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Lord Harris of Greenwich: But in the meantime it is essential that the serious inadequacies disclosed in this report are corrected, and at once. No one reading either of these reports can fail to be disturbed by what has been tolerated for far too long in both of those establishments. I hope that tonight we shall hear that action, albeit belatedly, will now be taken.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I find it irresistibly tempting to say a few words and they will be only a fewin a debate on prisons initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, whose wide and deep knowledge of prisons is familiar to us all. He made one of his most deadly speeches tonight, and I am glad that I do not have to respond to it. It was a formidable indictment.
Owing to my inattention to duty, I did not realise that this debate was coming on so soon and therefore have not done what I should like to have done and what I have done before now; that is, to visit the two prisons in question. I visited Leeds Prison years ago and have visited most of the leading prisons in this country. However, I have not visited Blakenhurst. I might say in passing that I have visited The Wolds, which is a privatised prison, and have a pretty good idea of the issues involved. I shall therefore deal with these matters only briefly tonight.
As regards the issue of privatisation, I was glad to hear my noble leader for the night confirming the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Harris; that if and when a Labour Government come to power they will put all this to right. In other words, Blakenhurst will be returned to the public sector. That is good news. But I am bound to say, as I have said beforeand others have said beforethat privatisation of the prison establishment is an obscenity; I repeat, an obscenity. The idea of trying to make money, possibly for foreigners, out of helpless people under our control is revolting.
It is no good my pretending that I approach the subject of the privatisations of prisons with an unbiased mind. But one can perhaps stress one point arising out of what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said. The training is bound to be inadequate. The Government's passion for privatisation is no doubt widespread in other spheres, but in the case of prisons the specific motive is a desire to bypass the Prison Officers' Association. What does that mean in practice? It means recruiting an ignorant staff; throwing away all the knowledge and wisdom acquired over the years by the Prison Officers' Association and prison staff generally, which means we could not expect any result much better than the one indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
As regards the overcrowding at Leeds, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, we had what can only be called the "Howard revolution" in the autumn of 1993. But it is not fair to say that it is entirely the fault of Mr. Howard. He was appointed by Mr. Major who, at the same Conservative Conference, informed us that we should understand a little less about these matters. The Government have certainly lived up to that promise.
We are faced with the fact that in the Government's view prison works, and works much better in Mr. Howard's view if it is made more austere or unpleasant for prisoners. That is the Government's philosophy and the philosophy which has led to the great increase in the prison population. It is now at record levels and, according to a Home Office projection which I was reading today, it is expected to reach 56,000 some years from now. In other words, it will continue to rise if the present Government have their way.
It is obvious that there will be a lot of overcrowding in the course of the reforms and, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, it is a product of the philosophy of the Government in this last phase. When I say "the Government" I am not referring to Conservatives in general. There have been great Conservative penal reformersSir Winston Churchill, though he was a Liberal at the time, and Sir Samuel Hoare when he became president of the Howard League after being Home Secretary. Then there was Rab Butler, later Lord Butler, the noble Lord, Lord Carr, and a Minister of State like the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. They are all Conservative penal reformers. The last six Home Secretaries, with the exception of the one before Mr. Howard, may be described with a little charity as leaning towards penal reform.
But there has been a revolution. Never let us forget that we are dealing with a revolution produced by the Government as a whole, Mr. Howard being the mouthpiece since the autumn of 1993. We must expect disaster and we are duly getting it.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I must confess, and it is greatly to my discredit, that until I found myself preparing for this debate this evening, lying on my bed of pain during the day, I had never read any of Judge Stephen Tumim's reports on prisons. They are an eye opener. I had never quite understood the extent to which Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons actually go into a prison and ferret into every single
In relation to Leeds Prison, it is truly shocking that, having made a report in 1989 which was so critical of the regime at Armley at that time, the sort of macho spirit which says, "We can receive any numbers at any time: we will take them in and tame them", appears to have been the dominating ethos in the prison. In the result, Leeds took in 250 prisoners out of Wymott. It managed to open a new wing which was prepared to be opened but had never been opened. It was not prepared to spend the money to open the wing when it was really needed for the continuing care of the prisoners already under its care.
At the same time the physical conditions in Leeds Prison; the way in which a large number of prisoners are still slopping out; the degree of overcrowding; the physical conditions of the recreation area for vulnerable prisoners which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, described; the inadequacy of the education provisionnot its bad quality when it is provided, but the fact that not enough of it is being providedand many other aspects of the prison are appalling to read about. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, the situation in Blakenhurst, which should be such a shining contrast, is no contrast at all.
