HC Deb 19 October 1988 vol 138 cc987-94

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]

10 pm

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

When I requested an Adjournment debate at the beginning of the recess I did not think that my wish would be granted as speedily as it has been, and I immediately express my gratitude, although I question the timing a little. But as it is only the second time in nine and a half years that I have been granted an Adjournment debate, I do not suppose I have many grounds for complaint.

The subject of my debate is the disturbances at Glenochil prison in my constituency. In recent years the prison has had a chequered history—often because of matters unrelated to its general administration—and over the years many hon. Members on both sides of the House have tried to correct misapprehensions and misunderstandings about the regime in that institution.

The problems that arose in the summer, although sadly all too common in other Scottish institutions during the past two or three years, occurred for only the first time at Glenochil. They involved vandalism, disturbances and a breakdown in discipline, and they required what seemed at the time, to some people at least, stern, if not oppressive, corrective action.

I must refer to the strenuous efforts of the staff, and especially the man whom I am proud to call my friend —Gordon Jackson, the governor—who, with his staff, has sought to re-establish discipline, which is the first priority in any prison regime. I pay tribute, not only to the prison service, but to the directorate and the Minister for the courageous decision that they took when the recess began to allow the press into the prison to assess for themselves the conditions in which the prisoners were living and who was responsible for those conditions. When the press saw for themselves the conditions and the manner in which they had been created, it was all too clear that the blame rested not with the prison authorities but with elements within the prison who were trying to disrupt the life and work of the prison service.

At the same time, I recognise that some of the problems that caused the disturbances flowed directly from the somewhat crude and simplistic approach to the relocation of prisoners that was implicit in the grand design. That involved the movement within the Scottish prison service of a number of prisoners, some of whom were disruptive, to institutions that were incapable of receiving adult prisoners of the temperament that they subsequently displayed. In the case of Glenochil, which had specialised in the care and treatment of young offenders, in the first stages at least, the grand design programme was ill-conceived. However, I recognise that there had to be changes in the distribution of prisoners within Scotland. There were areas of overcrowding, and at the same time areas of under-use, so the programme was necessary, but my complaint is that it was carried out in a hurry, without adequate preparation.

The prison service, not least at gubernatorial level, is aware of the problems that confront the prison system. In Scottish prisons we now have a class of prisoner who is in for crimes that involve large sums of money, usually raised through the drug trade. The prisoners have access to people and to forces outside the prison which seek to influence the families of other prisoners. That power is used to undermine the authority of the governor and his staff. The new approaches that are being developed, in intelligence gathering, identifying changes in behaviour patterns in the prison and the simple but time-consuming and often frustrating business of trying to stop or at best to discover the flow of narcotics into the institutions, have come from the experience of people such as Governor Jackson at Glenochil and his staff.

At the beginning of the recess I took out an insurance policy by putting down a marker for an Adjournment debate. At the time I was aware that the prison was not under the control of the staff and that there were areas that could only be called "no go areas", but I was also aware that the governor and his staff had a plan which they thought they could carry through and that by September or October they would be back in control of the institution. When I saw the governor a couple of weeks ago, before he fell ill, he told me that he was happy at the way in which things were progressing. He felt that the programme to restore discipline and control in the adult section of the prison was going smoothly.

Since that meeting I have been approached by the Scottish Prison Officers Association branch in the prison. It expressed grave concern about a change in the regime, which it does not think is in the short-term interests of the institution. The Minister contacted me at the weekend to inform me of his intention to visit the prison and invited me to accompany him. For reasons that he may understand, because of the business that preceded this debate, I was unable to accept the invitation.

The substance of the prison officers' complaint was this. The detention centre is an institution which I have long attacked because the short, sharp shock programme of sentencing was grossly inappropriate to the needs of young people and young offenders. The inmates were being transferred to the Polmont institution—we still call it Polmont borstal. It used to be in my constituency. The premises previously inhabited by young offenders were being used as a remand centre for young offenders under 21 who were awaiting trial and sentence.

I have heard that the prison staff are concerned about the speed with which these changes were carried through, about the lack of notice and of the training that they felt they would require for the new circumstances. They have also told me of their concern about the building. Many of the young people who are awaiting trial—we cannot yet call them young offenders, as they are innocent until proven guilty—often behave little better than vandais. They have taken advantage of the thin walls between the prison cells and have broken through from one cell to another. As the Minister knows, we are discussing a discreet entity in one section of the complex at Glenochil, and this grouping in the institution has been imposed on it at short notice, and without the necessary training or proper architectural preparation. That is a recipe for disaster, about which the prison officers are extremely concerned.

