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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their support. I shall certainly take back the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about publicity for the provisions of the census, particularly among ethnic communities. I am sure that that will be at the forefront of the minds of representatives of the Office for National Statistics.
The Earl of Longford: I am not so sure that he would welcome it. I visited Wandsworth prison not so long ago during the time of the previous governor. I said to him, "Hello Governor. In my eyes you are the ideal prison governor". He said, "Don't tell anybody that
I am honoured and flattered that so many noble Lords have put their names down to speak in the debate, which is limited to one-and-a-half hours. We shall not have many minutes. Even the Minister will not have many minutes. I am nevertheless grateful. Perhaps the Government Whip, whom we respect so much, will inform me when I have overstepped my limit. I am allowed only 10 minutes, but of course I could go on for hours.
We are told in the Christian gospel, "Judge not, that ye be not judged", but it is impossible not to make a judgment here. The story of Wandsworth prison revealed to us by the much revered chief inspector is a terrible story. I do not know if it is any worse than that of Wormwood Scrubs, but at any rate it is extremely bad. We cannot restrict our criticisms to the prison or to the people in charge of it. One must remember that the Prison Service has a very bad record, as the report reveals. For six months the prison was left without a governor. That was the fault of the Prison Service. What was the Home Office doing?
Therefore, I am bound to put the question, of which I have given notice to the Minister: how far does the Minister accept responsibility for the failure--in this case, the signal failure--of the Prison Service? I hope that he will say that he accepts responsibility and that he will take steps to improve matters in the future. We have seen this dreadful report and we all look to the future rather than to the past.
Those of us who have been visiting prisoners for half a century know that Wandsworth has the reputation of being the worst prison. Many years ago when I visited Maidstone prison, I said on leaving to a prison officer, "I like this prison, you know"--which was a rather stupid and unwise thing to say--"I like this prison. I wouldn't mind being governor here". I shall not say exactly what he said in reply--he used rather stronger words than I can quote to your Lordships--but the gist was, "Any fool can manage this place. You wouldn't last five minutes at Wandsworth". Wandsworth had the reputation of being the worst prison. The Government are tackling that reputation head on and I give them full credit for facing up to it.
At last the story has been told in detail by our much respected Chief Inspector of Prisons. What are we going to do about it? We can all surely accept the general opinion of the chief inspector about what makes a healthy prison and what does not. One thing that does not make a healthy prison, which is brought out clearly in the report, is a situation in which the prisoners are frightened of the staff. There is something particular about the Wandsworth culture. I repeat that phrase because it is important in this connection--"the Wandsworth culture". I have known the Wandsworth culture for half a century. How on earth can it be put right?
I do not underestimate the task facing the Minister. I know that he cannot do it tomorrow, but I want to know how the Government are setting out to tackle the Wandsworth culture. I have met the chief inspector since the report was published. I had good talks with him and with the area manager. I am greatly impressed by what has been achieved in the area plan. I hope that the Minister will tell us about that in due course. The new plan is very good.
I visited the prison last week. I met the governor and deputy governor. Luckily, on my way into the prison I ran into the Catholic chaplain, whom I have known in the past. He told me that there has been a great change in the most criticised of all the departments--what was called the segregation unit. The Minister will tell us that it has been given a new name, which is important. I do not doubt the Minister. I want to be on the side of optimism. Things are happening there.
I do not want the Minister to feel that I am saying in a snide kind of way that I do not know at all what is going on there and that I do not like the smell of it. I do like the smell of it, but the point is, what is going to happen? It is a tremendous task to put right the horrible culture of half a century or more. How are the Government going to do it? The Chief Inspector has pointed the way. A change in management is needed. But how does one change the management without changing the managers?
The Home Office has changed the governor. I knew the previous governor. I liked him very much. I said to him, "In my view, you're a good governor". He said, "Don't tell anyone that. It would ruin my reputation". But he has now been moved. I have met the new governor and his deputy. I was very much impressed, as I have been impressed by the area manager too. There is a very impressive team in charge of the prison so I am asking the Minister to give them inspiration.
