§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia rose to call attention to the role of local communities and of penal institutions in preventing crime and in rehabilitating offenders; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said
My Lords, the links between social exclusion and crime are crystal clear. We only have to look at the characteristics of people in prisons. These are grim statistics. Over half the young people in custody have been excluded from school, two-thirds were unemployed before imprisonment and 40 per cent have been in care. Sixty per cent of prisoners have literacy and numeracy skills at or below the lowest basic skill level. Over 40 per cent have drug problems and the proportion of psychiatric problems ranges between 40 and 75 per cent. These trends may vary from time to time but overall the pattern remains fairly constant.
Today's prison numbers stand at record levels: 72,522 incarcerated as of last week. The number of sentenced young prisoners between 15 and 17 stands at 2,090, and the number of young offenders between 16 and 20 at 6,770. There are 3,718 women in prison compared with an average of 1,560 in 1993. These include 623 young female offenders and 3,330 sentenced women. We now have to accommodate inmates in police cells, a practice that we discontinued some years ago. We must now seriously rethink the public protection role of our custodial institutions.
Almost all who are in prison will one day come out. It is here that we have to accept that incarceration and resettlement are the two faces of the same coin. We must address what happens when prisoners are in prison, and, more fundamentally, how to resettle them when they are released so that they do not reoffend.
1148 The simplistic statements "prisons work" and "tough on crime" are attractive slogans but they seldom make good policies. Crime affects everyone. We have either been victims ourselves or have known someone who has. Reducing crime improves quality of life. We all have a part to play. It is in that regard that the role of the community in crime prevention is vital. We cannot rely solely on the criminal justice process to solve society's ills. Less than 50 per cent of crimes are reported to the police and only a small proportion result in a caution or conviction. The community must involve itself in building opportunities for people to lead law-abiding lives as well as reducing opportunities for crime to be committed.
Of course, prevention is the best answer to crime. The direct and indirect costs of the criminal justice system are large. We spend over £10 billion on the criminal process but less than £500 million on crime prevention. The key to crime prevention is to deal with youth crime. Most crimes are committed by the young. We can do a lot about that. If we create the right environment for young people to grow up in, and if we respond in the right way if they get into trouble, most of them could be diverted from a criminal career. Locking up young people is not a solution; it brands them as criminals for the rest of their lives and reduces even further their prospects of doing something useful with their lives.
I have been a member of a board of visitors and have visited many young offenders' institutions. The experience of prison is traumatic for vulnerable people. It often leads to self-mutilation and suicide.
A wide variety of penalties that meet the public's requirements for punishment is available to the courts. Victims of crime, in particular, often vent their anger and frustration that the criminal justice system has failed them. There is now a recognition that the high cost of running our prisons, the number now in our penal institutions and the difficulties of meeting prison objectives are counter-productive because, although they may bring the short-term relief of safety, over a long period they do not help.
Community penalties are an effective alternative and are to be commended. They require offenders to face up to what they have done, change their behaviour and try to make good the damage they have done to their victims and communities. More importantly, community penalties enable offenders to serve a punishment without also losing their jobs, families and community roots. Offenders who lose those things through being sent to prisons are less likely to lead law-abiding lives on release.
I do not want to give the impression that we are out to abolish prisons. The annual budget for the Prison Service and the probation service is around £2.3 billion. It is estimated that the average cost of keeping a person in prison in the year 2001–02 was £37,000. It is important that we never lose sight of the fact that imprisonment is not only the most serious penalty available to courts but also the most expensive. It should be imposed only if the offence is so serious that only a prison sentence can be justified, or where there is a need to protect the public from serious harm. 1149 The Lord Chief Justice drew attention to the issue when he overturned an eight-month prison sentence imposed on a single mother convicted of deception who had no previous convictions. The noble and learned Lord. Lord Woolf, expressed the view that judges and magistrates should take into account the female prison population before sentencing women offenders. He urged that custody should not be used for first-time offenders convicted of dishonesty, especially if they had children.
Let me quote from a report by the Social Exclusion Unit on reducing offending by ex-prisoners:Prison sentences are not succeeding in turning the majority of offenders away from crime. Of those prisoners released in 1997, 58% were convicted of another crime within two years. 36% were back inside on another prison sentence. The system struggles particularly to reform younger offenders. 18–20 year old male prisoners were reconvicted at a rate of 72% over the same period, 47% received another prison sentence".An ex-prisoner's path back from prison is extremely costly. A re-offending ex-prisoner is likely to be responsible for crime costing the criminal justice system an average of £65,000.
We send people to prisons as punishment, not for punishment. When people are deprived of their liberty and freedom of choice by being sent to prison, nothing is gained by imposing additional punishment by holding them in deplorable conditions. During my membership of a board of visitors, I was often struck by the decaying state of our prisons, which hold people in cells for more than 20 hours a day with nothing to do. When will we realise that such conditions cause despair? They take away the only dignity that prisoners have left.
In Martin Narey we have one of the most progressive and reforming Directors-General of the Prison Service. In Ann Overs and Rod Morgan, we have an effective Chief Inspector of Prisons and Chief Inspector of Probation. They have a difficult task, and we should all support them. But we must never lose sight of the fact that prison and our parole system can best serve our society by releasing people who are more likely to lead law-abiding lives and can deal with the practical problems that they will face on release. For this to happen, prisons must set an example to offenders by dispensing justice fairly and with humanity. They must allow prisoners to maintain ties with their families and communities. They must also provide for purposeful regimes so that prisoners can use their time constructively and prepare properly for release.
Public confidence is shaped by the quality of service that the criminal justice system provides. That is the only way in which it can retain the confidence of all sections of the community. But the Government cannot work alone; they need the co-operation of the community. There is a wide range of voluntary organisations. large and small, throughout the country whose contribution to the reduction of crime and the rehabilitation of offenders is both crucial and collectively enormous. In the time available to me, I can list only a few examples but I know that other noble Lords will refer to other examples in their 1150 speeches. Instead, I shall concentrate on some key issues relating to partnerships between central and local government and the voluntary sector.
Let us look first at the role of the voluntary and community sector in the types of community regeneration that are so crucial to reducing crime. The voluntary and community sector has become vital in the delivery of regeneration programmes in such key areas as education, health, community safety, crime reduction, employment and training. Voluntary organisations and community groups have been invited to participate in such developments as Best Value, local strategic partnerships, the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal and the New Deal for Communities.
There has been a growing recognition that voluntary and community organisations can be best placed to deliver front-line services to socially excluded communities in a manner that reflects and strengthens the social fabric and cultural diversity of that community. All the research into regeneration programmes shows that a community-led approach is the only effective way of turning crime-ridden, disadvantaged and demoralised communities into thriving, low-crime areas. As a result, voluntary and community organisations are being encouraged to become increasingly involved in service delivery. The report of the recent Treasury review into the role of the voluntary and community sector in service delivery recognises that the capacity of voluntary organisations needs to be increased if they are to do this effectively—that means more Government funding. The report of the review said:The Government needs a voluntary and community sector that is strong, independent and has the capacity where it wishes to be a partner in delivering world-class public services. To help achieve this,I note the following statement:the Government will increase funding to build capacity in the sector and increase community participation".The report announced the new futurebuilders investment fund of £125 million over the next three years to help build capacity in the voluntary and community sector. This is a very welcome development. However, that will be for one-off expenditure only, and voluntary organisations also need continuing funding arrangements to enable them to provide high-quality services. Of particular importance, therefore, is the recommendation in the report that contracts for services with voluntary organisations must recognise the need for an element of payment towards those organisations' core management costs. If that is not done, voluntary organisations will be effectively subsidising the Government department for which they provide a service, as the real costs are never fully funded.
Examples across the country demonstrate how communities can help. I commend the work of Crime Concern and Norwich Union partnerships in neighbourhood safety apprenticeship schemes in three communities in England. It is estimated that 40 per cent of all recorded crimes take place in only 10 per cent of neighbourhoods in England and Wales. 1151 These neighbourhoods are often marked by high rates of repeat victimisation, harassment, disorder, antisocial behaviour and drug dealing. Their crime and disorder problems are usually closely linked with a range of other social and environmental issues. Recognising this, Crime Concern brought together experts from crime prevention, policing, housing and other fields to look at what works in creating safer neighbourhoods. The key themes are important factors in reducing crime.
There are other examples. My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, in responding to Her Majesty's Gracious Speech, drew our attention to a project in Islington. I should perhaps add that I take no credit for the fact that Islington council is now controlled by the Liberal Democrats. Tough measures to tackle antisocial behaviour pioneered on Islington's council estates are proving so successful that they are being used in 173 different parts of the country. Interest in setting up acceptable behaviour contracts (ABCs) has come from police as far away as South Africa and Germany.
I should like at this stage to declare my interest in NACRO. I chair that organisation, which is involved in a wide range of activities relating to the prevention of crime and the rehabilitation of offenders. We work to reduce crime in three ways. We do so, first, by preventing crime—not by locks, bolts and bars, but by working for the social inclusion of disadvantaged and marginalised people who would otherwise be at risk of offending. We do so, secondly, by working for a just, effective and non-discriminatory criminal justice system. We do so thirdly by giving ex-offenders the resettlement support that they need to lead crime-free lives in the future.
Over the past year, our achievements in all these areas have been striking. We have trained more than 13,000 people in our education and employment centres, housed more than 3,000 people in our housing projects, given 8,000 people resettlement advice through our Resettlement Plus Helpline, involved 7,500 young people in our youth activity projects, and our prison-based workers have provided resettlement help to more than 6,000 prisoners. Our consultancy work in the fields of crime reduction, mental health, youth crime, race equality and prisoner resettlement has increasingly been in demand.
The Prison Service has also developed a range of recommendations which if implemented should address many of these issues. However, it is notable that the strategy relates only to prisons, meaning that the voluntary sector will continue to have to deal with prison and probation separately. It is in this matter that we have to establish partnerships with other agencies. One important development is the establishment by the probation service of a National Partnership Centrally Led Action Network which is working to develop a code of practice for effective partnership working between the National Probation Service and voluntary organisations.
