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I do not believe that anyone can read the report of Sir John Learmont without being very impressed by its thoroughness. Again, I was extremely surprised by the view expressed about it by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Of course, I greatly respect his long service and knowledge of prisons. But the report struck me as being extremely impressive as regards the amount of detail into which it goes. But that detail in no way swamps many of the new and important recommendations and proposals that are made.
Like many who read it for the first time, I was astonished by some of its revelations. However, I was interested and pleased to see praise for the private sector prisons. I have read much criticism of them but the decision to establish those prisons has been
The report makes 127 detailed and wide-ranging recommendations. I understand that about half endorse actions which have already been completed or are under way or are planned by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. Of the remainder, I can see that a number of proposals raise great issues of principle; for example, that with regard to the "supermax" prison. I believe that there is to be a report on that after consultation with the Prison Service. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. I believe also that there is to be a White Paper in the New Year setting out proposals on a number of other major issues raised by the report. All that is to be greatly welcomed.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has attracted much criticism in relation to some of his proposals and much criticism in our debate today. But I think that he is responding to public demands for greater security and he deserves our support. It is no use people spending all their time worrying about prisoners when it is victims who feel that they are without support. We need to keep a definite balance between the two in what we are trying to do.
Of course, there are two quite different philosophies in regard to prisons. I can see that there are some who believe that prison is a punishment while others see prison as a means of rehabilitation. Reading the Learmont Report, I regret to say that it appears to me at times that we have managed to achieve the worst of both worlds.
There are one or two points that I should wish to underline. We cannot have arrived at the position which the Learmont Report describes without all these things going on for some considerable time. I ask myself what the prison inspectors have been doing. I read very carefully paragraphs 5.98 and 5.99, which make recommendations about inspections that apparently now include proposals that the inspections should include inspections of security. If that was not the case before, I am astonished. I hope very much that that will be implemented.
The system of inspections in the education sphere, with which I am much more familiar, has benefited enormously from the establishment of Ofsted and the changeover from HMI. If there is one factor which is levering up standards, it is Ofsted's inspections. That whole area seems to me to be a matter of enormous importance.
The report's major proposals as to what the prison service must fulfil were well summarised at paragraph 6.15. The primary purpose of prison is to keep in custody those who have been committed to its care and who have committed crimes. That seems to me to be absolutely essential. The public have a right to be sure that dangerous, convicted prisoners will not escape.
We must get the basics right. My noble friend Lord Stewartby made an extremely important point about management. It seems to me from reading the report that management is unclear. That is of no help or value to anybody in the prison service. It is very important to get that right. Organisations which work well and which produce effective service do so because they are well managed. Judging from the report, I do not believe that that can be said of the Prison Service.
The third point which is made in paragraph 6.15 is that the rules governing what prisoners have to do are in place but they should be adhered to. That seems to me to be of enormous importance. I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that it is quite extraordinary that prisoners are allowed to take drugs which, after all, is a criminal offence, when they are in a prison. I am simply astonished.
Much comes from this report. What we should like to know from the Minister when she replies is how these matters are to be taken forward; how we can see the very constructive suggestions carried through; and how we can be sure that a new inspection service will maintain the kind of proposals which have been made so that we do not slide back into the situation in which we currently find ourselves.
I end by saying something about staff. I am quite sure that it must be a very difficult and quite often unpleasant task to be a prison officer. The morale of and support for prison officers are important. But I do not believe that where people are working in a system, either is ever improved if bad and sloppy habits are allowed to persist. Whatever may be the causes of that, the fact is that very dangerous criminals have managed to escape. I have read how they managed to do that and the fact is that the security arrangements were very lax indeed. That undermines morale and does not help the service at all. It certainly does not help the hundreds of prison officers who I am sure do not allow lax situations to persist.
I should not like it to be thought that, in any of the remarks I am making, I am in any way denigrating people in the service: we must support them. The lines of management must be clear and we must have a recognition of what is being done. In this regard, it is at all times just as important to remember the victims of crime and how they perceive all of this as it is to consider convicted prisoners who have committed a crime.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, I am most grateful for this opportunity to speak briefly in this debate about prison security. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for bringing the debate to the House this evening.
I should like to focus on the criticisms, responsibilities and recommendations brought out in the Learmont Report. Before I do so, perhaps I may welcome General Sir David Ramsbotham to his new appointment as inspector of Her Majesty's Prisons.
Sir John Woodcock made 64 recommendations. They covered improved surveillance and observation; the control of prisoners' property and searching of their cells; security procedures for visits and searching of staff; a need to review inmates' privileges; the improvement of staff selection and training; and the effectiveness of management and supervision.
I should now like to turn to the Learmont Report. In a covering letter which is enclosed with the report, it is made perfectly clear that the responsibility for the problems of the Prison Service ultimately reaches the level of the Prison's Board and that the reports criticisms stop there, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. The report does not conclude that any ministerial policy decisions contributed to either the escapes from Parkhurst or the way in which the Prison Service is being run. However, it severely criticises the board of the Prison Service.