Above all, it is a hell of a task. Just before coming to the House--only this evening--I received a letter from the Prison Officers' Association. It is very easy to be nasty about the Prison Officers' Association and to blame everything on it. I do not do that. I am on its side. I should like to think that I am its friend, although I do not think it believes that I am. Nevertheless, the Prison Officers' Association is worried about the damage to the morale of the prison staff caused by these rather crucifying reports. We have to think of the prison staff. I am told--I know only what I read in the letter--that prisoners are attacking the prison officers more frequently as a result of the decline in prison officers' morale. I do not know whether that is true, but that is what I have been told. We have to face that fact. It is no use sitting here saying that everything can be altered. Over half a century the prison staff have treated prisoners in a certain way--I think in a rather bullying way. How are we going to alter that?
That is the great question before us. I know that the Minister means well and the Government mean well. I am on the side of all their efforts. It is a tremendous task. I look with hope to the Minister to tell us how they are going to set about it.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, anyone who has an interest in what is going on in our prisons today will be extremely concerned by this report. For it represents an indictment of those with responsibility for the custody and care of the prisoners in their charge which reaches to the highest levels in the Prison Service, and their failure properly to discharge those responsibilities. The chief inspector has quite a lot to commend in Wandsworth, but overall he states that it is,
The report is particularly concerned about the alarming culture of the prison--"the Wandsworth Way"--which underpins many of the other difficulties, a point referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. The levels of overcrowding, which mirror the catastrophic rise in the prison population generally, coupled with budget cuts have compounded the problems. It makes most unhappy reading. However, I will concentrate on three particular aspects of the report.
I had a feeling of deja vu about some of the report's contents. The description of the way visits are handled, the attitudes to visitors--described as "despicable" by some, but not all staff--and the mismanagement of arrangements such as the booking system described in Wandsworth today reminded me of the time when I was involved in setting up the first visitors centre at Pentonville back in 1970. Then too visitors, mostly wives and children, were often treated as if they also were criminals when in reality they were more often victims. Then too it could take an hour or more to get into the visits room--plus ca change. When we started the centre it was a controversial idea to provide a service to these families, but it is a measure of progress that visitors centres are now part of the landscape. I am delighted that Wandsworth too has a visitors centre, which was highly praised in the chief inspector's report, so that visitors do have that degree of support. But, how people are treated by prison staff is also crucially important.
There is a clear understanding today that regular, positive contact between a prisoner and his family and friends is absolutely essential if prisons are to be manageable institutions. Thus, visits form a key part of the life of any prison. They maintain vital family links and contacts with the outside world, and are of huge importance to all prisoners. How their visitors are treated and how their visits go can make all the difference to the prisoners concerned, which in turn will impact on the atmosphere in a prison. Visits are never easy, but if properly and sensitively managed they result in prisoners being more relaxed and happier and ultimately that means a happier prison. This is
The segregation unit also has a familiar ring about it, where the most disruptive, weakest or unpopular--notably sex offenders--are held and this is where the report is most critical. It reminds me of the infamous B Hall in Peterhead prison back in the mid-1980s when men were held in isolation, sometimes for months, by staff who wore riot gear at all times. Like Wandsworth today, it enjoyed a reputation as a hard prison, and that was its hardest feature. I am glad to say that B Hall is no more, and those men were satisfactorily dispersed. But the report refers to the,
Just as the gate lodge and visits area of a prison is a barometer of the ethos of a prison in the way it presents itself to the outside world and deals with its visitors, so segregation units are a barometer of basic levels of care. If any level of abuse is occurring, this is where it is likely to be found. That is because of the very difficult nature of the prisoners held in these units, the fact that they are out of the mainstream of prison life and that they tend to be managed by the same staff team. While this can be helpful where there is good practice, if there is not, then they can go badly wrong. These units absolutely require regular supervision and it is imperative that the Government put strategies in place to deal with this very difficult and sensitive area. I ask the Minister what practical plans there are to deal with this problem.