1152 The reality today is that we are shamed by policies which have incarcerated more than 70,000 people in our prisons. An upward trend cannot he halted by the Government alone; we need the participation of all communities. Our civilised values depend on how we tackle our overcrowded prisons. Prisons have too often in the past played a central role. They need the community to assist them. We cannot afford to fail.
§ My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for inaugurating this apt and timely debate—on a day, as it happens, which marks the publication of a series of essays on criminal justice in honour of the former right reverend Prelate and former Bishop for prisons, Bob Hardy. A seminar in Church House is under way as we speak, presided over by the new Archbishop of Canterbury.
I speak as the Bishop of a city which has one of the few prisons dedicated to work with life sentenced prisoners. HMP Kingston is an old Victorian prison in Portsmouth which was recently inspected by the Inspectorate, in February 2001. I am glad to say that the Inspectorate was able to report that the prison,was a small, stable community with markedly good relationships between staff and prisoners".It is the only prison in the country that has a unit for the elderly. This, of course, is because many such prisoners are considered too dangerous to release. The report points out that,there was a substantial proportion of high-risk violent offenders".The work of the chaplaincy was described as impressive and the chapel was seen as a sanctuary in which prisoners could find peace and quiet.
Some prisoners will never be released. In the press coverage that followed Myra Hindley's death, our society considered the difficulty of someone ever atoning for their crimes. However, it is the nature of Christian belief that no one is put outside the power of the redemptive love of Christ. On that view, it is possible that some life sentenced prisoners will achieve sufficient rehabilitation to make their release possible.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, in his distinguished maiden speech in this House nearly two weeks ago, spoke of the fact that,as a society, we have no mandate to give up hope on anyone; and that redemption and rehabilitation are concerns that merit the attention of all of us".—[Official Report, 21/11/02; col. 491.]I echo those words and repeat his call for a culture of firm and demanding compassion. That culture must demand nothing less than achieving the full potential of every one of us; but it also recognises the obstacles on the journey that many people face.
The right reverend Prelate also spoke of the burdens faced by the hard-pressed and committed servants of the Prison Service who find themselves placed under perpetual pressure. In their report on the resettlement activities at Kingston prison, the Inspectorate referred to frustration and the sense of fighting a losing battle 1153 because of the amount of paperwork in monitoring targets—a matter that covers other aspects of life, as we all know well. However, the Cognitive Self-Change Programme was felt to be demanding and worth while. The Home Office is also conducting research through the University of Oxford Centre for Criminological Research on the work of the probation service in the resettlement of discretionary life sentenced prisoners. All that is to be commended. What is less reassuring is that the Public Accounts Committee in another place reported on 5th September 2002 that some prisons were not succeeding in their resettlement work. The issues of jobs and housing remain problematic.
There is, of course, a great difference between the release of a prisoner who has served a short sentence for burglary and the release of a prisoner who has committed a violent crime. It is good that the Parole Board is able to bring its wisdom to bear on the release of those given life sentences, an issue that will become more serious after the Anderson judgment, which removes the Home Secretary's power to set the tariff for mandatory life prisoners. My concern today, however, is to illustrate the difficulties which life sentenced prisoners face on their release, if that happens. They return to a world which they left many years ago, even if the Prison Service prepares them for this with day-release visits. They return to families who may have been deeply affected by the person's crime, especially if that crime was against a member of the family. In that situation, there is a challenge to all of us who speak of repentance, of hope, and of resurrection, however difficult that may be, if it is to cut any ice in the somewhat frozen-over culture which we are addressing this afternoon.
A former Member of these Benches, George Bell, wartime Bishop of Chichester, once remarked that,without forgiveness there can be no regeneration".It is good that that rather theological term has achieved a much more social focus in recent years. I have never believed in the well-known saying, "forgive and forget". They are not the same thing, and both the victims, relatives and friends, and the perpetrators of murder, are scarred for life—literally for life—by what has happened. Institutional forgiveness for society and for any organisation within it, including the Church, is a very difficult process. I am told that it is more expensive to send people to prison than it is to send them to Eton. I would not like to try to get the Minister—who, like me, started off at the Edinburgh Academy—to remark that Eton, as Horace Rumpole remarked, is a "rural penal colony". However, it is none the less a statistic that is worth pondering.
I should like to end by drawing attention to the importance of making the best possible use of prison, in the hope that rehabilitation in the community on release can become rather more of a reality than it is now.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Linklater of Butterstone
My Lords, this debate addresses one of the most pressing, important and difficult issues we have to face in Britain today. It is widely acknowledged that our prisons are in a state of real crisis as overcrowding has reached intolerable levels. The issues of law and order and crime and punishment are now the subject of regular headlines in both the tabloid and broadsheet newspapers.
The Lord Chief Justice recently said:Everybody thinks our system is becoming soft and wimpish. In point of fact, it is one of the most punitive systems in the world".The director general of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, has talked, rightly, about our "love affair" with custody. Thus, while the number of offenders coming before the courts has remained almost constant in the past 10 years, the proportion sentenced to custody has almost doubled.
There seems to be a fatalism abroad which accepts that this increase will continue. The present all-time high of the prison population of more than 72,500 is predicted to rise to more than 80,000 by 2005. It will take a massive effort of political will on the part of the Government, a major re-adjustment of sentencing policy and practices, and, above all, a serious rethinking of the delivery, administration and funding of community penalties to alter the trend.
Overall, we have more sentencing options than any equivalent jurisdiction in western Europe. We have an enormous range of community penalties available to the courts. At present, 485 convicted offenders begin community sentences every day in England and Wales.
Sentences served in the community are infinitely preferable to imprisonment for all but the most serious offenders. They do not further disrupt and damage the already disrupted and damaged lives of offenders through the loss of jobs, homes and relationships which makes reoffending so likely. They also make possible realistic reparation and restitution and all the elements of restorative justice that are the constructive and creative responses to crime. But it is clear that community penalties do not always command the greatest confidence of the sentencers or the public. They are seen by some as inadequately tough, particularly when the reoffending rate is currently roughly the same as for custody. That is one part of it. The relevance of what is delivered to both the offender and the offence is another. I have visited and seen some projects that come under the heading of community penalties where provision is clearly inadequate and irrelevant in all these respects. There is certainly room for improvement.
I must declare an interest as chair of an initiative called Rethinking Crime and Punishment—a modest goal—which is funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, of which I am a trustee. Its aims are to raise the level of public debate on how we deal with offenders, to increase public understanding and involvement and to inject some fresh thinking into these fascinating and complex issues. Specifically, we are setting up an inquiry to look into community penalties, to see what works and why, and what does 1155 not work and why, to try to illuminate the gap that exists between rhetoric and reality, with the aim of making some really useful and practical recommendations.
The role of the probation service is central to any change as it is the main agency delivering community penalties. Extension of its role will require a massive and speedy new commitment of funding and resources. The probation service is clearly committed to the Government's policy of a strengthened focus on the victims of crime and in the strict implementation and enforcement of the terms of community orders. The conditions attached to a community order and how they are implemented are the key to the effect that a community order will have on the offender and society. With two breaches of an order, such as, for example, being late for an appointment, the offender will be sent to prison.
The reality of offenders' chaotic lives means that simple things like keeping appointments are extremely difficult. Enforcement of the breach of failing to keep two appointments and therefore sending someone to prison is a real possibility. Some inmates are now known as "two-strike prisoners". Worryingly, community penalties are becoming more interventionist and punitive. Even low level offending, which 10 years ago might have been dealt with by a fine or a conditional discharge, is being drawn up the tariff scale. Worse, current trends show that an increased proportion of offenders who are subject to court reports from the probation service are being recommended for custodial penalties, and the proportion being breached for non-compliance with community sentences is also increasing.
We should do well to remember the shocking example of America where breach of community penalties is the single biggest reason for being in prison. Community penalties are not of themselves enough. The quality of what they offer and the way in which they are used are of equal and vital importance.
Other community-based strategies have great potential for expansion. Tagging has been highly successful where used. It was intended significantly to reduce the prison population, but, in general, has been greatly under-used. The use of the fine has collapsed in the past 10 years. Many experts are now urgently arguing for the restoration of the day fine, and also of allowing fines to be commuted into unpaid work. Those are realistic, practical and effective sentences that could, at a stroke, have a real impact on prison numbers. They would have a restorative rather than a criminalising effect. Youth offender panels, which have been introduced to deal with first-time young offenders, provide an excellent model for involving the local community in resolving local crime problems.
I greatly favour those strategies that involve major elements of reparation and restitution—of paying something back to victims and the community which has been offended against. Such strategies restore dignity and confidence. Penalties that divorce the offender from the offence and the victim—notably prison—cannot achieve that, thereby leaving only 1156 retribution as the outcome of punishment. The phrase "restorative justice" has occupied reams of written and verbal rhetoric, but where it exists it can truly restore. I have seen it in action in restorative conferencing in Wandsworth prison as part of the Justice Research Consortium's work, and real justice is done. The governor told me that having started as a deep sceptic, he is now a strong supporter of the process.
Finally, I urge the Government to look seriously at the possibility of developing widespread partnerships with the voluntary sector. We heard much about that from my noble friend Lord Dholakia. There are many examples of excellent practice with highly successful outcomes in terms of greatly reduced re-offending, often at a fraction of the cost of custody. That should be drawn on and widely developed. I serve on the Scottish committee of Barnardo's where remarkable work is being done in several projects with young offenders. One example is Chosi in Dundee where the reoffending rates are down by a huge 80 per cent. I refer also to the preventive work of Matrix involving early intervention with younger children and families. There are wonderfully successful outcomes, and the long-term savings to society are beyond price. The potential for rolling out similar programmes for all ages is great and necessary.