Some of those recorded criticisms include, of course, the escape from Parkhurst which was based on the ability of prisoners to follow a well-trodden path through loose and ineffective security. The inquiry found a great deal that needs to be put right within the Prison Service, spanning leadership, structure, management and the ethos of the service. The inquiry discovered a fundamental mismatch between the perception of the board and what was happening on the ground. It is surprising that neither the Director General nor the board members recognised the signs and symptoms of failure and inefficiency that were so obvious and so dramatically illustrated by the Whitemoor and Parkhurst escapes.
The Director General and board members claimed that problems were not drawn to their attention. However, the report emphasises that the value of visits is lessened if inherent problems remain undiscovered. During the inquiry's visits to prisons, the team identified problems simply by talking to governors, staff and prisoners and by observing failure in basic security procedures. A change of ethos at board level is essential. A series of audits has confirmed that Whitemoor and Parkhurst were not aberrations of the norm, but symptomatic of the practices in place in similar establishments throughout the country.
I should now like to touch briefly on the report's recommendations. As has already been said tonight, there are 127 of them and time does not allow me to comment on many. However, it is worthwhile to note that, of the 127 recommendations, only 21 have cost implications, with some of the cost of these offset by other recommendations. As has also been mentioned
I should like to bring some of the recommendations to your Lordships' attention. The first is for a single maximum security prison to house the most dangerous prisoners in the system. That recommendation was made some years ago, was accepted, but subsequently rejected. Since then, the policy has been to disperse the most dangerous prisoners among a small number of high security prisons. The report recommends that a single control prison be established to hold the most unruly and disruptive prisoners. It recommends that there should be a fundamental review of the system under which prisoners are allocated to different security categories according to the threat that they represent to the public and their likelihood of escape. The inquiry also recommended that there should be closed visits for all exceptional risk Category A prisoners, save in exceptional circumstances. Such a policy was introduced this year.
The report explains how physical security is enhanced by activities and incentives. Last year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced that the Prison Service would introduce a national framework of privilege and incentives. The report also recommends that early release from prison should be earned and not granted automatically as at present. Some of those proposals were announced at Blackpool last October and have been recorded elsewhere.
If we are to have an efficient, effective, responsible, well-led and properly trained Prison Service which will meet its obligations to society, we need to address the criticisms and recommendations contained in the Learmont Report as a matter of urgency. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has also been personally responsible for a number of initiatives--to cut home leave, to introduce mandatory drug testing in prisons and to establish a system of incentives and sanctions for prisoners.
I strongly support the recommendations within the report on which I have focused and brought to your Lordships' attention this evening. Further, I welcome the recent and new initiatives. I also welcome the Government's intention fully to consult on the proposals and to publish a White Paper early next year. In that context, I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister can confirm in her reply to the debate that that is still the case.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I should like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for giving us the opportunity to debate this issue. The report of Sir John Learmont is both wide ranging and detailed and, as we have heard, contains 127 recommendations most of which are being considered by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I shall refer to two of them, but I wish first to make one or two general points.
There is often criticism of the phrase "prison works"; indeed, we have heard it repeated today. There are noble Lords on other Benches who scoff at such statements, but I believe that it is important to listen to what senior practitioners, and not only theorists, have to say. The Chief Constable of Gwent, Tony Burden, in a letter to Mr. David Maclean, dated 14th September 1995, said:
I believe we can all accept that when hardened and persistent criminals are sentenced to imprisonment and are in prison they are not causing mayhem or terrifying innocent people by committing further offences during that time. In my experience as a magistrate, whether an offence is so serious or whether no other form of sentencing would be appropriate has to be considered. Magistrates approach that responsibility most seriously. I know the heartache that people experience before a sentence depriving someone of his or her liberty is imposed. The role of government is different. Ministers have to take into account strong feelings as regards the welfare of victims and the demands of the public for a safer society. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is to be congratulated on the actions he has taken to help bring that about.
We should remember that the report of Sir John Learmont was initiated by the Government after a prison outbreak. The report--an important document--stated that the failure was not one of policy but of operation. The inquiry found my right honourable friend without fault but was seriously critical of the operation of prison management which in this case was the responsibility of the Director General of the Prison Service, Mr. Lewis.
I come now to the two recommendations with which I have difficulty. There is a feeling abroad that in prison everyone has an easy time in comparatively luxurious surroundings. Visits to any penal institution can allay such thoughts although I must admit that things have changed dramatically since 1968 when I first visited a prison. Needless to say I am delighted that the Government have built eight new prisons and refurbished others leading to the phasing out of the awful process of slopping out. New prisons were desperately needed. Not enough had been built during the liberal period of trendy thinking. However, I cannot
My other concern is home leave. On one occasion recently in the retiring room I questioned the clerk as to whether a defendant's previous convictions were in error. He had been sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and yet three months later had been convicted of another offence. I believed that this could not happen but the clerk informed me that the offender was probably on home leave for the weekend and that this often happened throughout a sentence. I was astounded. I had always thought that home leave was granted either for compassionate reasons or towards the very end of a sentence. I therefore endorse most warmly my right honourable friend's view that home leave should be earned. I believe that the public should know this and that they should know of the criteria used to grant such leave.
