§ 7.44 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of their welcome for the 3rd report (Session 1997–98) of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee recommending greater use of alternatives to prison (HL Deb, 19th October, col. 1172), what steps they intend to take to give effect to the report.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am asking the Government whether they will take steps to give effect to the report of the all-party Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. The committee made a number of recommendations, but above all called for a great reduction in the prison population and much greater use of alternative services.
§ It is always an honour to open a debate in this House. Tonight, I salute the eminence of the official Front Bench speaker. I cannot help thinking that there are three other speakers of special interest. I cannot discuss penal questions without bringing in morality, and one cannot bring in morality without bringing in Christianity. If we want Christianity explained to us, that will be done shortly. Also, we are to hear a speaker who is closely associated with the present Home Secretary. The Home Secretary is a Christian Socialist. I do not know about my other noble friend who is to speak but presumably we have a first-hand spokesman for the Home Secretary. Either he has been making up the Home Secretary's mind over the past few years or the Home Secretary has been making up his mind. Either way, we are lucky to have him on the list of speakers. Then there is the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, son of a famous Home Secretary—who would of course be horrified by the later manifestations of Conservative policy represented by Mr. Michael Howard. So we have three eminent unofficial speakers and eminent people who will speak officially.
§ We cannot discuss this question without reflecting yet again on the extraordinary change in penal policy introduced by Mr. Michael Howard when he became 157 Home Secretary, with the full approval of the Cabinet. I do not want to seem too personal. When I met Mr. Michael Howard the other day, he was very generous. He said he did not bear any malice against me. He did not regard my remarks about him as personal. So I can therefore go forward and say boldly that he introduced what is regarded in history as the Howardite revolution. I hasten to say that it was a revolution in the wrong direction. What was the result? There was an increase in the prison population. In four years it increased by 50 per cent. although overall crime was decreasing. If you wanted to achieve something notable in this world, you could not achieve much more than that, could you?
§ It might be asked whether there was any justification for that revolution. I suppose that one justification was that it was popular. Many people do not know much about prisons and do not like prisoners. So in that sense it went quite well. When Labour came into office, a programme was announced and our policy was to be "tough on crime". That sounds very much like Howardism. It was announced along with a statement about being tough on the causes of crime. That was a far-reaching objective. For a time, that seemed to be what we were doing: we carried forward Howardism. The present Home Secretary—a good Christian Socialist, for which I admire him—wrote an article in The Times seeming to prefer the views of his constituents (the man in the pub or the street) to the express views of experts.
§ But more recently there have been helpful developments. More money has been made available for prisons. It is hard to know how much difference that is going to make if the prison population greatly increases, but on that subject there are encouraging signs. In the 26 pages of the Home Office reply they say that for a long time the prison population was escalating but that now it has slowed down and that recently there has even been some diminution in the prison population. Is that the result of policy? Certain steps have been taken and they have had some slight effect. The real question, however, is whether the atmosphere will be completely altered.
§ The Government are inclined to say, "We cannot alter the prison population, given the amount of crime. That is for the judges". That is not quite good enough. When all is said and done, in the age of Howard, in spite of the decrease in total crime, the prison population increased. The atmosphere was completely altered by the policy of Michael Howard, supported by the Cabinet. That policy was in contradiction to that of earlier Home Secretaries, including, going back some way, that of the father of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, who will be speaking later. It had been a long trend of a policy which had reduced the prison population down to just over 45,000. Then Michael Howard came along and, by some means or other and no drastic legislation, it was increased by 50 per cent. A new message was issued: "Prison works". We have to pause for a moment to ask ourselves about the meaning of that.158
§ On the face of it, prison would only work if there were to be an enormous increase in the prison population and an enormous expenditure on prisons—prison staff and buildings. As no one thinks that, however, the idea that prison works and therefore that the prison population should be increased means that in practice the standards in prisons are deteriorating. The whole idea of rehabilitating prisoners is abandoned. Nearly everybody, including the all-party Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, has abandoned the idea of "Prison works"—have abandoned Howardism. I am therefore asking the Government to make it as clear as possible that they have abandoned the Howardite dream of prison working.
§ The Home Secretary is a brilliant Minister. I am bound to say that if I were ever in trouble—and it can often happen even to the oldest of us—however bad my case was, he would look after it; he would see that some extraordinary excuse was produced for me.
§ The Earl of Longford
At any rate, he would put some rosy face on the issue.
