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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps I might interrupt the noble Lord. He said that he knew nothing about prisons and he made that evident all too quickly. Is he really saying that the 3,500 people serving life sentences should be there for life?
Sir David Ramsbotham went on to say that 30 to 40 per cent. of young offenders need not be in prison at all. An estimated 20,000 inmates--almost a third of the prison population--suffered from some form of mental illness. He also said that foreign nationals were a "hideous drain" on the service and should be sent back to serve sentences in their own countries.
If we got rid of all those groups which he talked about, we would presumably lose many of the prison population and make it easier for everyone to govern prisons. Half the prisoners who commit suicide have had previous psychiatric illnesses. Gaoling the mentally ill--and remember that one in five schizophrenics is in gaol and one in 10 of us has a chance of being a schizophrenic during our lifetime--nearly always worsens their condition. It is inhumane to lock them up with the sane--it is inhumane for them, inhumane for the sane inmates and inhumane for those who look after them. As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said, in 1997, 70 inmates with mental problems killed themselves in prison. In 1994 a Mr. Edwards was killed in Chelmsford gaol by a mentally ill cell-mate on a three-day remand for psychiatric assessment. Sixty-three per cent. of remand prisoners, according to a Home Office-funded survey published in 1996 in the British Medical Journal, had a psychiatric disorder and 50 per cent. of those needed immediate treatment.
With figures of that magnitude it is clear that we are building prisons to house the mentally ill when what is needed are new secure psychiatric facilities. It has not been progress to close asylums and simply open prisons. Our prisons are for the detention of criminals; they are not hospitals. Three years ago the Government assured us that the number of secure beds was being doubled by the National Health Service. But nothing has happened. Prisons are being built at an astonishing rate, but nothing is being done to help the mentally ill in their tragic plight. They are often locked up for 19 hours a day because no one is available to give them the help that they need. If they need to be assessed, very often they are there for even longer. In Holloway, the average remand time for patients referred to one consultant is 28 days. That increases to 63 days when two consultants are involved.
One of the problems is that prisoners cannot be treated against their will in the prison system, except for urgent treatment given under common law. That crucial difference means that prisoners cannot be treated even when they have been found guilty of an offence, even when their diagnosis is not in doubt and even as they await transfer to hospital. When the doctors finally agree to give them beds, it is done under Section 37 of the Mental Health Act 1983. That means that they are sent back to prison for a further 28 days, which is the time
Home Office Circular 66/90 says that mentally disordered people should never be remanded to prison simply to receive medical treatment or assessment. Circular 12/95 asked for chief police officers to develop arrangements for examination by psychiatrists in police custody at selected police stations. And yet the courts, the police and the prosecution authorities continue to flood prisons with mentally ill people.
We must separate out the mainstream prisoner from the remand prisoner and the mentally ill prisoner. Then one hopes we can allow prison officers, psychiatrists and everyone else involved in the rehabilitation of prisoners a chance to provide for the future of those people when they return to the community in order that they can integrate properly and, through the auspices of bodies like Apex, find employment, having duly served the punishment that society gave them.
Lord Quirk: My Lords, in the early 1950s the noble Lord to whom we owe this debate was deputy chairman of the Prison Commissioners. In the same decade I developed some much lower level interest in prisons through giving a series of lectures in Durham gaol. I have rarely enjoyed audiences so attentive and appreciative and I was struck by the educational opportunities that prison life presented. However, with other things to do, I assumed that the opportunity was being duly seized upon by the authorities concerned and left it at that. News emerging as a result of funding reductions in the past couple of years showed me that I was wrong. The provision for education and training gives reason for deep concern and that has been echoed around your Lordships' Chamber this afternoon.
In 1995-96 the average cost per inmate per year was around £25,000. That is a tidy sum and one might have expected that a tidy bit of it went on education and training, so that prisoners could emerge better equipped to earn a legal livelihood. But in fact the amount for education and training was not a tidy sum; it was a tiny sum--2 per cent. or, in gross terms, £37 million out of a total prison budget of £1.75 billion. But Mr. Richard Tilt's bad news has since got worse. In the following year, despite a steep rise in the prison population, the amount allocated for education and training fell from £37 million to £34.5 million. And even in the current year the figure is still £750,000 below the £37 million of two years ago.