I was interested to read of the suggestion that a maximum security prison should be built to house all Category A prisoners. I look forward to hearing the outcome of the research into that issue. However, it seems to me that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is responding to the concerns of the public who want strong action to be taken. Naturally he leaves an independent judiciary to impose sentences but I believe that his policies are right. It is his duty to--and indeed he does--speak up for the welfare of the victims, and, above all, the protection of the public.
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for initiating this debate, particularly because of my position as a member of the council of NACRO. I believe that what strikes even the most cursory reader of the Learmont Report is its concentration on the issue of security. In one sense there can be no complaint about that because, after all, that is what Sir John Learmont was asked to inquire into; namely, the issue of security in the Prison Service.
However, there is a question--to be directed not so much to Sir John as to the rest of us--as to whether this concentration on security might lead towards a distorted perspective on the tasks of the Prison Service taken as a whole. There is nothing new about this. Ever since the spectacular escapes which led to the Mountbatten Report of 1966, there has been more and more public and political anxiety about security. I certainly noticed the effects of this in the difficulties which chaplains had in getting inmates to chapel services in the aftermath of Strangeways.
It is true that Learmont talks about the need for a proper balance between Custody, Care and Control, with three capital C's. The question--some of your Lordships have already raised it--is, could there be such an anxiety about custody as to lead to an inadvertent depreciation of care? After all, there is more political
There is, of course, a prudential point. People with long experience of running prisons say that control is much easier if the regime is acknowledged by staff and inmates alike as fair, just, firm and consistent. However, I am making a point not so much of prudence as of principle. We have a duty of justice to offenders, not so much because they have a right to it as because we owe a duty of justice to all our fellow human beings. Let me put it another way. A system of criminal justice must include justice for criminals; otherwise it will be undermined by self-contradiction. What does this mean in practice? Among other things it means never forgetting that, when a man or a woman is sentenced to imprisonment, the punishment properly consists in custody itself, in loss of liberty and nothing else.
People who are subject to imprisonment have a right to freedom from violence or intimidation. They have a right to due process if charged with further offences. They have a right to clean clothes and decent living conditions. They have a right to practise their religion and to receive appropriate education and training. They have a right to maintain contact with their families. They have a right to be treated with fairness and dignity. They have those rights. However, their rights are grounded in our duty; that is, our duty to accord justice to all who share our flesh and blood. That is the fundamental issue; the recognition of a common humanity. For a Christian this has a particular resonance--I know from observation and experience that this is recognised by many offenders--because Jesus Christ finished his life and won our salvation not as a guard, or a magistrate, or a judge, or a priest, or a member of a government, but as a prisoner convicted and condemned.
I recognise that to talk in this way about the recognition of common humanity and about our obligation of justice towards those who have offended against justice, sometimes in quite appalling ways, runs contrary to much of popular public opinion. Popular opinion on the whole likes to distance itself from offenders as if they are aliens, or somehow "other". They are often described as animals or as somehow otherwise subhuman. Attitudes like these, which are inside all of us somewhere, serve to justify our reluctance to accept the implications of our common humanity.
This leads me to reflect on a disturbing feature of the times in which we live. Politicians and others are far too ready, it seems to me, to appeal uncritically to what passes for public opinion as an arbiter of public policy, as if "what the public will stand for", devoid of any consideration of who the public are and how their minds
Secondly, when political leaders make that kind of appeal to public opinion they are abdicating their own responsibility for helping to shape and educate public opinion. Of course public opinion has to be taken into account, but those of us who exercise influence in society--politicians, journalists, educators, Church leaders and so on--do not stand in a merely passive relationship to public opinion, we help to form it. We are not honest if we pretend otherwise.
So, to state a moral principle which must inform the administration of the Prison Service, a just society has a duty of justice and fairness even to those who themselves have violated justice. Security is important; control is important; but without justice humanity itself is at risk, not only the humanity and dignity of those who are sentenced to imprisonment but the humanity and dignity of us all. I have talked at length about justice as a fundamental human value, but we must never forget that the works of a merely human justice can only ever be provisional.
Perhaps I may end with a story. A few years ago I found myself presiding at a Christmas carol service in the chapel of an over-full local prison. I found myself standing in front of the altar facing the congregation. As I stood facing them I could see that they were divided into two halves with the aisle between them. On the left were the inmates, on the right were the governor, the governor's wife, members of the board of visitors and their spouses, the chief constable, the High Sheriff and their ladies and all the other dignitaries. It was a disturbing enactment of the parable of the last judgment--goats on the left, sheep on the right. But who on earth really knows who belongs on the left and who on the right? That is a judgment which belongs to God alone, whose justice and mercy are inseparable.
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