Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Juliet Lyon, Director of The Prison Reform Trust

  As you, know, since the Home Affairs Committee reported on Blantrye House, the Prison Service has issued an order to governors on resettlement of prisoners and the Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation have published their joint thematic review of resettlement. If I may, I should like our submission to focus in the main on context. Our concern essentially is that in the current climate of rising prison numbers and severe overcrowding it will be difficult for many prisons to comply with more than the spirit of the Order much less implement the Inspectors' recommendations.

Closeness to Home

  Over 11,000 prisoners are held more than 100 miles from their court of committal. Visits to prisons have dropped by approximately one third over the last two years. Given research evidence that shows that maintaining family contact is a vital element in resettlement and preventing future offending, the Prison Reform Trust would like to see a key performance indicator established on closeness to home. How does the Service propose to hold people closer to home and to increase opportunities for links with family and friends?

Resettlement Prisons and Resettlement Units

  Of the 68,000 people in prisons, fewer than 30 are serving whole life tariffs. Despite positive outcomes from Blantyre House and Kirklevington Grange in particular, there are still only three resettlement prisons as such. Resettlement units, like the one at Send prison, have yet to be evaluated from the perspective of the prisoners, the employers and the Service. What plans does the Service have to extend and evaluate resettlement prisons and units across England and Wales?

Housing Opportunities

  NACRO estimates that 43 per cent of women will be homeless on release from prison. For all prisoners having a roof over their heads is key to successful resettlement. At a local level housing departments appear to be making no financial contribution to, and have little involvement with, youth offending teams, much less with prisons. In what ways is the Service engaging with Housing at government level to create the necessary support networks for prisoners?

Active Citizenship by Prisoners

  PRT has just completed a survey of volunteering and active citizenship by prisoners. Our findings show a patchy picture across the prison estate with some prisons enabling prisoners to take significant responsibility for themselves and helping others, whilst there is little or no such activity in other prisons with similar security classifications. What steps can the Service take to extend opportunities for volunteering and active citizenship by prisoners as a counter to institutionalisation and dependency?

Resettlement Needs of Short Term Prisoners

  Although short term prisoners are a minority, under 20 per cent of the prison population at any one time, the high turnover means that they make up the majority 65 per cent of prisoners released each year. Overcrowding is at its highest in large local prisons and little is done to respond to the resettlement needs of short-termers. Wandsworth prison is working with PRT and the St Giles Trust to try and address this issue locally. What plans does the Service have to aid the resettlement of short term prisoners? When will the Social Exclusion Unit publish its recommendations on this subject?

Purposeful Activity

  Despite considerable efforts by the Service to increase purposeful activity and to develop constructive programmes in prisons, Home Office figures for 2000-01 present a dismal picture. Purposeful activity over the last 10 years has increased by just 10 minutes per prisoner per day. Of particular concern are the figures which show that only 786 people completed sex offender treatment programmes leaving a further 4,000 sex offenders without treatment. In what ways does the Service propose to increase levels of purposeful activity for prisoners and constructive preparation for release?

Population Management

  Transfers at short notice and the re-roling of prisons on a hurried timescale make a nonsense of resettlement planning. Would the Home Affairs Select Committee consider meeting to discuss the overcrowding crisis facing the Prison Service and examine measures which could be taken by Government to reduce the size of the prison population?

November 2001

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