HL Deb 02 June 1998 vol 590 cc23-5WA
Lord Archer of Sandwell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What new initiatives are planned to increase the effectiveness of the incentives and earned privileges scheme which encourages responsible behaviour by prisoners. [HL2056]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

The national framework for Incentives and Earned Privileges was introduced in 1995 and has been operating in all prisons since mid 1996. These schemes seek to reward good prisoner behaviour and performance and penalise bad prisoner behaviour and performance. In a few prisons, one of the "Key Earnable Privileges" has been television in-cell and the Government now intend to extend the availability of this as an earned and forfeitable privilege more generally across the Prison Service. This will build on the previous government's introduction of the privilege in 1991, adding slowly to the approximately 2,500 sets already in place. Prisoners will pay for the privilege themselves. The weekly charge is likely to be about £1 against average weekly prisoner earnings of £7.50.

Prisoners' normal access to television is out of the cell in association with others. Television in cells was introduced in 1991, following a White Paper in response to Lord Justice Woolf"s report on the disturbances at Strangeways prison (Manchester). About 1,000 prisoners in four establishments initially had this privilege; under the previous government the numbers had risen by 1997 to the current levels of about 2,500 (4 per cent. of the prison population), mostly in five establishments of varying types. At present, it is largely a matter of chance whether a prisoner will find himself or herself in a prison with the prospect of in-cell television.

Experience of in-cell television in recent years suggests considerable benefits. As an earned privilege it can be a powerful incentive to good behaviour and regime participation, and can help with order and control, reducing tension on the landings. Its loss is feared. It helps prisoners keep in touch with the outside world to which all but a few must eventually return. It has potential as a means of providing information and enhancing prison regimes.

The Government have taken into account the views on this subject expressed in a variety of contexts, including the Learmont Report on Prison Service security following the escape from Parkhurst in 1995, the Home Affairs Committee in March 1997, and in reports by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons and Boards of Visitors. The Learmont Report recommended the wider introduction of in-cell television and pointed to its potential benefits as an information as well as a recreational medium. The Home Affairs Committee recommended it in March 1997, … given the potential of TV in-cell as a means of contributing to good order in a prison; so long as the availability of TV in this way is clearly an earned privilege rather than a right". Successive Chief Inspectors have urged the previous and this Government to make wider use of in-cell television and have reported on its existing successful use, most recently at Garth prison. Boards of Visitors of establishments with in-cell television frequently report favourably on its value. There is already extensive use of in-cell television in other European prison systems and in the United States and Canada.

In-cell television will be liable to be forfeited in a number of ways: when a prisoner is moved to the basic privilege level of the incentives and earned privileges schemes; when an adjudicating governor awards a disciplinary penalty of forfeiture of privileges; if local rules governing the use of in-cell television are broken; and if a judgment is made in a particular case that its availability appears to be damaging a prisoner's treatment or increasing the risk to the public on his or her release.

The Prison Service will be considering further the scope to use internal channels as an additional means of communicating information to prisoners and helping with education and regimes generally.

In-cell television can help to deliver educational courses—for example, through Open University and other relevant programmes. Garth prison—one of the first prisons to have in-cell television—uses an internal information channel to help communication with prisoners and to show videos.

A procurement process for televisions—which will receive terrestrial channels only—is starting with a view to the extension of this privilege from later in 1998. The option of in-cell television will initially be targeted on prisoners on the enhanced privilege level or in other priority groups, such as those who are "drug free". Those on the standard privilege level will not be precluded but the extension of in-cell television will be gradual and monitored closely. This is partly to maximise its benefits as an earned privilege and partly because in-cell electricity is not available in about 40 per cent. of accommodation and this is unlikely to change significantly for some time.

Extension of in-cell television will be broadly self-financing, with the costs of Prison Service-owned televisions and their replacement, warranties and wall brackets recovered from prisoners allowed the privilege. At present, licence fees are not payable in respect of prisoners because of Crown exemption. The Government propose to consider the practicability of a licensing arrangement for prisoners later on in the context of licensing arrangements more generally.