Nevertheless, he now has no excuse. For a long time Mr. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary—a good Christian Socialist—was committed to this idea of prison working. He never said "Prison works", but said "Tough on crime". Now there is a change of tone. He gave a very good lecture not long ago to the Prison Reform Trust and it raised our hopes. Now we have this all-party committee on which even the most reactionary Conservative MPs seem to be represented. Now he has no excuse for not setting out to try to reduce the prison population.
How is he to do that? Reading their own 26-page document, it is not at all clear but I think that one can be hopeful. In that document they point out the tremendous escalation in the prison population. Until recently it was reckoned that the prison population would be doubled between 1993 and 2005. Today we are told that the Government welcome this report. I am therefore asking them in the clearest possible way what are they going to do about it? I wonder. It stands at the bar.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Wakefield
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for giving us the opportunity for this debate. His long record of perseverance on matters of prison reform and his courage, so clearly rooted in his Christian faith, are admired not only on these Benches but also by many Members of your Lordships' House.
There are in the cathedral city of Wakefield two major prisons: one in the city centre, for men; one just outside the city, at New Hall, for women. I have visited them both often. To take a celebration of Holy 159 Communion in those prisons, and particularly on a Christmas morning, is one of the most moving experiences that I have in my ministry.
There is no doubt, though, that in both of those prisons there are people who, for the security of the community and for their own good, need to be there. Especially in the women's prison, from my own observations and from the stories I pick up from chaplains and senior prison officers, I know that there are enormous frustrations felt by the prison staff at not being able to concentrate on what they see to be their main role: that of looking after those inmates who clearly do have to be in prison.
We in the Church in our pastoral roles, often have to pick up the pieces. This happens when, for example, by putting a woman in prison, her whole family is effectively imprisoned too and becomes dysfunctional, and then another chain of events is set in motion, sometimes leading sooner or later to the custody of yet other members of that same family.
Sir David Ramsbotham's assertion that around 70 per cent. of female prisoners do not need to be there may sound over-robust, but I suspect that he may be right. Incidentally, Sir David Ramsbotham is the son of a previous Bishop of Wakefield. That ecclesiastical connection is quite appropriate because the Church of England, as your Lordships will know, has long been involved in prison welfare and in recent years has taken a particular interest in prison reform, alongside other denominations. Why? Because of Christian belief in the dignity of humankind made in the image of God; because of Our Lord's clear concern and prophetic message for those who, in all kinds of ways, were captives; and because of the social concern for justice within the whole community which rightly lies at the heart of the Church's witness.
The Board for Social Responsibility of the Church of England made a written submission to the inquiry, which led to the report from the Home Affairs Committee. That submission emphasised another aspect which I suggest has to be taken seriously if the Government really do intend to make greater use of alternatives to prison. It concerns the inadequacy of the level of resources for caring for young offenders under the age of 21. We in the Churches welcomed the proposed arrangements in the then Crime and Disorder Bill for effective supervision of identified offenders and preventive measures for those at risk. However, as your Lordships recognise, they require an increase in resources. There is no other way, in the light of the huge number of offenders who are unemployed, without formal academic qualifications, on drugs, have previously been in care, are from disturbed family backgrounds, or have diagnosable mental disorders.
What a tragic irony it is that at the very time when, over the past decade, the problems were increasing, the funding available for youth and community workers declined substantially and child and adolescent mental health services were significantly withdrawn. An eminent American criminologist, Jerry Miller, wrote some years ago about what happens, not least in terms of custodial sentencing, when resources decline and options available are few: 160The less the resource, the more punishment was seen as beneficial for the youth. When the person making the diagnosis is aware of the variety of alternatives or non-institutional options for treatment and handling, he or she gives less extreme, less rigid and less restrictive diagnosis. Wanting this, the diagnosis becomes more judgmental and punitive".The experience of youth workers, teachers, chaplains and community workers in the Church of England echoes that. It has been a constant feature of recent years that young people in trouble have been denied resources which would have been beneficial for them and saved many from custodial sentences.