Therefore, with a rise of 25 per cent. in prison numbers, the fraction spent this year on education is down from that wretched 2 per cent. to a mere 1.8 per cent. Given the fact that educational provision is patchy across the system, the news for some prisons is even worse. Reference has been made this afternoon to Sir David Ramsbotham's newly published report on Dartmoor in which he notes with dismay that this prison suffered a cut of 50 per cent. for education.
Surely economising on education and training displays a mystifyingly disastrous sense of priorities. Here we have 65,000 inmates disproportionately male; disproportionately young; disproportionately from unhappy family backgrounds; and--disproportionately ill-educated--as well as being disproportionately prone to inflict misery, damage and fear upon the communities from which they come and to which they will return. That is 65,000 people who, before imprisonment, tied up huge resources in police manpower, domestic security devices and closed circuit surveillance in our streets and businesses. They include the people who make pensioners on housing estates too terrified to emerge from their homes; who menace tourists in the streets, and who push drugs at school gates. Yet, instead of recalling the apparent optimism of yesteryear when prisons were called "houses of correction", recalling indeed the current publicly proclaimed mission of the Prison Service to help inmates lead law-abiding lives after release, we grossly neglect the areas most obviously directed to achieving that objective--education and training.
Of course I do not underestimate the difficulties. The inmates tend not only to be deeply ill-educated, but deeply hostile to education and they present the service with other problems too. There is a high incidence of poor mental health, to which reference has been made. Sir David Ramsbotham has estimated that it may well amount to one-third of the prison population. We have the ubiquitous problem of drugs, under the control of apparently uncontrollable drug barons who have a powerful presence in every prison. There are the logistic problems of inmate range: from lifers, through sex-offenders and inmates of foreign nationality to the large numbers merely on remand. Nor must we forget the special problem of inmates who are virtually children within the young offender institutions. And though I have stressed that the vast majority of inmates are young males, there are record numbers of females--as we heard this afternoon--posing their own problems for the system. For example, when a pregnant prisoner goes to a maternity unit she involves a special detail of nine warders who work in shifts of three.
One therefore must not and does not underestimate the factors militating against attention to education. It is easy to understand why the pressures of mere day-to-day management tend to preclude longer-term, more ambitious strategies. But, easy to understand or not, any such preclusion is a profound and tragic mistake.
The Prison Service must be given clear direction plus adequate resources to overhaul training programmes and remedial education such that programmes are developed for all prisons and all categories of inmate. The goal must be to compile an individual profile immediately on reception and then to assign each inmate to appropriate classes and training programmes, with incentives to inmate enthusiasm related directly to a privilege system right up to the privilege of early transfer to the Category D institution that prepares prisoners for release.
Now of course a good deal of what I should like to see already goes on, but very patchily and curiously in isolation. Prison governors are too busy, or perhaps too parochial in their interests, to spread or adopt the good practice that exists. But I have been impressed by the marvellous initiative by two officers in Brixton to address the problem of deaf prisoners. There are the prison charity shops with which the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, is associated and which operate in Bromley, Peckham and Rugby. There are high intensity training programmes like that at Thorn Cross in Sheffield; the pre-release employment schemes which are working well at Springhill in Buckinghamshire and at the contract prison Buckley Hall near Rochdale; and of course there is excellent work on NVQs in many prisons, as well as programmes for teaching basic literacy and arithmetic.
But in too many prisons, such educational resources as exist are squandered on tokenistic exercises that smack of political correctness or on a plethora of superficial topics with no more constructive goal than to keep a few inmates amused.
In any case, it is not just a matter of resources. Fundamental structural changes are necessary--and on some of these I would welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle. For example, the probation services within and outside prison should be unified so as to facilitate strategic planning with continuity to ensure implementation of educational and training objectives. And just as Sir David Ramsbotham has added his voice to those keen to see the NHS assume responsibility for the health of prison inmates, so I would like to see the Department for Education and Employment involved in prison service education. Of course, like the NHS, the DfEE may well be said to have enough on its hands already. But it could not do better than address the very important fraction of our population that could benefit from education in prison.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, on introducing the debate. It is interesting that his concern has been endorsed by three previous Home Secretaries, the noble Lords, Lord Hurd, Lord Carr and Lord Baker, and by at least three former junior Ministers, the noble Lords, Lord Windlesham, Lord Elton and Lord Carlisle of Bucklow.
