciary, and that we do not criticise sentences when they are passed but rely on the judgment of the judiciary. As for breach of trust, I fear that my hon. Friend and I may simply take different views. My view is that it is an aggravated element of an offence if someone who is trusted by his employer to hold money egregiously breaks that trust.

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Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): How many prisoners who are currently serving short sentences does the Secretary of State think should not be in prison?

Mr. Straw: That is an interesting question, which both the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) have sought to answer. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden has said that he wants prisoners not to be remanded in custody if they can safely be remanded elsewhere. The question is how we can make bail and non-custodial sentences as effective as possible. That will include measures such as home detention curfew and tagging, to which the Conservatives have objected but which is one of many measures that have led to much safer communities. Notwithstanding the mocking laughter that we hear from Conservative Members, the fact is that the public are increasingly aware that crime has fallen under this Government, whereas under the Conservative Government it doubled.

Prison Overcrowding

8. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): How many convicted criminals served reduced sentences as a result of prison overcrowding in each of the last four years. [192760]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): End-of-custody licence was introduced on 29 June 2007. Under the scheme, up to 31 January 2008 18,583 prisoners serving sentences of between four weeks and four years were released up to 18 days earlier than they otherwise would have been.

Andrew Rosindell: As the Minister says, since the Prime Minister came to office in June 2007 more than 18,000 prisoners have benefited from the early release system. They have also gone on to commit 300 crimes and at least one murder. Will the Minister undertake to end this crisis once and for all, and commit here today that in future she will keep these people behind bars where they belong and that the capacity in our prisons will be increased?

Maria Eagle: No, I will not commit to that. The hon. Gentleman is right that 1 per cent. of those released on end-of-custody licence have reoffended while on licence, and that is of course regrettable. However, it is not the case that saying today that end-of-custody licence will end would solve this problem. In order to end the licences, we would immediately have to find some 1,300 places at any one time. We have said that this is a temporary measure and that we will keep under constant review when it ought to come to an end, but today is not the time to end it.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Should courts not be obliged to set minimum sentences in every single case, thus eradicating at a stroke the scandal of prisoners being released early just because of prison overcrowding, rather than because it is in the national interest?

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Maria Eagle: A healthy debate on sentencing is taking place within parties and in this House, and that will no doubt continue. However, the right hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that the introduction of end-of-custody licences was the first time in the history of Parliament that convicted criminals had been released early—in this case 18 days early—but that is untrue. In 1984, the Government that he supported changed parole eligibility to let people out on parole earlier. In 1986, they extended remission for good behaviour to those serving under 12 months from a third to a half, thus allowing out early a whole load of convicted criminals. In 1992, they introduced automatic release at the halfway point of—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think the point has been made.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): Given the evidence that a fundamental part of rehabilitation is the education and training opportunities that prisoners have in prison, and given that there are long waiting lists for those courses and that the increased use of early release makes it much harder for prisoners to complete the courses before they leave, what is the Department doing to ensure that prisoners who are released early are able to continue with the education and training they undertake in prison, to enable them to rehabilitate successfully afterwards?

Maria Eagle: The hon. Lady raises some interesting points. The entire concept of offender management means that we are in a much better position to ensure that the courses that prisoners start while in prison can either be completed or continued outside in the community. We have done that by making sure that the adult education and basic skills courses available in prison are the same as those available outside prison. Offender management means that when the probation service takes over the care of released offenders it can ensure that the correct opportunities are available to them, which will help both to reduce the chances of their reoffending and, it is to be hoped, to reintegrate them into society properly.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is it not obvious from these exchanges that the public—our constituents—are being put at risk because of the Government’s failing prisons policy? Is it true that since June 2007, 700 early release offenders have been recalled but, staggeringly, 124 are still at large? Why are they still at large, what is being done to apprehend them, and what offences did the 124 commit?

Maria Eagle: My understanding is that 4 per cent. of those released early on end-of-custody licence have been recalled, and that amounts to 673 people. They may have been recalled for a number of offences, but obviously they are in breach of their licence. Some 1 per cent., or 257 people, have reoffended in various ways. The Ministry of Justice regularly produces figures on these matters, so there is no attempt to hide that. Whenever anybody comes out it is possible that they will reoffend—some do and some do not—but these numbers are quite low compared with other types of release.

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Court Cases (Local Media)

9. Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): What representations he has received on the cost of providing details of forthcoming court cases to local media outlets. [192761]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): Two representations have been made in relation to the cost of providing copies of court lists and magistrates courts registers to the press.

Mr. Goodwill: The cost of providing the lists to the Scarborough Evening News has risen from £800 to a prohibitive £15,000. Does the Minister agree with that newspaper’s editor, Mr. Ed Asquith, who says that that will be welcomed by criminals, whose crimes and punishments will no longer be covered in the local newspaper, and that the court system will lose much of its deterrent power?

Bridget Prentice: I am delighted for the hon. Gentleman; he managed to get a good plug for his local newspaper into his question.

On the costs, there is a minimum fee of £5 for up to 10 sheets and 50p thereafter for a copy of any document provided by the court. I agree that local newspapers’ reporting is an important part of the court system, and indeed of the democratic process, both as a deterrent, as he mentioned, and as a way of allowing victims and others to know exactly what has happened in court. I shall examine the costs carefully, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that we are talking about costs to the public purse and we must ensure that they are appropriate in the circumstances.

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