So, in applauding the Government's priority in fighting youth crime, I hope that the Minister will agree with the warning in the report:It would be unfortunate if the agencies charged with this fight were unable to do so because of insufficient resources".Certainly, the Government's response to the report and its recognition of resource implications in the youth justice Bill are encouraging. Maybe the Minister can be encouraged to be even firmer than—I hope he will forgive me for this—the rather pale admission in paragraph 102 of the Government's response to the report that,Some additional resources may be needed".I turn now to the contribution of voluntary workers in meeting the needs of young offenders and providing options which are alternatives to prison. I note the welcome emphasis made by the Minister in your Lordships' House on 10th December, when he referred to,the importance of the voluntary organisations … which do so much good in this field".—[Official Report, 10/12/98; col. 1027.]That assurance from the Minister is very encouraging. Certainly the Churches are willing to play their part, not least ecumenically. As restorative projects grow for justice, as set out in the new youth justice Bill, I am sure that co-operation with the Government which is encouraged by the Minister will grow.
There is no shortage of good examples of such voluntary work: the youth offender institutes, schemes in London and Newcastle of mentoring young people and initiatives like the Langley House Trust, working with young people in drug rehabilitation centres in Lancashire and the West Midlands.
On the subject of drugs, I commend the initiative of the special drugs courts which have been pioneered in my city of Wakefield, where people are sentenced to drug treatment rather than to custodial sentences. One young lad in Wakefield who was sentenced by the magistrates to such non-custodial treatment has said that as a result of the treatment he feels able, for the first time in his life, to relate to other people. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury put it in his Prison Reform Lecture:The language of justice [must be] dominated by the aim of restoring broken relationships".
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Lord Taverne
My Lords, I too welcome the debate and its introduction by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I have also long admired his approach to prison reform; he has always been willing to swim against the tide and 161 go against popular opinion when it was intolerant. At one stage for a while I was a Home Office Minister. I learnt that a good Home Secretary from time to time must go against public opinion when it shows itself not only to be intolerant but to be crying out for remedies which are totally self-defeating.
I do not claim to speak with any particular expertise, I shall concentrate on one aspect: prison and drug addiction. I speak with a special interest. I am chairman of a charity concerned with the treatment of drug abuse called ADAPT. The initials stand for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment. What I shall say is based on a session I had with about 20 former patients of the charity who had given up drugs after treatment. They talked frankly about their lives in the presence of a journalist. They were men and women aged between 25 and 35, mainly men. Most had spent almost all their adult life in prison. In some cases they had been addicts before they went to prison and in other cases they had been confirmed in their addiction while there.
One matter on which they were all agreed is that it is always easy to get drugs in gaol. I believe that is fairly generally accepted now. It helps to pass the boredom of a long sentence. They stated that there was an acceptance of it by the prison staff who were only too happy to see a prison quiet and sedated. Occasionally there would be searches of cells, but that was strictly for show, it was signalled well in advance, everyone knew which cell would be searched and nothing would be found.
I do not say that that is necessarily the case. I report what the former patients said, on which they all agreed. Some first became addicted to heroin and other hard drugs in gaol, and none of them in that group would ever confess in prison that they were addicts. If they were, they would be sent to the hospital wing. So far as they were concerned, that wing was full of weirdos and loonies and they certainly would not want to go there. Much better to do your time quietly and under the influence of drugs. That does not suggest that any cure for addiction based essentially on treatment in prison is likely to be successful.
When those people left prison, they would have enough cash to get their first bit of "gear", as they called it. They all knew where to find dealers and, after that first shot, life became a perpetual hunt to try to steal enough for the next shot. The Select Committee in the Home Office stated that on average those people needed about £80 a day. The figure which we use on the whole is that they tend to need about £100 a day. That means they must steal about £300; so on average the cost to the nation of a drug addict is in the nature of £100,000 a year.
It is the view of many policemen to whom I have spoken that 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of crimes are in some way drug-related. That is not inconsistent with the report of the Select Committee which stated that the Probation Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers found that the addicts known to them committed about one-quarter of all recorded crime. They know only a small proportion of the total number of addicts.
162 The group of people also stated that until they had their fix, they were not human. As the right reverend Prelate said, they cannot relate to anyone, they are totally obsessed. It is not that they hate people or society. Those who have been cured are normal and pleasant people. It is just that they could not feel or act like normal people except for a short time after they had had their fix. If they were lucky, they might steal something worth thousands of pounds which fell off the back of a lorry. That meant that they could have a few days in which they could deal in drugs to support their habit rather than steal. Of course, if they were caught they were classified as dealers and inevitably went to gaol.