It is profoundly disappointing that a prison which starts up in May 1993 can be inspected in May 1994 when virtually all the custody officers (as they are called in privatised prisons) have been recruited from outside the Prison Service. I am not referring to the managers; they came from within the Prison Service. The custody officers come from outside and may be thought to be open to persuasion that there are better ways of dealing with prisoners than those which are so often current in the Prison Service. Yet still it is a deeply disappointing report. It is disappointing in the quality of the care provided, but even more, I suggest to the Government, it is deeply disappointing in the way in which the bid documentthe document which was the basis of the contract being awarded to UK Detention Servicesis being so widely flouted. Indeed, it appears only from a careful reading of the report that schedule 2 to the contract, which is the guts of it, is not a legal requirement on UK Detention Services. The company is required only to act in the spirit of schedule 2. That is stated in paragraph 2.13 of Judge Tumim's report. It is an extraordinary state of affairs that we have a legal contract, on the basis of which people are being paid to do a job, and then we find that the contract which the Government have drawn up with this private sector company does not require it to conform with the conditions laid down in its own tender document. How can the Government explain that? How can they justify that kind of relationship with the private sector?
That does not in any way get round the profound moral repugnance, which I share with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, at the idea of private companies being responsible for the compulsory detention of our fellow citizens. I gladly confirm what he said, and what my noble friend Lord Longford said, that it will be the policy of the next Labour Government that there will be no more privatised prisons and that the existing contracts for privatised prisons will not be renewed when they expire. It is both morally repugnant, and, from the point of view of contractual relationships, the policy seems to me to be profoundly wanting.
Underlying the situation in both Leeds and Blakenhurst and the reason why the Question before your Lordships this evening is more important than what is happening in either is the whole issue of overcrowding in prisons. It is the overcrowding which on the surface has led to the riots and the disturbances that have taken place in prisons; but even where riots have not erupted overcrowding has led to the bad conditions, the ineffectual regimes and the ineffective reformation being provided in our prisons. That must be laid fairly and squarely at the door of government. The Criminal Justice Act 1991 very properly set statutory restrictions on the extent to which custodial sentences should be applied. As a result of that, there was, when the Act came into force in 1992, a quite rapid drop of between 5 and 10 per cent. in a few months in the proportion of those convicted of offences being sent to prison. As a result of that, there was an actual decline in the total numbers in our prisons, to 40,000 or so in December 1992.
Then what happened? We had Mr. Howard, who thinks that prison works and is prepared to pander to the worst instincts of Conservative Party conferences by boasting of his willingness to see the expansion of prisons and to provide for the expansion of prison places, although he knows, as we all know, that one can by acting tough increase the prison population but one cannot increase the provision for the prison population anything like as fast as one can expand the numbers inside. The present plan is for six additional prisons, of which two will open in 1997. That is not much consolation for those in prison now or for those who are suffering the effects of the lack of reformatory influence in our prison system.
The former Director-General of the Prison Service, Mr. Joe Pilling, said to the Woolf Inquiry after Strangeways in 1991 that overcrowding dominated the prison system. It was correct then and it was put right to a modest extent by the 1991 Act. All of that has gone by the board. We now have an increase in the prison population from just over 40,000 to more than 50,000 in February 1995. We have 8,500 prisoners two to a cell where the cells were designed for not more than one person. We have very large numbers of prisoners in the wrong category of prisona direct cause of the Everthorpe riots in January this year. We have many prisonsthe Whitemoor prison visitors' report of last year gives evidence of thisbeing stretched to breaking point by capricious and excessive transfer and entry policies. We have riots such as that at Wymott which
One recommendation out of the 12 which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, made to the Government which was not accepted was to my mind the most important. The noble and learned Lord said that there should be a legal ceiling on the number of prisoners in individual prisons. I ask the Government to recognise that their rejection of that recommendation can be held directly responsible for so much of the trouble that has taken place in the prisons in the past two years. I can do no better than quote the noble and learned Lord in the debate on prison overcrowding on 2nd February last year. He said:
I suggest that that is a truer reflection of what our penal policy should be than the facile comment that prison works. I suggest that that is the lesson of the reports we have been reading about Leeds and Blakenhurst prisons and the justification for the noble Lord's Question.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for providing this opportunity to debate the reports of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons on Blakenhurst and Leeds prisons and to describe the action which the Prison Service is taking in response to both.
Blakenhurst is a new local prison. It is the second prison to be managed by the private sector and was the first to hold sentenced prisoners. The prison was inspected in May last year when it had been open for just one year. It would be wrong for your Lordships to go away from this debate with the impression that the inspectorate's view of Blakenhurst was a damning one. And in no sense can it be taken as a basis for an argument against private sector involvement in the Prison Service. Indeed, the reportand subsequent developmentsprovide evidence of the benefits of privately managed prisons which have led to better value for money and higher standards both in those prisons and in the public sector.