The problems of management and supervision of these units is a symptom of a larger problem for the most senior management levels in the service, which is the need to give an appropriate, effective and clear lead in terms of strategies, goals and vision. It is all too easy to pin the blame on the staff on the ground, or the POA and the "sizeable minority" of staff who embody and perpetuate the tough, negative, aggressive and frightening culture that pervades the prison. That certainly and shockingly exists, and the high proportion of prisoners who feel unsafe or claim that they have been assaulted by staff--even if exaggerated--is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue. But a prison which has had periods without its new governor actually on the job in the prison for months at a time, but seconded elsewhere, cannot begin to have its problems addressed. That too was unacceptable.
I welcome Jack Straw's initiative in inviting the noble Lord, Lord Laming, to look into the problems of failing prisons and how to identify them so that the Wandsworth abuses never recur. But I understand that he is being asked to report by the beginning of May and also has other commitments. So I should like to ask the Minister how he can possibly have time to make a meaningful report under those circumstances.
There is no quick or simple solution to the problems of Wandsworth. But simply on the indicators of those areas I have highlighted, it is not a healthy prison. I call on the Government to take urgent action to remedy this most shocking and worrying state of affairs.
The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, we have already heard some of the concerns expressed in the wake of the chief inspector's unannounced visit to Wandsworth last July. I shall not repeat them, save to voice my own concern, as bishop to prisons, at what Sir David Ramsbotham found. Instead, I want to focus on two particular areas.
In his highly critical comments on the segregation unit at Wandsworth, the chief inspector mentions mentally disordered prisoners. It is well known that our over-burdened Prison Service has to deal with an unacceptably high level of mentally ill prisoners. As I have said previously in this House, a normal prison is no place to handle and house such people. It is totally unreasonable to expect ordinary prison officers to deal effectively with such inmates. That does not excuse filthy conditions or idleness, but it does help to illustrate the considerable pressure under which all prison staff are expected to work these days. I beg the Government, and the Minister in particular, to give urgent consideration to these matters.
Sir David says that what his team observed in the segregation unit confirmed his suspicions that the priorities of management are directed elsewhere than to the correct treatment and conditions of prisoners. Our prisons are bursting at the seams, and the Prison Service is obliged by government to give a high priority to budgets and key performance indicators. But we need also to recognise the importance of the quality of treatment and the conditions of prisoners. As Martin Narey, the director-general of the Prison Service told us in General Synod last November, for him, prisoners are ultimately about morality. In our anxieties about efficiency and costs, we need to remember that.
More important is the entitlement of prisoners to practise their religion in Wandsworth. Men whose names are properly listed to attend chapel may not be unlocked, and so their name is not on the list of attendees and they lose a place. Each week, so I am told, numbers of prisoners are not able to attend because there is a restriction on numbers in the chapel, and staffing difficulties do not allow the provision of additional services. There is an attitude that the prisoner must apply and that worship is a kind of recreation, not a right. Clearly, that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.
Wandsworth is a large local remand prison and its main function is to serve the courts by holding prisoners on remand and directly after sentence. The prison has to take what it is sent. That means that, in the main, the population is on the move continually. I know that staff often feel that Wandsworth "gets the dregs", and they cite examples of difficult prisoners being posted on to Wandsworth. All that gives some insight into the low morale of many officers. It does not encourage them to think creatively or to seek to depart from the "Wandsworth way" of doing things. It is a demoralising experience simply to be dealing with that turnover of difficult and demanding inmates. As the chief inspector rightly points out, Wandsworth shares many problems with other local prisons which are not of its own making.
It is hard, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said, to change a culture in a prison. However, the chief inspector told me only this week that, since the publication of his report, a new and impressive governor has been appointed to lead Wandsworth out of its difficulties. That, combined with a very good action plan by the area manager--a plan based on the inspectorate's concept of the healthy prison--should go a long way to turning Wandsworth round. All of us devoutly hope that that may be so.