Most of them only came to look for treatment when they became desperate. They were from broken families, they were mothers who had lost their children, people who realised that all their friends were dying and they would be dead unless something was done. Then something finally makes them seek treatment. It is only when they really wish to have treatment that it is likely to be effective.
The lessons seem clear. First, prison is the worst way of dealing with addicts and yet—perhaps because of the pressure of public opinion—many magistrates and some judges still insist on prison in the case of addicts. There have been cases where someone was out on bail, successfully completed their course, had to go back before the magistrate or the judge because they had been on bail, and were then sentenced to prison. Of course, all the good work was immediately undone.
The second clear conclusion is that money invested in treatment—especially in residential treatment, which can be surprisingly successful—pays for itself in spades. It saves lives, it prevents the misery of the addict, the misery of the addict's family and the misery of the addict's victims. It could save society hundreds of millions of pounds.
My third conclusion is that at present the priorities are still wrong. Last year saw a decrease in the number of residential places which were available for treatment. Several residential homes had to close for lack of funds. That really is a disgrace.
Fourthly, the process of obtaining treatment and getting a local authority to agree to spend the money is extremely tortuous and slow. It need not cost any money for this treatment to be more sensibly devised. If local authorities do agree to pay for somebody's treatment, the payment is often slow and very late. There are many charities, including our own, which are caused acute cash flow problems.
Fortunately, the Government are beginning to recognise the problem. There will be more funds available after April, which is extremely good news. I am not sure that there is an effective cost benefit in the spending of funds because money spent on drug treatment is so much more effective than money spent on prisons. I am not sure that the Government have really sufficiently grasped that spending a few more million pounds on the new development of sentencing people to residential and other forms of treatment is a much better way of dealing with crime than building more prisons or sending addicts to gaol.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, I believe that the Government deserve enormous credit for the way they have begun the process of re-establishing confidence in community sentences. In considering the Government's response to the Home Affairs Committee's report, it is important to bear in mind the very difficult situation that the Government inherited in 1997. At that time the infrastructure for constructive regimes inside and outside prisons had been badly damaged. I can say this with considerable confidence having entered the Home Office in May 1997 as the Home Secretary's policy advisor. It was not unlike a US cavalry force relieving a beleaguered fort in a John Wayne film.
The previous government had failed to match the Prison Service's funding to their rhetoric about "prison works". The present government have delivered their manifesto pledge to audit prison service funding and, in July 1997, added more than £40 million to the prison budget.
In 1997 constructive regimes had been reduced and preparation for early release curtailed. The Probation Service budget had been cut and its professional qualification had been abolished. Sentencers had been encouraged to opt for longer sentences, irrespective of whether the Prison Service was funded to cope. Average sentence length increased in Crown Courts from 21 months to 24 months between 1992 and 1997. The Audit Commission's perceptive analysis of the failings of the youth justice system had been dismissed by the previous Home Office Ministers. The Chief Inspector of Prisons has drawn attention to the shortcomings of strategy and practice in his thematic reports on young offenders and women prisoners.
This is the background against which we have to consider the Government's response to the Home Affairs Committee report. Of course there are shortcomings in the Probation Service but these cannot be put right by inadequate funding and denigration, which is what it has suffered in recent years. The Probation Service now recognises that its primary duty is to protect society and that it has to work closely with the Prison Service and police in discharging this responsibility. Most people in the Probation Service now appreciate that evidence-based practice is essential, and the guide on this issue, which was issued by the Home Office and published last October, will foster effective practice. The Probation Service knows that community sentences have to be enforced if sentencer and public confidence are to be maintained. I am pleased to have played a part in restoring the Probation Service's professional qualification in the form of the new Diploma in Probation Studies.
These changes are critical to producing effective alternatives to prison, along with the realistic budgets that the Government are now restoring to the Probation Service. Without this restoration of morale and greater clarity of purpose we cannot have a credible strategy for community punishment. Everybody is impatient for change but time is needed to restore the damage done in the period before 1997.
164 One of the most encouraging features of the past 18 months has been the Government's willingness to expand the use of electronic monitoring as an alternative deprivation of liberty to prison. The introduction of home detention curfews and the national roll-out of curfew orders with electronic monitoring present the opportunity to reduce the unnecessary use of prison that has been a feature of our recent past. We need to explore how technology can be used more as an alternative to bricks and mortar for curbing liberty and an alternative to prison and punishment for offending behaviour.