We must balance retribution with restitution and rehabilitation. Community penalties must he expanded and improved if we are to reduce re-offending and achieve a truly safer society.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity of this debate provided by the noble Lord. Lord Dholakia. I know well the contribution that he has made to reform in this area, especially through his work with NACRO and the support that he has given to youth justice reform.
He is right to emphasise the contribution of voluntary organisations and volunteers. I should at this stage declare an interest as chairman of both the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. My contribution today will be based on my time as chairman of that board for the past four years, overseeing the youth justice reforms that have produced greater community involvement with young offenders and changed the juvenile parts of young offender institutions for the better, through the board's commissioning role.
It is worth reflecting briefly on what was happening in youth justice before these reforms. The youth justice system in the mid-1990s was struggling and was preoccupied with process rather than trying to achieve beneficial outcomes for young people and their communities. There were few effective community preventive programmes and little work with victims or parents. Frankly, until the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, anti-social behaviour on the part of young people was hardly on the agenda.
What we have now is a clear statutory aim for those working in youth justice of not punishment but preventing offending by children and young people. 1157 That is the mission statement. There are 155 multi-agency youth offending teams—which include health and education not just the criminal justice agencies—well established across England and Wales working with local communities and local courts. The sentencing framework has been reformed with new community sentences. Individual assessment of young offenders is being systematically undertaken so that the programmes provided fit their needs and are not just the ones that happen to be available. There are many more intervention programmes—often using local volunteers or paid staff from local cornmunities—that tackle the identified problems going wrong in these young people's lives. A new robust community alternative to custody—the Intensive Support and Surveillance Programme—has now been provided to 2,700 young people and is supported by local courts, local communities and local police.
I should mention that many of the youngsters on ISSPs receive the support of a mentor or advocate drawn from the local community to help bring them back on to the straight and narrow. As a result, youth courts are receiving a better service and are now working well with youth offending teams without in any way prejudicing their independence of judgment.
There is broad and growing support for this new system. Home Office research into the initial effect of the new community disposals from an analysis of juvenile offenders convicted in July 2000 showed a 14.6 per cent reduction against predicted reconviction rates for the group after one year. That was before the full roll-out of a year of the reforms. Ministers have recognised this as a significant achievement. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice in his Rose Lecture at the end of October endorsed the new approach saying that the changes to the youth justice system gave an illustration of the changes that could be promoted in the wider criminal justice system. It is worth quoting briefly from his lecture:The Youth Justice Board has the principal aim of preventing (rather than punishing) offending. This does not mean that there is no need to punish. It means that it should be recognised that punishment is only part of what is to be achieved. The punishment should be constructed to make it clear that crime does not pay, but it must also be constructive and result in the offender, at the end of his punishment, being less likely rather than more likely to reoffend".That seems to me to be the message that needs to be worked on consistently as we approach this issue.
I have given this brief picture of the youth justice reforms and the quotation from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice not for reasons of personal vanity or territorial aggrandisement but to show what can be achieved when there is a clear mission statement, when public agencies work together, and when there is more creativity in the responses to offending and local communities are much more engaged with the problem. The heroes of these changes are not the Youth Justice Board but the youth offending team managers and their staff who have been real social entrepreneurs; the approaching 10,000 local volunteers, sessional workers and voluntary organisations who are now providing far more 1158 responsible adult face-to-face contact with young offenders than in the past—we should never underestimate the impact of that face-to-face contact—and the local youth courts (again volunteers) who have been willing to believe that young people could change and to use the new community programmes far more extensively.
I want to mention briefly a few particular changes that highlight this greater community involvement. About 25,000 young offenders a year receive a referral order. This means that they go before a youth offender panel composed of two trained local volunteers and a youth offending team worker. The panel agrees a contract for change with the young offender with an element of restorative justice and reparation. If this contract is completed, the effect can be that the conviction is treated as spent so there is an incentive to change. About 5,000 local community people are now members of these panels and in effect administer community justice.
Although the Government can take great credit for the advances that have been made, there is still a lot more to be done to prevent offending by young people and to apply the lessons of these reforms to the adult population, particularly those aged 18 to 20 who have many similarities to juvenile offenders but are trapped in a less responsive system. Even with these improvements we still have far too many young people in custody, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice has recognised. The Youth Justice Board would like to see the Intensive Support and Surveillance Programme converted into a proper order of up to 12 months as a rigorous alternative to short custodial sentences, which are highly ineffective. I hope that progress can be made on this issue in this parliamentary Session. If I can help the Minister by moving an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill when it arrives from the other place, I shall be delighted to be of service to the Government in that matter.
As the Government have recognised, the improvements for juveniles have brought into sharp relief the unsatisfactory state of regimes for 18 to 20 year-olds in young offender institutions and the paucity of robust community programmes like ISSP for young adults. We need major changes—a paradigm shift—in the way we deal with young adult offending, with far more of them being supervised by multi-agency teams (not just the National Probation Service) in the community on ISSP-type programmes rather than making it impossible for the Director General of the Prison Service to improve regimes due to overcrowding.
Finally, I should like to say a few words about prevention. The Youth Justice Board and local agencies have made great strides with youth inclusion programmes and Summer Splash Schemes targeting high risk youngsters on high crime estates and with great involvement on the part of local organisations and volunteers. This summer, possibly as many as 100,000 youngsters took part in Summer Splash Schemes and the decrease in youth crime in these areas was significant. These programmes are low cost. It is 1159 crucial that we continue to invest in that kind of programme giving local people the opportunity to bring about change in their communities. Departments in Whitehall need to get their act together on this matter as regards organising funding streams more effectively and should try to achieve the co-ordination that the Prime Minister has brought to the street crime initiative. We are seeing strong progress being made with young offenders but we need to apply those lessons to the wider criminal justice system.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Sharples
My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for initiating today's timely debate.
I entered your Lordships' House in 1973, a very long time ago, but I waited until 1974 to make my maiden speech on prisoners' wives. Then, as now, my party was in opposition. That debate was initiated by Lord Longford and Lord Gardiner wound up.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s I helped an organisation, the Prisoners' Wives Service, which was set up by a redoubtable lady, Lady Chancellor, and still exists today under a slightly different name. It is entirely manned by volunteers. I understand that about 70 people work voluntarily for it. Having talked to that organisation today, what is depressing is that so little has changed since that time. In those days wives or partners—in those days they were mostly wives—had one paid visit to a prison per month. Now it is two and those on state benefit can seek financial assistance for such visits. However, as stated in the House yesterday, many prisoners are now located far away from their homes and families. Apparently, there is also a lack of communication and an apparent unwillingness on the part of prisons to inform a prisoner's partner that the prisoner has been moved. That seems to me extremely distressing for all concerned.
I am sure that noble Lords are aware that visitors have to telephone before they make a visit. In this day and age, when telephones are very busy, sometimes it is virtually impossible to get through. What happens then? A visit cannot be made. A woman in Italy had a son in prison here and had booked her flight. She never got through to the prison so she was unable to visit. That is appalling and worries me considerably.
At Wandsworth it takes three months for a prisoner to receive a parcel. I do not know what happens to it in that time. It takes nine days for a first-class letter to reach a prisoner. So how can they keep in touch with their families?
The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, mentioned education yesterday. Various other noble Lords have spoken about it. It is obviously essential to enable people when they leave prison to find a job and not return to prison. There are many writers in residence, as the noble and learned Lord informed me. A trust which I ran in the 1980s supported it. I believe that we were the first, besides the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, to do such a 1160 thing. We provided the money to bring a writer in residence into Lewes prison. It proved a great success. I have a book produced by Sir David Ramsbotham describing what people have written while in prison under such a system.
Another problem is that the shortage of staff means that prisoners cannot always be let out of their cells in time to attend lessons. Over a weekend in October, 350 men were prisoners in police cells because there was no room in prisons. Over a weekend they have no rights, no visits, no exercise and, what is possibly worse for them, they are not allowed to smoke.
I feel very strongly that matters have deteriorated considerably. It is not just a question of numbers. I believe that conditions and everything else have deteriorated considerably since the 1970s. When the noble and learned Lord replies I hope that he will consider the points I have raised.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, I wish to concentrate most of my remarks on dyslexia and the problems with which it confronts the Prison Service. About 17.5 is the lowest percentage point for dyslexic prisoners and that figure rises to about 50 per cent. I appreciate the Minister's position because estimates vary. I have looked at most of the figures: as a rough guide about one-third of the prison population suffers from dyslexia at a meaningful level.
It is appropriate that I declare a couple of interests. I am dyslexic myself. I am a vice president of the British Dyslexia Association, patron of the Adult Dyslexia Organisation and also vice president of the Apex Trust. If noble Lords believe that that series of titles confuses most people, just think what it does to a dyslexic with a bad short-term memory!
Most of the problems of dyslexia inside the Prison Service are not exclusive, but merely magnify the situation. I believe that that is now fairly well recognised. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was at the Home Office he visited the DiSPEL project, which is concerned with the probation service and its dealings with dyslexic prisoners. He was very impressed and surprised by the work being done.
Prison education, which might help some of these people to break the cycle of offending, is not yet really capable of dealing with a high percentage of the clients. If we accept that 60 per cent of the prison population has a problem with literacy—the percentage may well be higher—the prison education service is going to be dealing with a very high number of dyslexics. Even if the figure is lower, as I mentioned earlier, it must be a major part of the work of the prison education system.
The Government say that they will deal with basic skills. The first problem begins here. Dyslexia is a disability which means that people have problems with the language areas of the brain; written symbols are particularly difficult for them. Suddenly, the Government's attainment targets of reaching X level of literacy are almost irrelevant to a very high proportion of the people concerned. If one has a major 1161 disability it means that the brain does not function in certain ways. Even with correct tuition one may improve, but one will probably never attain in this area. Therefore, the Government have a major problem in their thinking.
I know that people like to have attainable targets which they can talk about. But the Government have to begin thinking in a more coherent way about this issue. Most of the people we are talking about will have had a had school record; they may even have not attended for a very large part of their school life. They most certainly will not have attended for a part of their school career. They will have had the attitude that the classroom was a place where one either disrupted the class so one was not shown up to be unable to function or one kept quiet and hoped that the problem would go away. That is the basic problem.