The officers have been corresponding with the Minister and, if I had not known that I was to have this opportunity to raise the matter, I should have written to him too, but I hope now to hear at least part of the story this evening.

I recognise the strenuous efforts that have been made by the Scottish prison service during the summer to try to correct the tragic circumstances that obtained in the early summer as a result of the disturbances. Stability has been largely restored, but keeping order and running a prison are not necessarily the same things. I hope that we can start from the foundations that have been laid over the summer and that a more relaxed and meaningful regime, which will benefit both prisoners and the safety of prisoners and staff, can be established. Staff satisfaction is severely limited now because they have had to operate in difficult conditions, which they have done with a remarkable degree of restraint, for which they have not been given the credit they deserve.

I should not do my views on the Scottish prison service and system justice if I did not say that overcrowding is one of the basic problems in our prisons. We send too many people to prison because there are no other places for them to go. A report has been issued, but it would not be appropriate to debate it this evening. I note in passing that the time that we have in this House in which to debate penal issues is all too limited. All parties in the House take the view that there are no votes to be gained in prisons: prisoners do not vote. There is not enough public concern about the prison system. When it is felt, it tends to relate to crises such as prison riots, the taking of hostages and suicides. I have had my share of those at Glenochil. Once such difficulties have been resolved, at least in the short term, the public gaze is averted and people carry on as before.

The Minister has shown flexibility in his handling of some of the Scottish prison system's problems, and I pay tribute to him for that, but he must take on the biggest problem of all—our judicial system, which sends far too many people to prison and to institutions which are often not suitable for the prisoners or for the offences of which they have been found guilty. The latest round of reorganisation that the Minister has undertaken has been painful in Glenochil. The situation will take some time to improve.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has been left in no doubt about the local feelings on the matter. He must now start to look at a prize bigger than just discipline and stability—the prize of a prison system that is effective and humane. We still have some way to go until we achieve that. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us the up-to-date position in the prison and that he will join me in paying tribute to the staff who this summer took on an extremely difficult job and carried it out with a degree of restraint that was truly remarkable.

10.15 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

I am glad to join the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) in paying tribute to the governor and staff of Glenochil prison, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous remarks. We have brought forward a consultation paper on fines and I hope that it will meet the points that he made at the end of his speech. I agree with the inference in his speech that it is important to match a prisoner to an appropriate regime. In terms of grand design, Glenochil was designed as an adult training prison with good, modern facilities, and prison staff are trained to cope with any and every inmate, both adult and young offender.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about drugs. Staff in the Scottish prison service are conscious of the need to prevent illicit drugs being smuggled into and used in prison establishments. Some measures have been or soon will be introduced to try to combat this problem. Among these are the introduction of closed-circuit television systems in visiting rooms and the use of sniffer dogs and strip searches which have been in use. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. His concern is well known to me. He came to see me and the director of the prison service earlier in the summer and he highlighted some points that were of considerable value to us.

I visited Glenochil prison only yesterday. I met representatives of the local branch of the Scottish Prison Officers' Association and also saw the chairman of the visiting committee, Councillor Watt. I toured both the main prison and the detention centre. In particular, I visited A hall, where I spoke with the prisoners and saw conditions at first hand. On Monday, I also went to Polmont young offenders institution where I saw the local branch of the SPOA and met the prison service chaplains and discussed the way forward with them. I was also able to pay a visit to the prison service college and saw the training courses for new recruits.

I should like to answer straightaway the concerns of the hon. Gentleman about the recent change in the use of Glenochil detention centre. The background to the change was a very serious situation towards the end of September at Barlinnie which developed quite suddenly. Admissions to Barlinnie prison rose sharply, leading to a degree of overcrowding and stress which I regarded as unacceptable. The prison department looked at a number of possible solutions, but none was entirely satisfactory. The best option appeared to be to transfer the young offenders then located in the Glenochil detention centre to Polmont, and, in turn, to move a number of under-21-year-old remand prisoners from Barlinnie prison to the Glenochil detention centre. This was not an easy decision to take. However, there was a serious situation at Barlinnie with overcrowding, and we had to look at ways in which the service as a whole could help. I felt that the decision to make these temporary changes was the right one in the wider public interest.

I stress that the changes are temporary. Later in the year, when the numbers in Barlinnie allow, it is our intention to transfer the young offenders from Polmont back to the Glenochil detention centre buildings. By that date I anticipate that the detention centre as such will have ceased to exist. We are working towards 1 November as the date for the introduction of the new generic sentence for young offenders, at which point all detention centre sentences will become young offender sentences. It is our intention to return a brisk young offender regime to Glenochil, which will incorporate the more positive aspects of the detention centre regime.