Two areas that I should like to see considered are those of secure remands for juveniles and day prisons for women and some male offenders. There is a danger of swamping secure facilities for juveniles with secure remands. With national roll-out of electronic monitoring the opportunity will be there to make greater use of it, through youth offending teams, as an alternative to very expensive secure remands, which can cost £2,000 to £3,000 a week.
I remain unconvinced by the rapid increase in recent years in prison sentences for women. The female prison population increased by over 70 per cent. between 1992 and 1997, double the male rate of increase. Many of these women were sentenced for drug offences and the consequences for the families of these women, especially their children, are rarely fully understood and measured. I believe we have to look for alternatives to conventional custodial sentences for many of these female offenders.
I accept fully the Government's response that weekend prison is unlikely to be viable. However, I should like to see a willingness to experiment with using electronic monitoring to curtail movement at home and to ensure attendance at day facilities where programmes for tackling drug dependency and offending behaviour could be provided. These community approaches might be a better alternative for many female and male offenders involved in drug related offences.
The new detention and training order for juveniles under the Crime and Disorder Act could provide a model for new sentences for adults with part of the sentence served in prison and part in community supervision. The successful introduction of the home detention curfew would make this easier and more publicly acceptable. There is no particular reason why, for many offenders, courts should not order sentences with a short custodial element to bring home the seriousness of the offence but with the bulk of the sentence served under community supervision, with compulsory participation in drug treatment programmes and other programmes for tackling offending behaviour.
Finally, I want to say a few words about sentences. The Times yesterday carried a report headed "English judges getting tougher". This was based on a report on international comparisons on criminal justice being compiled by NACRO. It shows that after American judges, English judges impose the stiffest sentences. We need to build up the credibility of alternatives to prison so that courts have the confidence to use them without 165 fear of losing public credibility and the kind of tongue-lashings they occasionally received from Ministers before 1997.
Major improvements have been made by the Government as their response to the report of the Home Affairs Committee shows, but this country still has more people in prison and for longer periods than is necessary for public protection. Over time we need to shift the balance further towards strictly enforced and demanding community alternatives if we are to reduce re-offending.
§ 8.20 p.m.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Earl for initiating this debate on such an important subject and pay tribute to his unceasing work in this field over such a long period, including his founding chairmanship of the charity The New Bridge, which does excellent and innovative work to improve the lot of prisoners and the community. I fear that future generations and their historians will look back in horror at our penal system and the way we treat those who are locked up in our prisons. We lock up not only murderers and rapists and other dangerous criminals but also fine defaulters, people who have committed an error of judgment on our roads, or elsewhere, which have resulted in serious accidents, the mentally ill and disordered who have often been let down by our health system and very many others for whom prison will do no good and whose presence in prison will produce no benefit to society.
Under the present system we let out some of our most dangerous criminals when they are at least as dangerous as when they went in, to the consternation of the societies to which they return. Such criminals need humane but secure accommodation, not as punishment but to protect the public and themselves. What is required is the possibility to impose the sentence "until safe to release". But for the majority of others prison is expensive, damaging and often counter-productive. Alternative sentences, suitably resourced, are desperately needed. Equally important as their development is the need to sell them to the public. They must be seen by the public as being both relevant and appropriate. A proper publicity campaign needs to be mounted to explain and expound alternative sentences as they are developed, as I trust they will be. The depth of the public's misconceptions in this area is revealed by the British Crime Survey. This has been blamed on the media and the way that crime stories are treated. But one would have thought that more could be done by the Home Office to keep the public abreast of the facts as they relate to crime and punishment. At present some sentencing seems to be geared more to placating the victims or their families' rage. While that is understandable, surely it is not a reason for blighting further lives when often a simple mistake has had disastrous consequences. There have been some honourable exceptions to this tendency where victims' families have shown great support for the culprits.