If that is taking place the question is whether this approach to basic skills is relevant at all. I suggest that the Prison Service must address this question. If GN V Q Level 2 is seen as the employable level, how do we square with the idea of cutting down offending and making people more employable? I believe that that is the brief of the education department of the Prison Service. The fact of the matter is that one may have to change tack slightly and concentrate more on how one handles the disability problem and disclosure.
Mentoring was mentioned by a previous speaker who is no longer in his place. That may well be a real way forward. For some people, faced with the classroom situation. nothing will be changed or very little and comparatively slowly. One must therefore try to apply more emphasis to the problem. Under the current arrangements the prison education service is not really geared up for the task.
I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the Government are at least thinking about the problem. I go against my usual habit and offer a quotation. The Prison Service Standard on disabled prisoners states:The Prison Service will ensure that prisoners with physical, sensory and mental disabilities are, as far as practicable, to participate equally in prison life".It further states that,establishments must take positive steps to ensure that disabled prisoners have access to education facilities and programmes and that their communication needs are met".It would appear that the prison education service is way off beam in this matter. It is not geared up to the problem. I hope that the Minister will tell me that things are going to get better in this department.
I do not say that dyslexia is any excuse for offending, but an educational failure who comes from an underprivileged social background will not receive the support that used to be addressed to the "middle-class disease", as dyslexia was referred to a few years ago. In that situation one does not expect one's child to achieve. he does not do so and finds himself incapable of meeting the basic literacy requirements of the most menial of jobs. That might even include writing his name or filling in a timesheet. Then crime becomes a real option. I have not yet added my name to Adult Dyslexia Access. It discovered that when it was dealing 1162 with people involved with New Deal prospects, 52 per cent of its client base was dyslexic. The connection between employability and criminal activity is well proven because, regardless of what the tabloids tell us, most crimes are concerned with economic empowerment—getting money—and crimes against property.
Unless the Minister can tell me that the correct type of assessment and monitoring for dyslexics is built into virtually every programme relating to literacy in prisons, and that that is not simply a case of reaching X number of spelling levels, which certain people will not be able to do, the policy is failing. If it is failing at this level, it might be better to admit that we cannot do it and try to establish something else, rather than wasting a great deal of time and money and raising false hopes.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I had several engagements this afternoon, but I decided not to go to them as the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, follows on so well from my Question about drug treatment centres for young people under 17.
For many years, I was a member of a board of visitors at a young offenders institution in Yorkshire. There were hardly any drug users or pushers when I started, but I saw a huge increase in my last years there—an increase not only of those involved in drugs, often mixed with alcohol, but also of the younger age group of 15 to 17 year-olds. That is a difficult age group. Those people often have more problems when they are discharged and back in the community, ready to be sucked again into the drug culture that destroys lives and disrupts communities.
Many mothers of those people are desperate to know what to do. A short time ago, I watched the Prime Minister on television, taking questions from a group of people who brought their problems to him. The meeting may have taken place in Downing Street. The Prime Minister did well until he was faced by the mother of a teenager who had committed suicide in prison and had been involved with drugs. He had a problem giving the mother a suitable answer.
We must do all we can to stop suicides and bullying in the penal system and find something more suitable that will rehabilitate young people who get involved with drugs. Hard drugs are the scourge of society. To feed their habit young people often have to steal or raise money by prostitution. For some years, I chaired a drug rehabilitation organisation called Phoenix House, which often serves as an alternative to prison. The residents live in family-like houses, of which there are several throughout the country. Before leaving, they are encouraged to go to college and, if possible, are found suitable accommodation. They are given a foundation and hope for the future and not simply turned out into a difficult environment.
Phoenix House did not cater for the younger group of teenage children. If local authorities had to pay for their time in prison—or young offenders institutions—the story might be different. They might set up some 1163 young people's rehabilitation centres with education services. Those young people should be in whole-time education; we need them to be healthy and useful, not ruining their lives and destroying any family life they might have had. It is a challenge for the Government and for everyone, but I believe that an easy way out is for local authorities to let those children go to penal institutions because they do not have to pay and they are relieved of the problem for some months.
I hope that there will be an improvement when there is more National Health Service input in prisons. That would be very welcome. Every time I visit I come away feeling very concerned about the number of mentally ill people in male and female prisons. I saw them mixed in with the physically ill at the prison health centre at Wandsworth prison. That is a dangerous situation and creates more work for the staff.
I was on the board of the Yorkshire regional health authority when the move to close mental health hospitals took place some years ago. I said, am sure many of these patients will land up in prison". Well, that has happened. What plans does the Minister have for those people when they leave prison? What aftercare is there for mentally ill prisoners? If there is none, the local communities to which they return will be fearful and not welcoming. Medical records need to follow the prisoners who need a GP and forward planning before being released into the community. I do not think that that happens often these days.
This morning, I attended a meeting in the other place about the growing problem of tuberculosis. In London, it is becoming serious. Many foreign-born people are developing the disease. Brent, Newham, Hackney, Ealing and Tower Hamlets have the highest numbers; they can be compared with those for some Asian countries and Russia. I hope that the health service in prisons will keep a close watch on overcrowding, because prisons could become ideal places for the infection to spread. We are very short of critical lung specialists. Communities and prisons could easily become linked and pass TB on to each other. It has been said that some people have been misdiagnosed when TB has been mistaken for asthma.
I am pleased to say that a halfway house for prisoners returning to the community was named after me. Masham House in Hull is run by Dick Pooley, who was in prison himself, and his wife. It has been very useful in rehabilitating ex-prisoners into the community and keeping them from drifting into trouble. There is a need for more rehabilitation facilities for those returning to the community.
The Prison Service has a difficult job, but I hope that people working in it do not forget that they are working with people and not just with numbers. Some very good activities take place in prisons, such as horticulture and drama, which can give hope to people who have lost it and enable the depressed to see a glimmer of light. Prison is not just being locked up in a cell. Those who return to the community need more than to walk out of the prison gates with no one to meet them. They need resettlement and a helping hand.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on introducing the debate. Last month, the Queen's Speech offered some hope of improved co-ordination between our criminal justice services. These government intentions are much to be welcomed and encouraged. Yet that may currently be as far as we can go. Improved co-ordination on its own may not achieve very much, unless it is allied to clear objectives. Today, and through the reference of his debate, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, delivered clear objectives. Far better results must be achieved in rehabilitating offenders and in preventing crime in the first place. To achieve those ends, different and wiser measures must be deployed and co-ordinated between the community and penal institutions.
The first glaring anomaly, of course, is that, while crime overall is falling, the prison population is ever-rising. Therefore, the challenge to the Government becomes not only to cause a reduction but to achieve a dramatic reduction in the prison population. I am sure the Minister will agree with that and that he will want to meet that challenge.
At the same time, as my noble friend Lord Hurd strictured yesterday, in the Queen's Speech there was hardly a reference to the crisis of prison overcrowding, let alone to the priority of its redress. In that context, it was fitting that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester should have invited and urged the Minister to convene an initiative in order to alleviate the unnecessary and intolerable burden currently imposed upon the Prison Service.
The next anomaly concerns sentencing policy itself. Despite the availability of non-custodial sentences, these have coexisted with a huge rise in the number of custodial sentences and with a large increase in the number of prisoners from 46,000 in 1991 to more than 72,000 at present and a predicted figure of 83,000 by 2008. The Government say that there will now be new guidelines for magistrates and Crown Courts and their sentences. However, does the Minister concur that far too many young people, both below and above the age of 17, are still detained for minor crimes and that, in the majority of cases, their detention is as futile as it is counter-productive? Can he also confirm that, not only in theory but also in practice, new sentencing guidelines for this category of offending will in fact influence the courts to replace custodial sentences with non-custodial ones?
Then there is the inconsistency concerning the design of non-custodial sentences. Often they have proved to be ineffective owing to their poor design. The Government deserve credit for having recently introduced the youth justice supervision scheme and. to some extent, detention and training orders. Nevertheless, non-custodial penalties still leave a great deal to be desired. What further plans do the Government have for widening their range and improving their quality in order to reduce reoffending and encourage employment, confidence and purpose?
1165 In connection with that, and whether they subsist within penal institutions or within the community, a number of indicators and patterns are always easy to recognise and enable us to predict an outcome. The challenge to government and to criminal justice thus becomes that of being prepared to recognise those signs in advance and then to act upon them. Thus far, there has not been much success in that exercise or even much attempt to embark upon it at all.
One such example is the pattern of post-detention homelessness, which, allied to unemployment, almost always leads to reoffending. Equally, as a number of your Lordships have stressed, within the community it is far more likely that young people will turn to crime if they have had problems with school learning and within their homes than if they have not. Correspondingly, a wide range of responses and expedients may be deployed. These can assist to deter, guide and inspire into constructive purpose and away from crime.
Certainly much useful work in this field will continue to come, as it already does, from charities, the private sector and from individual effort and initiative. Yet if the Government are really in the business of criminal justice co-ordination, not least through partnership and in other ways, they should develop a more hands-on approach within the community towards crime prevention and, post-detention, towards the prevention of reoffending. Does the Minister support that view and, if so, what type of action are he and the Government prepared to take?
Finally, it must also now be the Government's task to remove the inconsistency between two related fields. We are still much admired for our record on democracy and human rights. Yet our current poor results from criminal justice lower our reputation for competence internationally as they undermine confidence and morale within the country. Now at last, the resolve must be to achieve proper results where the past 30 years have failed and, from Britain, to set a good and lasting example for justice and stability.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Walmsley
My Lords, I should like to concentrate my remarks today on young offenders. I also add my compliments to my noble friend Lord Dholakia for introducing this very important debate. Here in the UK we lock up more young people in penal institutions than any other country in the Council of Europe apart from Ireland, Albania, Romania, Macedonia and Turkey. Currently about 2,600 young people under the age of 18 are held in 25 prisons in England and Wales—90 per cent more than 10 years ago. There are no young offender institutions for girls. They are held in adult prisons, despite the commitment made by the right honourable Jack Straw in April 2000 that they would be removed. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us when that objective will be achieved.