The transfer of the detention centre inmates took place after discussion with the governors of Glenochil and Polmont. I have explained the reasons for the urgency with which the changes were introduced. This meant that it was not possible to consult the trade union side in advance, as would be our normal practice. However, officials visited Glenochil on 30 September and held discussions with representatives of the local branch of the SPOA. The situation in relation to the movement of young offender inmates was explained to them and they accepted that Glenochil had to play its part in the wider prison system.

I have been able to discuss the detention centre changes in recent days—only yesterday—with both the SPOA local branches involved. Members of the local branch at Glenochil have three concerns.

First, they felt that remand prisoners were more prone to disruption, as the hon. Gentleman said, and they expressed concern about the future of the detention centre. I was able to give them assurances that it is our intention that Glenochil should revert to holding convicted young offenders once the situation at Barlinnie had eased.

Secondly, they were concerned about the staffing, both in the detention centre and in the main prison. The prisons department has agreed a staff complement for the detention centre, involving the provision of extra stafT on detached duty, and I was able to assure the local branch that that agreement would be honoured.

The department monitors closely the staffing needs of Glenochil as a whole. The average number of staff in post since April has been 233 and equates with the complement of figures agreed with the governor. Currently, however, the number of operational discipline staff in post is 237. A further appraisal of staffing needs was completed earlier this month and the department will shortly be discussing its findings with the senior management at the prison.

The third concern of the local branch was for the physical fabric of the detention centre. They felt that it was prone to damage—the hon. Gentleman touched on this —by the young remand prisoners. This is obviously a point of which we were aware when the change of use was agreed. I understand that, to an extent, the fears expressed have not materialised and that no major damage has been caused to the detention centre so far. Management staff at Barlinnie are helping by sifting inmates before they are sent to Glenochil, and they have agreed not to transfer major security problems there. Conditions for the inmates are very much better at Glenochil, since each inmate has his own room, rather than being located three in a cell, as was the case at Barlinnie. Although the representatives of the Glenochil local branch pointed out these concerns to me, I was much impressed by their readiness to assist, their selfless dedication, and their recognition that Glenochil had to play its part in the interest of the service as a whole.

I visited Polmont last Monday and discussed the position in relation to the detention centre inmates with the governor and the SPOA, and both intimated that the arrival of the detention centre inmates at Polmont had created no problems for them. The inmates had become readily integrated into the Polmont regime.

The main part of Glenochil prison houses adult male offenders with a medium security classification. Since the incident at the adult prison in May, the governor and his staff have been working towards the introduction of a progressive regime. The pace of progress has, however, had to be dictated by the need for the governor and his staff to remain firmly in control at the prison.

When I visited Glenochil yesterday, I was able to see at first hand the conditions. I should say that everything has been done to ensure that the inmates receive their due entitlement to exercise and visits, even during the immediate aftermath of the incidents, when conditions were very difficult. The majority of the adult offenders are being allowed periods of association, during exercise and recreation. Three of the prison's workshops have reopened and about one third of the inmates are at work on a regular basis. It has also been possible to reopen vocational training and educational classes for a number of inmates, and there is limited use of the sports facilities in the gymnasium.

A minority of inmates—mainly those in A hall, which has the most difficult prisoners—are receiving only limited periods of association, when exercise is taken. In addition, 13 prisoners, all in A hall are being held out of association under the conditions of rule 36 of the Prison (Scotland) Rules 1952. Staff in A hall are no longer wearing riot gear. I spoke to staff and inmates in A hall. The relations between staff and inmates have improved, and the hall was quiet. There is now a system of progression at the prison and inmates who behave can move to a less restricted regime. Overall, I can report that gradually the prison is returning to normal. Glenochil is calm and staff have restored control and good order.

However, it will take time to restore the full range of privileges and opportunities for inmates. Change can be introduced only as quickly as staff feel confident to proceed. The incidents in May were a very significant betrayal of the trust which management and staff had previously shown inmates. Inevitably, in such circumstances, the restoration of trust and confidence is a gradual matter, but I have spoken with both management and staff and I know that they are working at this as a matter of the highest priority.