I hope that in the long term prison will be confined largely to those criminals who pose a continuing danger to the public and that alternative sentences will be found for the rest. These must not be soft or easily ignored. It 166 may be said that the deterrent effect will be lost, but by far the greatest deterrent for crimes where a calculation of benefit is made is the likelihood of being caught. For very many crimes committed in passion or when drunk or drugged or in rage deterrence is irrelevant and sentencing should concentrate on curing the problem rather than, as is so often the case, adding to it by time spent in prison. It appears that criminals come out of prisons better equipped as criminals, are more likely to be on drugs, and to have serious diseases. The pressure of numbers means that the system is too stretched to provide much rehabilitation that may alleviate these problems. In addition, their families may have been broken up. Society therefore suffers on all fronts. I hope that the Government will see it as worthwhile to put major resources behind the search for and development of alternatives to prison.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Viscount Tenby
My Lords, I too join the chorus of thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the recent admirable report of the Home Affairs Committee on alternatives to prison sentences and, with the figure of 66,000 always before our eyes, to hear the Government's thoughts on this vital subject. As long as the noble Earl patrols his particular patch, there is little danger of the prison system being taken for granted and no chance whatsoever for self-congratulation on the part of the Prison Service or whatever government happen to be in power at the time.
In addition to expressing pleasure that the Minister is to wind up this short debate, I congratulate him on his stamina. As far as can be ascertained he will have played a leading role in nearly all of today's business other than the taking of Prayers. I can assure him that I shall be studying the ordination list for the Church of Wales with more than usual interest in the months to come.
I have a particular interest in this subject. Indeed, I made my maiden speech many years ago on this topic in a debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale, whose expertise and wise judgment in this area command respect on all sides of this House. I also recall ruefully that on such an important subject it was particularly difficult to abide by the convention of impartiality normally observed on such occasions. Since that time there have been some improvements and the readiness with which the Government have responded to the very real problems highlighted in the report leads me to hope that there will be more in the near future.
While it is true that the number of people imprisoned for non-payment of fines, for example, has declined markedly in recent years, the fact remains that we are still sending far too many offenders to prison who do not have to be there and who will suffer as a result of being there. I hasten to add that I exclude from these remarks any sentencing policy related to repeat offenders which may have been floated earlier today. Although steps are being taken to draw up national sentencing guidelines, too often what is received by way of sentence in the lower courts in particular is something of a lottery. For example, why should theft in the North West attract a prison sentence but not in the home 167 counties? The very essence of local justice is that it should take account of local circumstances, but only so far.
The only practical way of reducing the prison population is to have viable alternatives. In the time available I propose to concentrate on one of the most important of these alternatives: the community service order (CSO). The report identifies weaknesses in the system as it now is and the action that needs to be taken to rectify the situation. First, it is clear that the information relating to the success or otherwise of CSOs just is not there, although, disappointingly, there appears to be an indication that recidivism is as common among ex-CSO offenders as among those who receive custodial sentences. If this is irrefutably the case, we need to know why, and the sooner the better.
Secondly, according to a 1995 Home Office study, the record of CSO placement visits by sentencers is abysmal: 26 per cent. of JPs and judges, with only 7 per cent. recorded for stipendiary magistrates. Speaking from recent experience as a magistrate on what I would categorise as a go-ahead bench, I can testify to never having been given the opportunity to go on such a visit—I was unaware of anyone else who did—whereas prison visits were an annual feature of the training year, and rightly so.
I hear murmurings in the report that judges are busy people and they may not be able to find the time to do this. However, community service work for the most part takes place on Saturdays. Magistrates are busy people who hold down other jobs and frequently must work in their spare time. I make that point for what it is worth. We are promised that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice will draw the attention of judges to this important duty. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will do the same for stipendiaries and magistrates. I should be grateful for assurances from the Minister that that exercise will be monitored closely.
Thirdly, the public perception of such orders prompted, it must be said, by the tabloid press in its silliest mood, is that making such an order amounts to an easy option for offenders compared with anything else other than, perhaps, probation itself. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice pointed out, the very title "community service order" and the implication in some quarters that its execution represents some sort of voluntary contribution to society is profoundly mistaken. It is not a piece of voluntary work and a title like "criminal work order" would be far more appropriate.
The report draws attention also to the deplorable use of the word "client" in some extreme cases. What a load of modern codswallop—I apologise for the unparliamentary language. Since when did the words "criminal" and "offender" become no-go areas?
Lastly, I deal with the important subject of breaches of such orders. Failure to deal with those promptly and adequately only confirms the public's view that the whole thing is a con and a soft option and, in any event, defeats the purpose of the original sentence. If the police are unable to serve warrants, then with a heavy heart 168 I seek an assurance from the Minister that trials with private security firms will be put in hand as a matter of urgency. I also ask the Minister to comment on the possibility of including a new offence—that of deliberately breaching a CSO—in the next criminal justice Bill, which will surely be coming as predictably as the leaf fall next autumn, alongside other goodies like transferring to magistrates the decision on mode of trial in each-way cases. The Minister knows that that is a preoccupation of mine. Some of us look forward to that with relish.