We have the lowest age of criminal responsibility in the Eli except for Ireland—a matter severely criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child when 1166 it reported two months ago on the UK's track record on children's rights. Do the Government have any plans to change that?
However, we are not here today to consider the reasons why so many young people commit crimes, although that is an important matter for another day. We are here to consider what we as a society do with them when they have done so. The fact is that we lock them up in overcrowded penal institutions. We do not find out enough about them to be able to help them properly. We put overworked, inexperienced and inadequately trained people in charge of them. We give them inadequate education while they are inside and little or no support when they come out. And we wonder why they reoffend.
Last week, I saw a programme on television about a young boy who came out of prison after being inside for drug offences. He had been a crack addict. He had only his mother to rely on. There appeared to be no programme in place to follow him up and to get him back on the straight and narrow with a worthwhile life to lead, apart from a weekly meeting with a probation officer. What a failure. I fear for that young man. He and his mother will have to be very strong and determined if he is to stay away from drugs and crime. Why do not all young offenders leaving prison have an action plan to help them to avoid reoffending, and why do they not have the help and professional support to implement that plan? I cannot think of anything that would be more cost-effective than that, in either economic or human terms.
We know that the processing of individual children through prison is haphazard. Despite the ASSET standard assessment tool, vital information about their history of mental health, drug misuse, family and educational difficulties is rarely available. However, we know quite a lot about them as a group. We know that nearly half of young people in young offender institutions—average age 17—have literacy and numeracy levels below those of the average 11 year-old and that more than a quarter have the numeracy level of a seven year-old. We heard from my noble friend Lord Addington about the high levels of dyslexia. We know that many have mental health and family problems and we know that a high proportion of them are addicted to hard drugs.
However, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons has described the education service in prisons as an "impoverished service". Ironically, the basic skills courses were the least satisfactory of those inspected. The inspectorate recommended an increased focus on entry level and level 1 courses to line up with the identified need. New money is available but prisons have to bid for it.
I believe that the system should be turned around completely so that young offenders have an entitlement to an education appropriate to their specific needs. The money should follow the child, not be dependent on the lottery of where children are sent after sentence and how good they are at bidding for new money. Although many young people receive fairly short sentences, their new education plan should 1167 be carried on after they leave prison. Prisons should be responsible for that, in the same way that hospitals have to ensure that old people have appropriate care to go to after they leave hospital.
Most young people in penal institutions receive an average of only 15 hours education per week at present. I am aware that the Youth Justice Board aims by March 2004 to provide them with 30 hours of learning opportunities per week. However, by then hundreds of young people will have left and we will have missed giving them a second chance at education. We know that a large number of them truanted or were excluded from school, so having them in a penal institution is a valuable opportunity for them to try again. However, as my noble friend Lord Addington said, many prisons do not have expert special needs teachers. That area requires emergency input.
What also concerns me is the environment in which young people find themselves when they are given a custodial sentence. In most cases, it sends them out more damaged, angrier and more alienated than they were when they came in. Children in prison are routinely treated in a way that in other circumstances would trigger a child protection investigation for abuse. For example, between April 2000 and January 2002, solitary confinement was used on juveniles 4,437 times; 976 of those children were locked up alone for more than a week. Bullying and self-harm are common and, sadly, five children have taken their own lives since April 2000 while in the care of the Prison Service, despite the best endeavours of many committed and caring individual professionals in the service.
As we have now had it clarified in a recent High Court case brought by the Howard League that the Children Act 1989 applies in prisons, many young offenders should now be referred to social services. Currently, not a single social services department visits its local prison to monitor the treatment of children there. The Howard League and six major national children's charities believe that a child, even one who has broken the law, is a child first and foremost—and a vulnerable child at that.
We are failing them. The reoffending figures described by my noble friend Lord Dholakia alone tell us that. Parents can hardly be held responsible for their children while they are in custody. If they were in residential care, the local authority would be in loco parentis. In prison, they are disowned—de-parented. They are neither children in their own right nor children under the protection of their parents or children's legislation.
The Government's response to the High Court judgment given by the prisons Minister, Hilary Benn, talked about the need to change one sentence in the Government's policy on children in prison. He also painted a very much rosier picture than anyone else of the conditions for children in prison and the guidelines for their care. But guidelines are one thing and actual practice another. When is that one sentence to be corrected? Does the Children Act 1989 need to be 1168 amended? If so, when? What is being done to ensure that all guidelines are being followed and adequate resources provided to ensure that they can be?
The judge in the case, Mr Justice Munby, said:the State appears to be failing and in some circumstances failing very badly in its duties to vulnerable and damaged children.In his response, Mr Benn mentioned the great improvements that have been achieved at Feltham young offender institution as a result of increased investment. In response to that clear evidence, do the Government intend to make a similar level of investment in both capital projects and human resources in other, similar institutions? Human resources seem to be one of the most critical factors and prison officers themselves are painfully aware of the shortcomings.
It may be cheaper in the short term to underinvest in those young people, but it is certainly not cost-effective in the long term. We know what needs to be done. Prevention is the best solution, by investing in education, parental support and social services to stop young people offending in the first place, but when young offenders are in our care, we must grasp the opportunity to try to correct past mistakes and not fail them again.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords. I join noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on introducing this debate on a subject of fundamental importance. Many noble Lords have spoken brilliantly and supported their arguments with a mass of statistics, but they have mainly concentrated on the issue of prisons. I read the Motion and perhaps misunderstood it, but the words "local communities" sprang out at me. I shall ponder for a moment on local communities and the causes of crime.
My first reaction on reading the Motion was to ask, "What communities? Do we really have local communities?" Certainly, in the leafy suburbs we do. but they are mainly middle-class people protecting their rights and ensurine, that no one undesirable comes to live in their area. There are other kinds of communities, such as those of ethnic and religious minorities—the Islamic community in Tower Hamlets, for example, which I know well, is extremely strong. Then there are special project communities, such as the youth justice boards referred to by the noble Lord. Lord Warner, in which a specific group of people within a neighbourhood come together to achieve a particular goal.
But are there actual communities—groups of people who, because they live in the same village or the same block of flats, are a community? I do not see them. Such communities could have a marvellous role to play in helping prisoners to return and be rehabilitated, providing jobs and housing, supporting ex-offenders, getting them back to work and giving them opportunities to make restitution—all issues mentioned by noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. If we had local communities, they could work together with 1169 youth organisations to create diversion from crime—youth work, sport and similar activities, which have been decimated during the past 10 or 20 years by local authorities (because local communities did not persuade their representatives that there were votes in them).
If we had local communities, they could create an environment for families bringing up young children that gave them the support that they need in the early years, so that those children grow up self-confident, knowing how to love and to be loved and how to relate to other people, having sufficient self-esteem to be able to integrate positively into school and gain an education, having been taught boundaries to acceptable behaviour and having learnt how to control their emotions and understand the emotions of others. Children who have learnt those lessons are much less likely to drop out of school or be drawn into crime. I have made a note at this point to say that I am not being soft and sentimental. I recognise the need for punishment when crime is committed, but it would be much better if we could prevent those crimes in the first place.
The fundamental question is: what makes young people turn to crime? Is it nature or nurture? Is it the environment in which children grow up? Those issues are under constant review and the subject of constant research. It is worth mentioning that my noble friend Lady Greenfield is at the leading edge of research in that area. The answer is probably that genes play a part. but the evidence increasingly shows that the environment in which the child grows up in its first years—even from year one—is crucial.
I have given the Minister notice of this question, but it may be difficult to answer: what percentage of those serving prison sentences were born into dysfunctional families? I read last week in a book by a retired prison officer that 90 per cent—nine out of 10—of prisoners come from dysfunctional families. Now, that sounds awfully high to me, hut, even if the figure is 50 or 60 per cent, it is an important factor in what we do about the prevention of crime.
There is no doubt that there is a causal relationship between inadequate or inappropriate parenting in the very early years and a tendency to be drawn into crime later. Whether it is a direct causal relationship or whether the two derive from a common cause remains to be seen. It is in the family, in the very early years, that a child learns or does not learn the self-confidence to give and receive love, the ability to relate to others and to be aware of their concerns, an understanding of his emotions and those of others and the ability to control anger and violence.
Even in the womb, a child learns to recognise his mother's voice, and his mental and emotional development can be damaged by drugs and hormones in the mother's blood. When a child is born, it is projected into a strange and threatening world, and it needs a cocoon of love and security, which usually takes the form of a loving attachment to its mother or surrogate mother, then to the father and other adults, as time goes on. Without that interaction and that 1170 cocoon of love in the first months, the child will tend to grow up insecure and disadvantaged. A child who has never interacted with his parents has not learnt to interact with others. A child who has been subject to instability and violence in the family will have angry, frustrated and violent reactions. If the child's brain becomes hard-wired to such patterns of thought and emotion in the early years, they may be difficult to dislodge later.
That could be where local communities come in. The Government are fond of saying—probably rightly, I think—that it is not the business of the Government to interfere in the way in which individuals live their life. That may well be true, but, if children suffer because of the way in which individuals lead their life, local communities might be able to set an example by helping and encouraging, by finding ways in which they could influence the family environment in which children spend their very early years.
I have no time to develop those ideas; I did not expect that I would. I shall make a little "commercial": I hope that my noble friends on the Cross Benches will give me a debate that will give your Lordships the opportunity of discussing the matters further later in this Session.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Carlisle of Bucklow
My Lords, I did not submit my name for inclusion in this debate because I cannot be here after six o'clock. However, in view of the fact that the debate has proceeded so quickly, I shall intervene briefly.