Lord Judd: My Lords, first, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Longford for once again giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue. I am one of those who believe that we shall be assessed by historians on the conditions of our prisons. It is said that prison conditions say a great deal about the underlying values of the society in which we live.
At the outset, I should like to underline that, in his report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons goes out of his way to say that there are good people working in the Prison Service in Wandsworth, people who are endeavouring to reach the highest standards and who deserve encouragement as well as inspired and firm leadership.
If we are looking at the seriousness of the report, it is important to place it in historical perspective. The task with which the Government, and those responsible to the Government, are confronted goes back a long way. It is more than 10 years since the Chief Inspector, Judge Tumim, in an inspection report, criticised the culture of staff neglecting prisoners and, subsequently, discipline staff walked out of the prison, blaming problems on "difficult prisoners" and police officers were drafted in to run the establishment.
In 1991, the Council of Europe condemned conditions at Wandsworth as "inhuman and degrading". In 1992, Wandsworth Community Health Council severely criticised the standard of healthcare in the prison, three years after the Chief Inspector of Prisons had made similar criticisms. In 1993, an inspection report described life for prisoners as "monotonous and tedious", with "completely inadequate" employment opportunities. Many prisoners were receiving less than one shower a week, and there was no inmate association. In 1997, a Board of Visitors' report criticised education and healthcare provision, and indeed the local Prison Officers' Association then demanded the removal of passages in the report that were critical of staff.
In 1999 the Wandsworth Board of Visitors criticised overcrowding, budget cuts, low staffing levels, lack of middle management and the fact that, on more than one occasion, the prison had been left without a governor for several months. That is a sad history and a very difficult situation for the present team to turn round. I hope that the message which goes out from tonight's debate is not negative but one that encourages and supports them to try to make this prison a model rather than one which continues in the "Wandsworth way".
Having said that, perhaps the Minister in his reply can deal with several specific points, some of which have already been mentioned, and reassure us. I very much agree with the right reverend Prelate that it is a tragedy--I use that word advisedly--that in so many of our prisons people should not be there at all because basically they are mentally ill. It would be good to hear reassuring comments from the Minister this evening that the Government have that issue in hand and are determined to do something about it. At another level, I was very concerned to read that there were two immigration detainees--it was a small number--in this prison. Why on earth were they in this awful place? I should like to have a specific assurance from the Minister that never again will an immigration detainee find himself in Wandsworth.
I was concerned to hear that last year there were 305 instances of self-harm in Wandsworth. What is being done about that? I totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, that we must have evidence from the Minister that the issues surrounding the segregation unit are being tackled and that arrangements for visitors are being made, or should be. Of all that I have learnt about rehabilitation, relationships with families are of crucial importance.
Perhaps the most important issue of all is that it is impossible to read the report without drawing the conclusion that here we have too big and impersonal a prison with all its problems of overcrowding and so on. If there is a future strategy for our prisons it will be of assistance to know that we shall not continue to run establishments of this size which in many ways make it virtually impossible to manage them. I recognise that this situation has been inherited by those with current responsibility, and we want to support them in finding a way forward. However, firm leadership is necessary and that must start with the Government. For that reason, I ask my noble friend to provide specific reassurances on the points that I have raised.
There is one basic point on which I should like to hear the thinking of the Minister. Like others, I have great respect for him and his colleagues in all that they seek to do. I believe that a government that seek to be judged by the toughness and effectiveness of their penal policy must have the challenge of rehabilitation at the top of their priorities. It must be understood that wrongdoing is not acceptable and will be punished, but the challenge is to turn the wrongdoers into decent, positive citizens.