I have no time to mention fines, but roll on hypothecation, I say, and the incentive for courts to collect promptly. Nor am I able to mention the tragic mothballing of the suspended sentence other than by a few adventurous sentencers in favourable circumstances.
I conclude by referring to another preoccupation of mine in the area of detention of young offenders. I do not refer to the secure training centre, that ill-judged venture of the previous Administration, as we are now at last, sadly, seeing in Kent; nor yet the young offenders' institution. I am referring to secure local accommodation. I am considerably heartened by the Government's response to the report when they observe in their publication No More Excuses:The Government believes that present arrangements for the provision and management of secure accommodation are inefficient and incoherent and in need of reform".Amen to that. We need more local secure accommodation urgently as a practical and proved alternative to STCs and YOIs. We need them all to conform to rigorous national standards and we need regular inspections to ensure that they do.
I welcome this constructive all-party report and I welcome too what I detect is a readiness by this Government to take account of the undoubted weaknesses in the system which it highlights. Like all of us taking part in this debate, we look for a substantial drop in the prison population, allied to a more effective use of resources in the provision of alternatives to custody.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I apologise for having missed the noble Earl's contribution. I was delayed at another meeting. I hope that he will forgive me as I forgave him when he last postponed this debate.
The noble Earl is right to raise this issue once again. The Home Affairs Committee has produced its report and we now have the Government's response to it. The noble Earl will have seen that I included my concern about prison overcrowding when I spoke on health and home affairs during the debate on the Queen's Speech. I do not wish to rehearse the arguments again in the time available to me. However, I take this opportunity to identify areas where the present Government have a distinct approach to criminal justice matters as compared with their predecessors.
We can all be critical of prison overcrowding, and rightly so, because if there is one matter which concerns all practitioners in the criminal justice system, it is the 169 end product of that system; namely, prisons. The Home Secretary has adopted a more constructive line than the previous Home Secretary, Michael Howard, in relation to the prison population. But whether all his actions will mean a reduction in the prison population has yet to be seen. For his sake, I hope that he will achieve such a reduction.
There are a number of areas which need to be highlighted. He has dropped Michael Howard's "prison works" rhetoric which encouraged the courts to imprison so many more offenders. He is introducing a system of early release of short-term prisoners under electronic tagging, which should reduce the prison population by about 3,000 when it is introduced in January.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for raising that matter. However, I have a concern about that which I raised earlier in a question to the Minister. About 50 per cent. of people who sleep rough in London alone are youngsters who are involved in the criminal justice process. Those people will not benefit from electronic tagging because no system has yet been developed which can help them in terms of early release from the prison situation.
The Home Secretary is introducing a new drug treatment and testing order which should certainly be a better option than imprisonment for drug-addicted offenders. He is also encouraging the probation service to develop supervision programmes based on the evidence of what works best in reducing re-offending. He is also planning to legislate for shorter time limits for the pre-trial process, which should reduce the population of prisoners on remand.
Of course, we should like the Government to go further and argue strongly and clearly that the courts are over-using prisons and that they should be used much less. I explain why that is necessary. Let us look at the sentencing climate. It is now well established that sentencers' decisions can be affected by the media and the political climate. It is possible for Ministers to talk up or talk down the prison population. The last Home Secretary's "prison works" rhetoric helped to do the former.
It is important that Ministers should continue to devote high profile speeches to the case for greater use of rigorous but constructive community sentences. They must highlight the case for particular types of community sentences; for example, drug treatment orders, cognitive skills and anger management programmes, reparation and community service and programmes geared to women offenders. If such speeches are sold to the media by the familiar techniques of trailing them beforehand and highlighting the key points to the media on the day, that can help promote a more balanced climate. That effort needs to be sustained over a considerable period of time.
Let us look at what sort of information is available to sentencers. Sentencers see their failures in that those who re-offend return to court, sometimes repeatedly, for further offences. However, courts do not see their successes. They do not see those who do not re-offend again after community or financial penalties. If 170 sentencers' confidence in community sentences is to be increased, it is important that they receive more systematic feed-back on the success of individuals whom they and their colleagues have sentenced and on the overall success rates of local community supervision programmes. Sentencers should also receive regular information on the problems which current levels of imprisonment are causing for local penal establishments. I strongly urge the Minister to use area criminal justice liaison committees for that purpose.