Hearing my noble friend Lady Sharples say that things had got worse since 1970 made me realise that we have been in exactly this situation before. In 1970, when I became a junior Minister in the Home Office under Mr Maudling, the first paper we received was one from the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale—Sir Philip Allen, as he then was—on the problem of prison overcrowding and on what would happen if we took no action. The only difference is that, then, the figure was 40,000. We were told that disaster would strike at 45,000. Today, there are 72,000 people in prison, and the figure is growing. It is leading inevitably to enormous and difficult problems associated with overcrowding.
We must remember that the only purpose of sending people to prison, as the Gladstone committee said, is to attempt to reform them so that they come out—they will come out—better men and women. But overcrowding limits the opportunities for education and makes the time for such matters as drug rehabilitation more difficult to find.
There is only one answer to overcrowding. It is not by building more penal institutes; that takes too long. The answer is to reduce the number of people being sent to prison or the sentences that those who are imprisoned must serve. That means further alternatives to imprisonment. In the 1970s, we introduced community service; that needs a further boost today. I join the noble Earl. Lord Dundee, in 1171 asking the Government what their proposals for non-custodial sentences are and when we will see them in action. I remember that the Minister was keen about the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill, but I rather gathered from what he said afterwards—on television, I think—that the money was not perhaps available for their immediate implementation.
We must change the philosophy that prison works. Prison does not work and is not working today. Of course, it works in the sense that it keeps those who commit crimes out of trouble while they are in prison. But the appalling reconviction rates show that overcrowding works against the reformative aims of prisons. So prison is not working.
The most encouraging speech I have heard on the matter for a long time was that made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, on what is being done with the youth institutions. I hope that we will hear from the Minister the Government's proposals for a solution to overcrowding. Rather than talk about the philosophy that prison works, we should say that, in fact, prison is the final example of the failure of other methods of reformation.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, this afternoon, we have dealt with some of the most difficult issues that we face as a society. In introducing the debate, my noble friend Lord Dholakia showed that the issues of crime and the rehabilitation of offenders are too important to be left to the criminal justice system alone.
As the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, reminded us, we were told years ago that, if we allowed overcrowding in the prisons to continue, it would be a serious hindrance to any programme for rehabilitation. We heard that from my noble friend himself, who said that it was impossible to deliver a purposeful regime in the present state of overcrowding, and from my noble friend Lady Linklater of Butterstone, who said that overcrowding had reached intolerable levels. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, gave an example of how impossible it is to deliver educational programmes when the prisoners are banged up in their cell for 23 hours a day and there are no officers left to escort them to classes. Such examples reveal a desperate position in our prisons, and it is remarkable that so much success is achieved, through the hard work of prison officers and other staff, who try to help prisoners to deal with offending behaviour and alleviate some of the causes, including addiction to drink and drugs, illiteracy and difficulties with communications. However, it is impossible to deliver effective offending behaviour programmes with the overcrowding that we face.
My noble friend Lord Addington mentioned the problem of dyslexia. I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, to tell us whether anything has happened as a result of the survey conducted by Professor Karen Bryan of speech, language and communication difficulties among young offenders at HMYOI Swinfen Hall. She found 1172 that large numbers of young persons there had significant problems that would hinder them from getting jobs or fitting into society generally.
At the time, the then Minister for Prisons, Beverley Hughes, told me that the Prisoners Learning and Skills Unit was aware of those findings, had reported them to the Health Policy Unit and that they had been incorporated into the health needs assessment toolkit for prisoners. But there was no standard approach to the screening of young offenders for speech, language and communication difficulties and they were going to discuss rolling out the model that had been used at Polmont YOI in Scotland.
As Professor Bryan found that many of the problems that she assessed could be mitigated with appropriate professional intervention, this was obviously a way in which young offenders could be helped to regain a foothold in mainstream society. When he comes to reply, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will say what has happened as a result of that work.
Reference has been made to the probation service and the huge increase in workload that it faces. My noble friend Lady Linklater asked for a massive new funding of the probation service, even in the light of the £70 million increase in its budget for next year, which amounts to between an 8 and 14 per cent rise in the budgets of the 42 probation areas. That sounds good on the face of it, but it should be seen in the context of the major reorganisation of the probation service. It should be related to the number of people it has to supervise, the number of breach actions it has to take and the number of court reports it has to submit.
The probation service has done remarkably well in reducing the reoffending rate by 3 per cent at the same time as this reorganisation. I hope that this can be sustained on the resources it has been given. But there also has to be a corresponding rise in the contribution of other agencies if offenders are to be kept out of prison.
The Chief Inspector of Probation, Professor Rod Morgan, states in the introduction to his annual report, which contains a lot of good ideas, that "What Works" programmes—that is the cognitive-behavioural group work programmes—only work in the context of effective case management which tackles the whole range of criminogenic factors such as drug and alcohol abuse, accommodation problems, lack of education and vocational skills, unemployment and debt, which characterise most supervised offenders.
In the light of this—it seems so obvious as not to need re-statement—I was alarmed when we heard yesterday at the All-Party Penal Affairs Group meeting that of the 90,000 prisoners released in England and Wales this year, a third had nowhere to go on release. A Home Office study found that 71 per cent of the prisoners with no place to go had received no housing advice while they were inside. But, according to Paul Cavadino of NACRO, people discharged into stable housing are 20 per cent less likely to reoffend than those who are homeless. They 1173 are also more likely, he said yesterday, to stay on drug rehabilitation programmes, to get jobs and to continue with sex offender treatment programmes.
Yet the courts have ruled in two recent cases in Lambeth and Hounslow that prisoners who lost their homes—as a third of them do as a direct result of their prison sentence through not being able to pay the rent or the mortgage—had made themselves homeless intentionally. This may have been true at the time of the offence, but I do not think that Parliament intended it to continue after the sentence had been served. The Guidance on the Homelessness Act states that a person has a priority need for accommodation if he or she is vulnerable as a result of a custodial sentence, but then adds that only a minority of ex-prisoners arc likely to be vulnerable because the probation service is responsible for seeing that their accommodation needs are met. That is not a realistic proposition and I invite the Government to reconsider that policy.
We heard yesterday also at the penal affairs group from Marie McNicol of the St Giles Trust, who said that her organisation was providing housing advice and help to prisoners at Wandsworth prison. For instance, in November alone, it saw 55 prisoners, helped Five to keep their tenancies and referred 24 to other agencies. The trust is also training long-term prisoners to give advice to others. In doing so, they can acquire an NVQ, which will be useful when they finally come out.
Another example of good practice is the service provided by the Anglia Care Trust at Norwich prison, quoted in the Social Exclusion Unit's report Reducing Re-offending by Ex-prisoners. The trust negotiated with landlords on behalf of prisoners to allow them to keep their tenancies and advised them on debt management. Ultimately, only 5 per cent of the prisoners leaving Norwich had nowhere to go. Surely it would pay to have similar advice services throughout the whole of the prison system in terms of reducing the homelessness of ex-prisoners and hence reducing reoffending.
If local authorities are not going to take any responsibility for the needs of the homeless ex-prisoners, then at least there should be specialist accommodation available to them such as that mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham—that is, the hostel in Hull which is named after her. I congratulate her on that and the fact that it is run by an ex-prisoner.
There is surplus accommodation in many northern towns which might be suitable for conversion to small units for ex-prisoners without family ties. The French have such a network. I spoke on Monday to a man who I have corresponded with for many years, who had come out that day after spending 29 years and four months in prison. He was discharged to a hostel in Nancy as a condition of his release. This man started in Parkhurst years ago and I continued to correspond with him when he was transferred to the French system. He did not mind being offered a place in a hostel miles from his relatives—he was only too 1174 delighted to come out after such a length of time, I can assure your Lordships. The same might be true here. If we use the space available in the northern towns we could build small hostels which would accommodate those who had nowhere else to go on release. That would prevent a great deal of reoffending.
The Halliday reforms mean that fewer people will be sent to prison in future for short periods. It is obviously hoped that correspondingly fewer will lose their homes. The implementation of Custody Plus will lead to the supervision of all prisoners on release—including those given short sentences who, up to now, have been left to sink or swim. But there will be far greater demands on services in the community and the money should be provided out of the savings in prison costs.
That brings me to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne—what is the community going to do? On the face of it, enormous amounts of money are available to accommodate the demands in the community arising from the Halliday reforms. There is the Single Regeneration Budget, which has among its objectives the reduction of crime and drug abuse and the improvement of community safety. The Neighbourhood Renewal Fund of £900 million over three years also has as an objective the reduction of crime.
The Community Empowerment Fund is a pot of money for the voluntary and community sector to help it to get involved in local strategic partnerships, where the authorities receive money from the NRF. The Neighbourhood Renewal Community Chest is another fund to provide support for setting up community organisations in NRF areas, and that could include offender support programmes.
The Time Limited Development Fund is designed to inspire local people to get involved in voluntary activities that tackle social exclusion, including, again, the social exclusion of offenders. The New Deal for Communities is a programme that gives the poorest areas the resources to deal with multiple problems, including high levels of crime. Several noble Lords have referred to the Futurebuilders Fund, which was criticised by either my noble friend Lady Linklater or my noble friend Lady Walmsley because it is a one-off fund of £125 million which does not allow for any continuity in the capacity building of the voluntary and community sector.
In this jargon jungle there is a bio-diversity of steering groups, voluntary sector consortiums, community champions and "community planning managers" competing for money, but it is not easy to identify the end product in terms of delivering services that will reduce the amount of re-offending and attack the causes of crime, such as alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, or with helping offenders in the community to overcome problems such as illiteracy or lack of social skills. I ask the Minister to what extent any voluntary agencies aiming at these specific problems have submitted bids under each of the headings, and what is their record of success?
