Prisons and Courts Bill

Written Evidence submitted by the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales (PCB 07)

Prisons and Courts Bill

The Catholic Church has a presence in every prison throughout England and Wales. Our chaplains, volunteers and charities provide spiritual guidance, practical support, family services, and education to thousands of prisoners every year. Additionally, chaplains provide support to prison staff.

Catholic charities and parishes also play a key role in supporting people following their release from prison as well as helping those that are affected by the imprisonment of a family member.

Prisons exist to provide punishment, public security, and rehabilitation, all of which are interrelated. The restorative aspect of our prison system is in need of urgent improvement and we strongly support a shift from focussing on ‘offender management’ to prioritising rehabilitation, social integration, and positive opportunities for prisoners to make a contribution.

We welcome the Prisons and Courts Bill and the reforms it proposes to the prison system. This submission outlines our recommendations concerning the areas of: family, decency, and chaplaincy.

1. Family

Positive family relationships can help people to turn their lives around and give them a strong incentive to change their behaviour. Prisoners who receive family visits are significantly less likely to reoffend after their release, but visits can be very difficult not least because of distance, cost, fear and anxiety. Women and young offenders in particular are often held too far from their homes.

Well-established evidence suggests that improving family ties for prisoners reduces the risk of recidivism by as much as 39%. [1] There is a clear importance in ensuring that the Bill facilitates better family contact.

Throughout 2016 almost 200, 000 children had a parent in prison, more than the number affected by divorce each year. They are too often the forgotten victims, with the children of prisoners being three times more likely to suffer mental illness than the general population. [2] Furthermore six out of ten boys with a father in prison are likely to become offenders themselves. [3]

This highlights the importance of regular contact for family members as well as for prisoners. Prisoners’ children and families serve a 'hidden sentence' and no government department takes the lead in terms of responsibility for their welfare. Reference to families in the Bill would provide a significant impetus for engaging with them as stakeholders in the reform of offenders, as well as highlighting the importance of reducing inter-generational offending.

We welcome Part 1, Clause 1 of the Bill which requires prisons to: (a) protect the public, (b) reform and rehabilitate offenders, (c) prepare prisoners for life outside prison, and (d) maintain an environment that is safe and secure. While ensuring family contact is implicit in (b) and (c), we believe that the Bill should also be explicit in requiring prisons to facilitate family ties. This means that prison governors, who will be given a greater level of autonomy, will have a clear statutory framework to guide them.

We recommend amending Clause 1 of the Bill to include reference to maintaining and, where possible, strengthening positive family ties.

2. Decency

Facilitating a decent environment and culture within prisons is vital to the process of rehabilitation. However, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has recently criticised the level of rubbish, dirt, offensive graffiti, unhygienic facilities, and damp cells throughout the custodial estate. For many prisoners daily life involves eating in their cell next to an unscreened toilet, with only limited access to clean clothes or bedding. These are undignified and unacceptable conditions in which to keep people.

This lack of decency is linked to a rise in violence between prisoners and against staff. There were 5,423 assaults on prison staff recorded in the 12 months up to the end of March 2016, a rise of 40% since the previous year. The problem is exacerbated by understaffing which has left officers unable to spend time building good relationships with prisoners, who are sometimes locked in their cells for up to 23 hours every day.

Good pastoral care is a fundamental part of any civilised prison regime. Prisoners face profound disruption to every aspect of their lives and have a right to be properly supported. Difficult times of life such family breakdown and bereavement can be particularly hard. In these circumstances it is vital that people are able to receive appropriate pastoral care. This is an important aspect of upholding a culture of decency within prisons.

Without decent conditions, the possibility of effective reform and rehabilitation is remote, and the rates of violence, suicide and self-harm are likely to remain high. We therefore believe that the current lack of reference to decency is an oversight in the bill, and a duty to promote decency should be included within Clause 1.

We recommend amending Clause 1, line (d) to include reference to a culture of decency and respect.

3. Chaplaincy

Religion is a central feature in the lives of many prisoners, who often draw on faith to cope during their sentence. Faith plays a positive part in the process of rehabilitation by helping prisoners to address the causes and impact of their offending, come to terms with the past, and give them motivation to reform.

Chaplains play an extremely important role in prisons and support the faith of prisoners. Recent research focussing on Catholic prisoners found that over 90% trusted their chaplain. Beyond providing spiritual support, prisoners also welcomed the important pastoral role of chaplains including listening to problems, giving practical advice, and helping people to stay in touch with their families. [4] However 24% of prisoners surveyed had experienced difficulties seeing their chaplain, including timetabling issues or not being let out of their cell. [5]

It is extremely welcome that the Bill does not alter the statutory provision of chaplaincy set out in the Prison Act (1952). We believe that provision of chaplaincy should be part of the performance measures on education and time spent out of cells engaging in purposeful activity, outlined in the Prison Safety and Reform White Paper (November, 2016). [6] We hope that a proper discussion about the importance of access to chaplaincy can be facilitated during debates around Clause 1 of the Bill.

We recommend that secondary legislation and guidance should include the provision of chaplaincy within performance measures corresponding to the proposed statutory purpose of prisons outlined in Clause 1.

March 2017


[1] Economic Study of Integrated Family Support Programme (Pact: 2012)

[2] Pact: www. Prisonadvice.org.uk

[3] Pact: www. Prisonadvice.org.uk

[4] Belief and Belonging, Catholic Bishops’ Conference (2016)

[5] Belief and Belonging, Catholic Bishops’ Conference (2016)

[6] Prison Safety and Reform, Ministry of Justice (2016)

 

Prepared 27th March 2017