The inspectorate's overall impression of Blakenhurst was that prisoners were being held securely in good modern conditions, with staff treating them in a humane manner. The report also acknowledged the positive developments in the regime and the achievements of a committed staff who were growing in confidence during
There were, as has been said, weaknesses identified by the inspectorate. Many of these flow primarily from the newness of the prison and are being addressed as the operation of the prison beds down. The inspection team identified a need for better systems to ensure that the level of service outlined in the operational specification and tender submission for the prison are actually being provided.
The contract for Blakenhurst preceded the establishment of the Prison Service as an agency, and the subsequent introduction of performance indicators for the work of the service generally. If I may answer one of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, it is for this reason that performance measurement criteria were not included in the contract for Blakenhurst. This shortcoming has, however, now been addressed. All subsequent contracts for private sector prisons have included performance measurement criteria and they will be built into the Blakenhurst contract from May 1995, which is the beginning of the next contract year. These performance measures will enable the Prison Service to ensure that Blakenhurst continues to provide secure and humane conditions for prisoners at a competitive price to the taxpayer.
The inspection team also commented on what they considered to be inadequate systems for controlling inmates and the lack of challenge to prisoners' offending behaviour, both of which the team thought were caused by the inexperience of staff. It is common in new institutions for prisoners to test the staff. That it happened at Blakenhurst is perhaps not surprising, but it did highlight the lack of experience of some staff. The weaknesses in control early in 1994 underline the inherent difficulties in opening any new prison, whether in the public or private sector, and much has been done to rectify them.
Considerable staff resources at Blakenhurst have been concentrated on improving control and, as staff have naturally gained experience and confidence, the situation has improved greatly, as is evidenced by the dramatic drop in the number of assaults at Blakenhurst since the inspection. Prisoners' movements are carefully monitored and no prisoner is allowed to change his cell without the permission of staff. The management at Blakenhurst has also been strengthened by the appointment of an experienced prison middle manager.
The inspection team also commented that Blakenhurst was required by the Prison Service to absorb too many prisoners too quickly which did not allow a culture to develop in the prison and contributed to control problems.
Even with the provision of other new accommodation, the alternative to making full use of Blakenhurst would have been to house prisoners in police cells. That option is costly and places prisoners in accommodation with unsatisfactory conditions and facilities. It is not therefore one which ought readily to commend itself either to your Lordships or to the Prison Service.
Blakenhurst Prison has made a good start. It has overcome the problems identified in the inspection report and its performance compares favourably with the public sector. An average of 28 hours a week per prisoner are spent in constructive activity, compared to an average of 20 hours for publicly managed prisons. Prisoners are held in secure, good quality accommodation. Blakenhurst is an active, positive, well controlled prison which, at a cost of about 15 per cent. less than comparable prisons in the public sector, represents good value for money. We have had a spending pledge today of what it will cost to revert to publicly-owned prisons. No doubt that is a promise which the noble Lord is happy to make.
In terms of accommodation, Leeds Prison is in marked contrast with Blakenhurst. Leeds is an early Victorian local prison to which additional accommodation has been added over the years. There is no ducking the fact that the report on Leeds Prison is a critical one. The inspectors were concerned that conditions for both prisoners and staff were unsatisfactory. They pointed to the poor standard of the accommodation and facilities; to overcrowding; and to the failure to provide enough activity for the number of prisoners being detained. But the prison is currently undergoing the largest redevelopment programme in its history.
There have been major improvements at Leeds over the intervening years. The most important of these has been the opening in the autumn of last year of two new wings, together with a new hospital. The new wings have provided an extra 427 places complete with integral sanitation, association and facility rooms, and a new kitchen, library and gymnasium.
In addition to the two new wings, slopping out has been ended for 600 prisoners; no prisoners are held three to a cell; and new suicide awareness routines have been introduced, which have led to a significant fall in the number of suicides.
In addition to these improvements, a major redevelopment programme, on which the substantial improvements to both the conditions and the regime at Leeds largely depend, is currently under way. The main elements of the redevelopment are the refurbishment of the four Victorian wings; the provision of a new inmate activity building; and the construction of a new entry complex, which will include new reception and visiting areas, and a new communications centre and administration unit. As I said, this work has already started. The prison's A wing was taken out of commission for full refurbishment, including the provision of integral sanitation, in January this year and is due to become operational again in February 1996.
Plans are also advanced for the refurbishment of C and D wings. Work on these wings will start in February 1996 and will be completed around the end of 1997. Again the refurbished cells will all have integral sanitation.
This programme of work is a clear signal of the Prison Service's commitment to complete the refurbishment of Leeds, and to bring its accommodation up to a fully acceptable standard, and to do so as quickly as possible. The work which has already been completed has cost over £33 million, and the remaining work is likely to cost a further £20 million. This level of investment is evidence of the priority that the Prison Service attaches to Leeds.
It is really very unfortunate that neither of the two Front Bench noble Lords opposite thought fit to make any reference whatever to this substantial programme of work.
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