The debate has clearly demonstrated that the treatment of crime and criminality continues to cause concern to all those who care about the criminal justice system. It is not easy to reconcile the different views
I declare an interest. I have been a magistrate; I have been a member of a board of visitors for 14 or 15 years; and I was involved at one stage with the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, in reviewing the parole system. All that has given me an insight into the criminal justice system. More importantly, I have also been responsible for picking up some of the pieces as vice-chairman of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.
The debate is not about the causes of crime but about the inability to focus clearly on the effectiveness of punishment and treatment. As long as we continue to use prisons solely as a deterrent for society's ills, reforms that are badly needed will take a secondary place. The heavy emphasis on being tough on crime without a corresponding strategy for crime prevention must be a recipe for disaster.
It is clear from the figures that we spend nearly £10 billion a year on our criminal justice agencies but less than £240 million on crime prevention. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, is right. The most important problem facing prisons is the over-use of custody. If the aim of the criminal justice system is to take criminals out of circulation, then of course prison works. The more the emphasis on locking up people who commit crime, the greater the pressure on prisons to cope and the greater the pressure simply to contain people in prison with less emphasis on improving conditions to provide activities or to deal with problems in individual prisons.
The number of men, women and children in prison has increased by 60 per cent. in six years. Last week we were told that there are more than 65,000 people in prison. Of course the Government have inherited much of the problem, but there is an urgent need to re-focus attention on the justification for imprisonment. No one can dispute that prison, for public safety reasons, is appropriate for serious and violent offenders. But community penalties are more effective for non-violent offenders. It is in this area that we should make less use of custody. I believe that, as a civilised society, we should aim not merely to contain prisoners but to prepare them to lead law-abiding lives on release.
Figures have been cited. I shall add to them. At present, 53 per cent. of all prisoners, 75 per cent. of young offenders and 89 per cent. of juveniles are re-convicted within two years. Is prison working for this group of people? The answer must emphatically be no. We need to re-examine our attitude to prisoners who face especially acute problems. They include young offenders, a high proportion of whom have been in care and who are unlikely to be released to a stable and
We need to re-emphasise the objectives that prisons need to achieve: a positive plan of action for life outside prison; decent, good quality, stable accommodation; employment, training, education and meaningful activities; a source of income (a job or access to appropriate benefits); strong social and community ties; help in dealing with addiction and health related problems; and help in dealing with the reasons for committing crime.
Speaker after speaker in the debate cannot be wrong. At the root of everything is the sharp rise in the prison population. The Home Office had to revise sharply its projection of future population size. I was not in your Lordships' House at the time but on 9th June 1997 the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that if the present trend continued the projections were likely to be a substantial underestimate and that the prison population could rise to 68,400 by March 1999. We are very close to that figure now. I suspect that the Crime and Disorder Bill which is going through this House at the present time will also have a large upward effect on the revised figures. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, will be able to comment on the implications of some of those policies.
It is accepted that overcrowding leads to poor prison conditions. Prisoners spend more time in cells. Access to activities is limited or reduced. Prisoners are moved away from their home areas and cells now hold more inmates. Of course, we can build more prisons and fill them up more speedily. What is unexplained about our country is why we incarcerate more prisoners for every 100,000 of the general population compared with France, Germany, Holland and Sweden. I feel ashamed when we are often equated with the prison situation in Turkey, which is one of the worst if one considers that part of the world.
Despite all the overcrowding we are fortunate that there are dedicated staff in the Prison Service who continue to provide a valuable service to those in their care. Perhaps I may quote the Butler Trust. It is right to point out that the quality of the relationship between prisoners and those who work with them in custody is one of the single most important factors in reducing re-offending and breaking the cycle of crime.
We must express our concern about the incidents in Wormwood Scrubs. I am aware of the internally-run Prison Service inquiry. It would be improper for me to comment on the incidents complained of. I shall avoid the temptation of quoting from the report of the board of visitors. What the incidents have demonstrated is crystal clear. The present machinery of relying on the office of the Prison Service Ombudsman to resolve discipline and
Public confidence and the confidence of the victims can only be established if there is machinery which is meaningful and independent and which has the power to recommend disciplinary action and disciplinary charges to those who manage our prisons.
The example cited is often that of a body similar to the Police Complaints Authority. There is much to commend it. I have served as a member of the Police Complaints Authority for over three years. Its chairman and dedicated members have gone some way in building the confidence of both the police and complainants in the machinery that the state has established. It has the confidence of the Home Secretary--
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