The question is: how does one bring them back into mainstream life so that they make a constructive contribution? The desperately sad fact to emerge from the report is that there is evidence that people are being turned into hardened criminals with little chance of playing a positive part in society and taking an altogether different approach to life on their release. It is not only a matter of what happens in prison but of what arrangements are made to ensure that people are not just dumped back into society. They must be taken by the hand and led back into society so that they can reconstruct their lives. That approach must be based on the underlying culture and expectations of the Prison Service. We have heard about leadership. However, I should like to hear the Minister tell the House specifically what is being done to re-express the culture of the Prison Service so that the challenge of rehabilitation is seen as the principal vocational task of all those who on our behalf look after people in our prisons, which is no easy task.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, Holloway, Feltham, Wormwood Scrubs and now Wandsworth have been the subject of scarifying reports which in the old days would have been enough to see the departure of the Home Secretary. Since the previous Home Secretary managed to hive off the responsibility to the director-general, nowadays almost anything can happen in the Prison Service without disturbing the equilibrium of Queen Anne's Gate. Every time the chief inspector comes out with a hard-hitting report it is greeted with an air of injured surprise in the eyes of Queen Anne's Gate. In the last case the Minister, commenting on the report at the Prison Service annual conference at Harrogate, said:
If there is an absence of an effective early warning system which causes management and the Minister to be caught on the hop in trying to explain to the media why they are unaware of what goes on in their prisons it is about time they found one. It is probable that one of the agencies that the Minister had in mind was the board of visitors. The board has a duty under Rule 77 to,
First and foremost, I suggest that the reports are not read properly by anybody except the chief inspector, who picks up criticisms and expresses them in his own inimitable style. I shall demonstrate that in the case of Wandsworth. Secondly, the reporting duties of boards of visitors are not clearly defined. For some years I have tried to persuade Ministers that the boards should be required to produce annual reports and make them available to the media and the public. In the last year for which we have figures, 132 boards submitted annual reports to the Minister and only 94 of them were published. Will the Minister now place a duty on boards of visitors to publish annual reports, and will he ask them to report specifically on issues which are the main causes of problems?
Apart from routinely reporting to the Secretary of State any matter which they think it expedient to report, boards of visitors have the duty to inform the Minister "immediately" of any abuse which comes to their knowledge. I suggested to the previous Minister that the wording of this provision needed to be clarified because of the vagueness of the term "abuse" and the necessity to investigate whatever allegation might have been made, rather than bombarding the Secretary of State with every allegation which might turn out to be malicious or ill-founded.
In September 1998 the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, agreed that there might be a need to look at the wording of that rule. He thought that in the mean time it would be helpful if the national director issued guidance to boards of visitors on the point. But I noticed that the new rules published last year remain unchanged. I asked why the opportunity had not then been taken to make the drafting alterations. The noble Lord who is to respond this evening replied that only a consolidation exercise had been undertaken, plus a few obvious deletions such as the removal of provisions dealing with prisoners sentenced to death. However, the noble Lord undertook to ask the secretariat of the board of visitors to issue guidance to boards on how to interpret that rule until such time as it may be amended. Can the Minister say anything further on that? What are the circumstances in which boards would be required to communicate their knowledge of abuses occurring in their prison directly to the Secretary of State?
There are plenty of warnings in the 1997 and 1998 reports of the Wandsworth board of visitors. The Minister was not being entirely fair to the board when he claimed that all the responsible agencies had remained silent. They dealt with a number of issues raised later in perhaps rather stronger language by Sir David. At the beginning of the report, it commented adversely on the fact, as noted by my noble friend Lady Linklater, that the previous governing governor, Graham Clark, retired in June 1998 but his successor arrived four months later in October. Even then he was apparently taken out to act as area manager leaving the prison without a governing governor for six months. The board described that as unfortunate and said that the gap led to "a lack of direction". So no one can say that he was not told.
Sir David now says that he has criticised Prison Service senior management again and again for allowing that to happen, as one of the reasons for failing the prison. We do not need the noble Lord, Lord Laming, to tell us that. It is already in the report.