Perhaps I might say something now about the physical fabric of Glenochil. A programme of window replacement is well under way. Resources devoted to this have recently been trebled, with the approach of winter. One hall has already been completed and the other three halls should be finished within a month. A rolling programme is under way to refurbish the many cells which were damaged. I have seen the new type of cell and was very impressed. Facilities and furnishings have been upgraded, and I believe that this was welcomed by the inmates to whom I spoke. At the same time, the opportunity has been taken to strengthen a number of the cells which were damaged in May.

The refurbishment programme obviously has the highest priority in the interests of the health and well-being of inmates. We are also looking urgently at ways of improving the external security, so that opportunities for outside recreation and exercise can be restored. I can also report that the prison is much tidier than when the press saw it in May. Inmates are now co-operating better, and less litter accumulates. Also tidying up and cleaning operations are carried out regularly, and daily if possible, depending on weather conditions. Inmates are now prepared to work with staff on keeping the prison clean.

I welcome this opportunity to debate conditions at Glenochil prison. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Clackmannan. I pay tribute to the professionalism and responsibility shown by all the staff at Glenochil. There was no justification at all for the disruption and damage carried out by inmates at the prison. Such activities benefited no one. They are a betrayal of trust. Their immediate result is a loss of opportunities and privileges —not to mention a deterioration in the accommodation —for all inmates. The process of restoring opportunities and rebuilding trust cannot be accomplished overnight. I am confident, however, that management and staff are taking all the necessary steps and are now well on course for a return towards normal regimes for the large majority of inmates.

I should like to say something about the events which occurred at Glenochil in May. There had been a number of incidents at the prison since its use was changed to hold adult offenders in June 1987, but none as serious as those which occurred on 5 and 6 May. During rioting over the ensuing days, in which the majority of inmates took part to varying extents, 40 cells were completely wrecked, over 300 windows smashed and considerable damage, estimated at around £200,000, was caused to the fabric of the prison.

Hon. Members will recall the background to these events. They occurred during a week in which there had been some unrest in the prison system, including an incident when an officer was taken hostage at Perth prison. That incident was resolved, but Glenochil prison remained tense. On 4 May an isolated incident occurred, when, it is alleged, an inmate assaulted a member of staff. The prison was in a state of unrest and in the evening a fire was started. The following morning it was decided that inmates should be restricted to their halls while police were investigating. At lunchtime there was an attempt to take a member of staff hostage. The governor ordered that all inmates return to their cells. Inmates in two of the four halls refused. When the governor again asked the inmates to return to their cells and the inmates again refused, they were returned forcibly by prison staff. Prison staff did this using approved techniques of control and restraint and during the process nobody was hurt. I may say that when I was at Polmont prison service training college on Monday I was able to see the training of prison officers to deal with this type of disturbance. The training is thorough and to a very high professional standard. Once the inmates had been returned to their cells, they commenced on a programme of destruction, as I have described.

There was no justification at all for these acts of destruction. The inmates had no legitimate grievances to justify their behaviour; they simply refused to obey prison officers' orders and then became abusive and violent. Nobody benefited from the inmates' actions. Before the incident, the policy of the governor and his staff had been to provide inmates with access to all privileges and facilities at Glenochil on trust. If an inmate betrayed this trust, privileges could be withdrawn.

Following the disturbance, the immediate priority was to reassert control and reimpose good order at the prison. It was clearly necessary for management and staff to reassert the principles of custody and control, which they did.

It has been suggested that the imposition of the restricted regime punished all inmates, including those who might have taken no part in the incidents. However, my information is that a majority of the inmates took part in the disruption, to varying degrees. It will be appreciated that, in the confused circumstances which prevailed, it would have been very difficult for staff to distinguish between those who may have participated willingly, others who may have participated unwillingly and those who took no part at all. Control had to be re-established, and the imposition of a general restriction was the only practicable way forward.

The basis of the new progressive system is now in place, and slow but steady progress is being made in restoring opportunities and facilities for inmates. I should like to pay tribute to the professional way in which the governor and staff have coped with difficult circumstances. I am impressed by the caring and responsible attitudes which staff have shown. I think it would be fair to say that staff regarded the disruption in May as a very serious betrayal of trust on the part of inmates. Clearly, once control had been reaffirmed, the process of returning the prison to normal has had to take place at a measured pace. The confidence and trust which previously existed between staff and inmates cannot be restored overnight; this will take time. I am satisfied, however, that order has now been restored now that the process of introducing more positive regimes is proceeding at a satisfactory pace. Indeed, I saw at first hand yesterday what was being done in the way of reopening workshops, vocational training, education and indoor sports facilities. Again, I thank the hon. Member for Clackmannan for his remarks.

The motion having been made at Ten O'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten O'clock.