1175 My noble friend Lady Walmsley spoke about the lottery of provision for young people in the community after discharge. When there is a radical change in direction by the Government in terms of sentencing policy, which in turn requires a corresponding realignment of both statutory and voluntary services provided in the community, leaving it to the luck of the draw in the bidding for these funds is not likely to produce an optimum solution. The Social Exclusion Unit says that there should be a national rehabilitation strategy to include the widened availability of offending behaviour programmes—education and training; mental health programmes; drugs and alcohol programmes; and family support—and that that strategy should have its own budget instead of being dependent on bids made incidentally under the variety of programmes already mentioned.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord will comment on the lack of co-ordination in all these systems of support within the community, and that, as a result of this debate, there will be a greater focus on measures to help the community itself to deal with reoffending and the rehabilitation of offenders.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, there are four key phrases in the Motion introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and each merits a debate in itself. But they are all subtly tied together in the noble Lord's frame.
Let me begin with the role of local communities. Local communities are, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, suggested, not as strong as they used to be. They have lost their supporting pillars in the post office, the corner shop, church and chapel—and not just in the country but in the towns as well. Neighbours are strangers to each other in many places. The "local community" in our parlance is, I suspect, the community of local authorities and service providers.
Policing in the community has changed a great deal. I was rather surprised by the number of speakers in the home affairs debate on the Address in the other place who complained about inadequate policing in their constituencies. It is not surprising when one considers that over the past 10 years some 730 communities have lost their police stations and are now policed solely by patrol cars.
The key point is that the police are our first line of defence against crime in the local community, be it urban or rural, and police performance is inevitably variable. There is scope for improvement.
Part of the answer must lie in improved recruitment of special constables and self-help schemes such as neighbourhood watch and other voluntary schemes. We must, of course, beware of the vigilante tendency and make sure that people invested with a semblance of authority do not abuse it. We must also ensure that anti-social behaviour orders really work. We know of the difficulties and delays in obtaining them. Seeing to it that they are not disregarded is another matter, and the same is true of other behaviour orders.
1176 The Government set great store by their crime and disorder reduction partnerships. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. told me in a Written Answer on 19th November that,CDRPs are key to the local delivery of reductions in crime and disorder".He went on to say:We have a large programme of work in hand to assess and improve partnership performance".The Minister stated:There are currently 354 crime and disorder reduction partnerships (CDRPs) in England and 22 in Wales".All that is good news for crime prevention in local communities and we shall follow the progress of CDRPs and study their effectiveness with keen interest.
With regard to the contribution of local communities to rehabilitation, we are all aware of the importance of the family and the workplace in this context. Ideally, rehabilitation should be a natural process of restoration of the individual wrongdoer to self-respect and a respectable place in the society whence he came. We know that the reality is different. Too often, the offender is returned to the poor social conditions that may have led him to criminal activity in the first place and it simply leads to a repetition of earlier behaviour.
Implicit in all of this is the vast transformation that is required to improve the quality of life in our most deprived communities, where housing is deplorable, normal family life is under severe strain, sink schools abound and decent work is hard to come by. A drugs culture aggravates the situation. Anti-social behaviour becomes the norm rather than the exception.
I was saddened to read that the Schools Health Education Unit reported that the proportion of boys aged 14 and 15 who said that they had tried cannabis had risen from 19 per cent in 1999 to 29 per cent in 2001 and the proportion of girls of the same age had risen from 18 per cent to 25 per cent. We all know how drug addiction leads to other crimes to support the habit and all too frequently to imprisonment. Drug addicts need treatment for their rehabilitation. I am glad that the updated drugs strategy document published today recognises this.
The probation service has been much mentioned in the course of the debate. It is under pressure—so much so that I understand the staff are being balloted on strike action. The chief inspector, Mr Rod Morgan, blames the magistrates for,clogging up jails with petty offenders when a sting in the wallet would do".The chairman of the council of the Magistrates' Association, Harry Mawdsley, has denied the charge and quoted recent figures showing 75 per cent of offenders receiving a fine compared with only 4 per cent receiving a custodial sentence. Millions of fines remain unpaid. Yet the Government appear to favour this remedy for anti-social behaviour. Will fines work, even with enforcers, or will they be ignored?
1177 When we turn to the penal system, the outstanding fact is that our prisons are bulging at the seams with the highest population ever of more than 72,500. Do the Government expect the prison population to rise still further in the years ahead, with all the consequences of overcrowding which are already glaringly obvious? I should be grateful for an answer to that question. In our debate on the Address on 21st November, the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, presented us with an analysis of that figure. It struck me that more than half of the inmates serve short sentences of three months or less. There are nearly 5,000 mentally ill people in prison. It is clear that the Prison Service cannot hope to perform its functions properly in the current circumstances.
It is not surprising that the Social Exclusion Unit reported that. in 1997, 58 per cent of prisoners released were reconvicted within two years—a fact brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. Eighteen to 20 year-old male prisoners were reconvicted at the rate of 72 per cent over the same period—and the prison population then was 10,000 fewer!
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, made wide-ranging recommendations for the reform of the prison system in 1991, after the Strangeways riot. Among his recommendations was the development of community prisons, which I certainly support, bearing in mind the importance of family visits and support for prisoners in the rehabilitation process, as my noble friend Lady Sharples mentioned.
The Prison Reform Trust's review of prison visitor centres in January this year strongly recommended that prisons should be located in places readily accessible to visitors. I know that the Government intend to build two prisons, but have they totally abandoned the recommendation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in this matter? If so, I believe that their judgment is at fault.
There is a touch of "authoritarianism in an Armani suit" about some of the Government's proposals. My noble friend Lord Kingsland attributed the sentiment, if not the words, to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I suppose it is the outcome of the Prime Minister's pledge to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. But the Government must be tough on themselves, too. They must seriously question the likely efficacy of their proposed remedies.
Arresting recidivism plays a very important role in reducing crime. Like the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I was impressed by the summary given by the chief executive of NACRO, of which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is chairman. It stressed the importance of jobs, accommodation, family support, literacy and numeracy. In the light of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, we can add dyslexia to that category.
We in the Conservative Party are particularly concerned about persistent young offenders and getting them off what my friend in the other place Oliver Letwin describes as the conveyor belt of crime. I note the great interest of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in this area. We have proposed long rehabilitative sentences for persistent young offenders. Those would 1178 include not only imprisonment but, beyond that, a long period of active rehabilitation and reform. The sentencing framework, which is being consulted upon widely, would comprise a period of imprisonment and, where necessary, detoxification; a period of intensive rehabilitation in conditions of open custody; and a prolonged period during which offenders would be closely supervised and given support to ensure that they found and kept appropriate accommodation and a useful occupation. That is a worthwhile policy. It is an area of work that has its rewards, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Warner, will agree. That policy promises a better future not only for those young people hat for society as a whole.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)
My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on obtaining this debate and on the quality of his contribution both in this debate and in his work on resettlement and penal issues in his various roles. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth that this is a particularly significant day on which to hold the debate, given the discussion in another place, chaired by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, when a wider audience examined all these issues. It has been an excellent debate for several reasons.
I start with the opening proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia: there is plainly a connection between social exclusion and crime. I shall also quote the statistic he gave that 40 per cent of crimes are committed in 10 per cent of communities. The noble Lord is right to start the debate by asking what is the effect on communities.
We will never deal with the problem of crime simply by looking at the prison population or at what happens in the criminal justice system. We must look much wider. The Government have been doing that methodically since they came to power in 1997. First, it is necessary to seek to provide intervention for those who are likely to go into crime to try to divert them from it. Programmes such as Sure Start seek to deal with that, as do others run by individual agencies, voluntary and community groups. I have seen in Durham how the police are taking proactive and helpful steps to provide alternative activity for families they identify as ones that might go into crime.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked me—and he gave me warning of his question—to what extent one can tie up dysfunctional families with those who commit crime. I cannot provide a precise figure, but I can give three indicators. Two per cent of the general population have been taken into care as children, compared to 27 per cent of those who commit crimes. Eleven per cent of the general population have run away from home as a child; the figure for male and female sentenced prisoners is 47 and 50 per cent respectively. Sixteen per cent of the general population have had a family member convicted of a criminal offence compared with 43 per cent of prisoners. Those statistics indicate the areas to which the noble 1179 Lord referred. We can identify people who may commit crimes and we should try to intervene as quickly as possible.
It is not just about those interventions; it is about taking steps to try to prevent crime in other ways. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and others said, that is not just a matter for the criminal justice system. Crime and disorder reduction partnerships, on which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, was kind enough to congratulate us, are important because they recognise that it is not just the police, the courts and the prosecution who must contribute to the reduction of crime, but also the local authorities, health authorities and the community and voluntary sector. They must consider such matters as where street-lighting should be improved to reduce crime and assess the priorities of individual communities for reducing crime—for example, by improving transport and providing better healthcare. Crime and disorder reduction partnerships should do that.
Another aspect of crime reduction or prevention was highlighted by my former noble friend—he is now a Cross-Bencher—the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in relation to the Youth Justice Board. It has made a remarkable and effective contribution under the noble Lord's leadership to dealing with crime prevention among young people. Not only does it deal with those who are already in the criminal justice system; its work includes youth inclusion programmes such as Summer Splash which reach a significant number of young people. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to the number of crimes that may well not have been committed as a result of those programmes. It is right that this debate should be rooted in the community, so that we can identify the fact that much work is being carried out on diversion and crime prevention.
Another important element—the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to this—is fighting degeneration and hoping to improve regeneration. That involves neighbourhood renewal funds and New Deal for Communities. If one goes to areas where those programmes exist, one discovers that, almost invariably, communities are most concerned about crime and anti-social behaviour. The number of New Deal for Communities programmes that have invested money in community policing, CCTV and local measures to prevent and reduce crime indicates the extent of communities' concern.
The problem of drugs overarches much of the issue. Communities, particularly deprived ones, fear that drugs will make local residents' children victims, offenders or both. We must address the problem of drugs. Yesterday's updated drugs strategy does precisely that by seeking to ensure that more treatment is available—for offenders as much as anyone else. It seeks to offer those who offend the opportunity of taking treatment to get rid of the causes of crime. But if they do not accept treatment, they should rightly expect the consequences of the criminal justice system to fall upon them at the bail hearing, the sentencing 1180 hearing and thereafter in sentencing. It must be clear that treatment should be offered where it is available. That is the aim of the updated strategy.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, will the Minister extend his remarks to alcohol, given that it is an even more important factor than drugs in the etiology of crime?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, alcohol is an important factor, but drugs are becoming an increasingly important factor.