The board drew attention again to the problems created by the presence of a large foreign population in the prison--it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd--with no resources to match. On average in that year there were 120 prisoners, or about 10 per cent of the population in the prison. However, at the time of the chief inspector's visit, the number had doubled to 250. Their needs were largely being ignored. The staff did not know how many foreigners there were on their wings, their nationality, or the languages they spoke. To deal humanely with those prisoners, one would have to provide interpreters, and meet the prisoners' dietary and religious needs. They might need reading material in their own language. They might need teaching by qualified ESL teachers. It is not satisfactory to dump the job of assessing those needs on the shoulders of one part-time race relations officer, however competent he may be.
To put that situation right would cost money. Yet governors have the same amount to spend per head on all prisoners irrespective of their nationality. I suggest to the Minister that we need a supplement, an extra
Last November I sent the Minister an analysis of foreign nationals in our prisons in March 1996 and September 1999. It indicated that the number of foreigners in our prisons is increasing even faster than British nationals. Bearing in mind the cost of keeping these prisoners in custody, I asked whether we could undertake a study to determine the reasons for the increase and to consider the possibility that the courts make greater use of suspended sentences with a recommendation for deportation; and whether the arrangements for repatriation of sentenced persons are working properly and expeditiously. Whether or not the Government agree to my suggested terms of reference, we should not turn a blind eye to a phenomenon which has important implications for both the criminal justice and the penal systems.
Finally, one way to improve the early warning of failing prisons would be to upgrade the standards of professionalism and competence of the boards of visitors. The training of board members is not well designed. The courses are not tailored to meet the needs of different kinds of establishment. They have no module on alleged abuse and what to do about it. They have no training on the Human Rights Act. The subject matter is geared to trained volunteers relying on their own experience. Some boards would like to see IIP accreditation, but that would require support from the Minister and the directorate.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for initiating a debate on the Wandsworth prison report. Wandsworth is one of four significant prisons in my diocese and my colleagues and I share an active interest in the life and health of people there. I was therefore very concerned about the criticisms of Wandsworth made in the chief inspector's report.
As we have heard, Wandsworth prison, both within the service and outside, has the reputation of being a hard place able to handle prisoners who have proved difficult to handle elsewhere. They were sent to Wandsworth and Wandsworth handled them without too many questions being asked. That was the "Wandsworth way".
The chief inspector's report questions whether the remnant of the Wandsworth way has any place in a modern penal system. In particular, the report makes criticisms of the regime in the segregation unit where some of what the chief inspector calls "the worst and the weakest prisoners" were wont to show up. He says:
I am in no position to respond to the accusation concerning Wandsworth. But I can tell a story from another prison in a different part of the country which might indicate why criticisms are sometimes muted. The story concerns a young prison chaplain who made several complaints about the harshness of a regime in a wing where vulnerable prisoners were being held. An accusation of sexual misbehaviour by the chaplain was then made and he was suspended. The police were eventually informed and within a short time came to the conclusion that the accusation had been concocted. Nevertheless, it took several months before the chaplain's suspension was lifted and he was then moved to another prison.
I was closely involved in the case and have no doubt that the whole episode was engineered in order to move someone who was perceived to be a troublesome member of staff. Will that chaplain complain again about anything he sees which disturbs him? I doubt it. Will he keep his head down and just get on with his job without complaint? Very probably.
The report is quite correct. In the absence of firm management, inexperienced staff become resigned to decisions being taken by the dominant officer of the day on the wing. And woe betide the member of staff or prisoner who steps out of line.
The report makes many recommendations, and the noble Earl rightly wishes to know how these issues are being addressed. A diocesan bishop is in a privileged position. He can turn up at the gatehouse of any prison in his diocese unannounced and has the right of admission. It is a right rarely used. We usually make an appointment like most civilised folk. However, last night, in order to address the noble Earl's Question I thought it right to show up unannounced at the gate of Wandsworth prison at six o'clock and ask to be taken to the segregation unit. To be honest, I was expecting to be depressed by what I found. On the contrary, I was much encouraged. The unit has been completely redecorated, a new kitchen has been installed, and new showers are in the process of being fitted. While not spotless, the floors and the washbasins are no dirtier than those in the average student accommodation.
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