Those who confront the problem of crime in deprived communities expect the criminal justice system to be effective when someone is put in its hands. It is important to underline that the more that people have confidence in the criminal justice system, the more they will feel secure in their homes and communities. It is a vital point.
I turn to the criminal justice system. Obviously, crime will never be eradicated. Once defendants have been convicted in the criminal justice system. that system should aim in part to reduce reoffending. Effective community penalties are one vital way in which reoffending will be reduced significantly. The National Probation Service, which has had significantly increased funding since 1997, is developing programmes for what works in reducing reoffending behaviour, and early published results suggest that some progress is being made. The reconviction rate among the cohort who started receiving What Works programmes in the two years following 1999 has been more than 3 per cent lower than predicted.
People have to know that progress is being made in community sentences so that courts are willing to sentence offenders to community sentences where appropriate. The more that community sentences work, the less it will be necessary to send people to prison. As all noble Lords will accept, however, it is necessary to send certain categories of offender to custody. Broadly, those categories are dangerous, violent and sexual offenders, and seriously persistent offenders to whom every opportunity for rehabilitation has been offered but who have not taken it. The community must have some confidence that custody will be imposed after every reasonable opportunity has been offered but not taken.
The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone. mentioned "two strikes and you're out" in relation to breaches of community penalties. If the courts are to be confident about imposing community penalties, a balance must be struck whereby an appropriate response follows a breach. If we do not mete out an appropriate response in such cases, what is the point of having community penalties with attached conditions? Although there is no automaticity whereby a custodial sentence is immediately imposed after two strikes, there must be a sense that the conditions will be enforced. Nevertheless, the conditions will be enforced proportionately.
Apart from the above categories of offender—dangerous, sexual or violent offenders, and those who are seriously persistent—the court should consider the 1181 range of alternatives now available to sentencers, such as the wide range of community penalties; the wider range of tagging options; and the drug treatment and testing orders which have been imposed now on just under 10.000 people. On the face of it, it looks as if those alternatives arc producing results in dealing with drug offenders. Although it is too soon to ascertain the results by means of reconviction rates, those are the right sort of community penalties. They provide hope that some progress will be made in relation to reconviction rates. I make it clear, however, that custody is the inevitable and appropriate result for certain categories of prisoner to ensure not only the required punishment but also public protection. I think there is no escape from that fact.
I shall try to deal with some of the many points that have been made. I fear that, because of time, I shall not be able to deal with all of them. I thoroughly endorse the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the involvement of community and voluntary groups. He mentioned Crime Concern, NACRO and other groups, all of which do exceptional work. He also mentioned the need for core management funding, which is absolutely vital. He mentioned too the cross-cutting review on the voluntary sector, which draws out many of the points he raised. The message coming out loud and clear from the review is that voluntary and community sector groups can do so much which state-funded organisations cannot do, due to the inevitable inflexibilities of statutory organisations, and which the private sector has no interest in doing. The Government accept that their role is vital in that respect. The noble Lord also cited the example of acceptable behaviour contracts in the London borough of Islington, where the voluntary sector has played a vital part. That scheme, of which I thoroughly approve, has now been rolled out more widely.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and various other noble Lords referred to the current overcrowding in the Prison Service. One should, however, not lose sight of what the Prison Service has achieved. I have been asked in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, how many prisoners are currently sharing cells. I gave the figure of 21 per cent. In 1991, however, the figure was 29 per cent. Until 1994, in a significant number of cases, three people were sharing a cell.
The quality of education in prison has improved dramatically. although much still has to be done. The Prison Service has a humane and dedicated reformer in Martin Narey. One should not underestimate the extent of the achievement. Noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, will recall visiting prisons five years ago. I am sure that their impression from more recent visits will be very different. Although much still needs to be done, we should not even remotely put the debate in the context that nothing has been improved.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth raised the issue of life prisoners and referred to their problems on release. Life prisoners raise particular problems. We are dealing in a significant number of cases with crimes in which the 1182 victims themselves will suffer for the rest of their lives. Frequently, the life sentence has to be for punishment and for people to realise that society must extract a penalty through the criminal justice system so that there is confidence in the criminal justice system.
I have already referred to many of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. I thoroughly endorse the work, under her chairmanship, of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, which was funded by the Esmee Fairbairn trust. I suspect that that will be a significant contribution to the debate. It is important that such work is undertaken. The noble Baroness drew attention specifically to tagging and restorative justice, both of which can bring great progress in suitable alternatives to current penalties. I endorse her support for the idea of widespread partnership with the voluntary and community sector.
As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to a number of the alternatives to custody such as ISSP—a very important alternative which provides a robust and effective intervention that can have an effect on offenders' reoffending behaviour.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, referred to the problems of prisoners' wives and contact with prisoners. I agree entirely with the proposition underlying her remarks—namely, that prisoners who maintain contact with their family have a better chance of not reoffending. Other noble Lords also made that point. The Prison Service accepts the point. although putting it into practice becomes more difficult as the number of prisoners in custody increases. The proposition, however, is accepted.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, also identified the lack of communication and cited some examples, such as a three-month wait for delivery of a parcel and a nine-day wait for a first class letter. As I said, we accept the principle she outlined. We seek to promote communication, which is so important in reducing reoffending.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, in view of what the Minister has just said, will he clarify the point about community prisons? Do the Government accept the proposal from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, or have they abandoned it?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, I am not precisely clear about what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, had in mind in relation to community prisons. The Criminal Justice Bill makes provision for intermittent custody, which would allow an offender to be in custody for a period—at the weekend, for example—while being able to hold on to a job. I am not sure whether that goes as far as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, suggested in his report. But it goes some way towards allowing an offender to hold on to a job and at the same time spend time in custody.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, raised an important point about dyslexia The prisoners' learning and skills unit is seeking to improve the identification of dyslexia and other learning needs. A new national diagnostic indicator is currently on trial.
1183 As well as identifying dyslexia, the prisoners' learning and skills unit is supporting the teaching of basic skills by providing prisons with practitioner guides on training those with learning difficulties and providing accompanying training. I am sure that that does not go as far as the noble Lord would wish, but I suspect that the significance of seeking to identify those with dyslexia goes some of the way.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, there seems to be great emphasis on achieving certain targets in literacy. However, will the Minister consider the idea of having teachers explain dyslexia to others, as some of those targets will be unattainable by many of those with the condition?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, I shall write to the noble Lord in that respect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, raised the issue of drugs, which I have dealt with. She asked about the plans for those who come out of prison who are mentally ill. That is an important issue. The Prison Service is looking at development work on prison health. Recommendations have been made in the social exclusion unit report and the Government are looking to address the shortfalls in the service provided. Development work on prison health in the past two years has included new investment to rebuild or refurbish some of the worst prison healthcare centres to try to improve the position before the prisoner is released. New NHS mental health in-reach teams, as part of the NHS Plan, are expected to cover around half of all prisons by March 2004. We are trying to make sure that there is some support when prisoners come out. That is not the position in the vast majority of cases, but it is the aim, as set out in the social exclusion unit report.
The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, raised similar issues. He referred in particular to overcrowding and the dramatic increase in the prison population. He called for more community sentences to be imposed, which is what we are seeking to do, by providing a wider range of community sentences and by providing evidence that community sentences work. He also referred to action to divert people from the criminal justice system, which we all agree is extremely important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised a number of points. She drew attention to the problem of the number of girls in prisons where there are no proper facilities. She referred to the commitment made by my right honourable friend Mr Straw some time ago. She also referred to inadequate education in prison. More could be done, but I emphasise that progress has been made. She referred to the Children Act decision by Mr Justice Mumby last week which the prisons Minister. Mr Hilary Benn, welcomed. I cannot give a date as to when the relevant sentence—the sentence in the guidance—will be amended, but I shall write to the noble Baroness.
With regard to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I have answered his first question. I agree that the debate should be about how the 1184 community can help by supporting prisoners when they come out, as well as recognising that a penal policy must address the needs of the community as a whole.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, said that we have been here before, and that he was there when prison overcrowding became a problem. He said that the only purpose of prison is to reform. I think that there are certain prisoners who have to be imprisoned because if punishment is not meted out to such defendants, people will not have faith in the criminal justice system as an adequate and proportionate response to certain sorts of crime. He said that we should reduce the number of people sent to prison and the time that they spend there. We are seeking sensible alternatives to prison in relation to community penalties while recognising that certain categories of defendant will need a custodial sentence.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, asked whether we would change our philosophy in relation to prison. The Criminal Justice Bill contains a range of alternatives. It contains the fundamental approach that sending people to prison for a short time and then providing them with no support afterwards does little to reduce reoffending. That is why the custody-plus approach has been introduced. As the noble Lord identified, by implication if not explicitly, that requires additional money for the probation service to provide the support that is necessary. The figures have been set out in the accompanying financial memorandum to the Bill.
Everyone engaged in these issues agrees that support is vital for people who come out of prison—especially for those who have gone into prison because of drugs. If support is not provided immediately, they will quickly drift into crime again. We must focus on that important issue.
I am afraid that my time is up. It has been an extremely significant and important debate, and I hope that we shall have similar debates in the future.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I thank all the noble Lords who have participated in the debate, and many who wrote to me because they could not do so because of other commitments. I also thank the noble and learned Lord the Minister for his comprehensive reply.
Two clear issues have been identified: the non-custodial alternative and community participation in programmes. I hope that the Minister for prisons will reflect on this debate.
I conclude by quoting Winston Churchill's famous words when he was a Minister in the Home Office. He said:The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is the most unfailing test of the civilisation of any country".We need to secure a decisive shift in the public's perception of crime and punishment. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.