Community sentences are rightly an alternative to custodial arrangements. While the research on what works is still far from comprehensive, there is now a sufficient body of evidence to indicate that some types of community supervision programme are more effective than others in reducing re-offending.
The Home Office should build on the excellent work of the Chief Inspector of Probation by drawing up a "national curriculum" of the most effective types of community supervision programmes and taking steps to ensure that those are available to courts in all areas.
I should fail in my duty were I to miss out two groups of people who require special consideration when sentencing is considered. Let me first refer to women prisoners. The number of women in prison has more than doubled in the last six years. Sending a woman to prison not only punishes the offender but is also likely to have a damaging effect on her children. Whatever the reason for the dramatic increase in the number of women in prison—and more analysis of the reasons is needed—it cannot be true that there are now twice as many women as five years ago from whom society has to be protected. The "national curriculum" of community sentences should pay special attention to ensuring that there is adequate provision of programmes which can provide a realistic alternative to custody for women.
Finally, with regard to our approach to mentally disordered offenders, a large number of mentally disordered people are held in prison service establishments. They should not be there, but ought instead to be in hospital or to receive the care and treatment they need in the community. There is a need to build upon and expand existing schemes for psychiatric assessment at police stations and courts, to divert mentally disordered offenders from the prison system into the health services, and to improve the speed with which prisoners who have slipped through these nets can be transferred from prison to hospital. A number of pilot projects have demonstrated that diversion programmes have an important role to play.
I thank the noble Earl again, but I have no doubt that the Minister whose responsibilities now include prisons is as keen as many of us to ensure that prisons have clear objectives and are used only when no other alternatives are available. It is in all our interests to see that we have a manageable prison population. Building more prisons is not the answer.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Viscount Bridgeman
My Lords, I join with others in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for initiating 171 this debate. His deep concern for and interest in the penal environment in this country is a subject of great admiration. We are fortunate indeed to have the benefit of his wisdom and experience in this House on these matters.
The need continually to seek alternative treatment to the essentially negative effect of prisons has been sensitively and sincerely treated by all sides of this House; but may I, on the practical side, say that we on these Benches are acutely aware that the pressure on both costs and accommodation in this country's prisons cannot be ignored. We are convinced that for serious offenders a prison sentence remains the only effective punishment. There is no doubt, too, as poll after poll has shown, that the public support proper sentencing and any perceived easing will drastically undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system.
We do welcome the initiative of the Home Secretary today in his decision to implement the dictum "the third burglary means prison". Nevertheless it is essential that alternatives to prison sentences must be considered and these have been dealt with in detail in this debate tonight: probation, community service, attendance sentence orders, compensation, confiscation orders, cautioning with restorative justice and fines, and so forth.
It so happens that today we see the introduction of electronic tagging under the Crime and Disorder Act, a subject to which the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has referred. We support electronic tagging. This was somewhat slow to be accepted by the police, but it has now gained wide acceptance. There must, however, be a note of concern, which is that tagging is in danger of being used as a way of releasing prisoners early. For instance, prisoners hitherto sentenced to six months' imprisonment could expect to serve three months in prison and then be discharged. Under the current electronic tagging arrangements, provided that their application for tagging is granted, they will serve only six weeks in prison and then six weeks being electronically tagged, and will be released thereafter.
However, I welcome it in one particular respect. The use of tagging for young prisoners on remand—a subject to which the noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred—can mean that some, at least, are not thereby sent to adult prisons: the worst possible location for a young remand prisoner. This, I know, is a concern of the noble Lord.
I hesitate to lecture such a distinguished member of the Criminal Bar as the Minister, but if alternative sentencing is indeed to assist in deterring an offender from committing future crimes, or in protecting the public, or as an example to others, then it must be seen in that light. Alternative sentencing must not be driven solely by consideration of cost or of overcrowding, and it most certainly must not come to be regarded as a backdoor to an easier life for the prisoners. So in that light I seek a reassurance from the Minister that, notwithstanding all the alternatives to custody which the Government have the right and duty to evaluate, that they still accept that for serious crimes there is no alternative to a prison sentence.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I readily give that assurance. I think the Home Secretary has said it more times than I can recall. I have said it myself. For some serious offenders prison is necessary in the public interest: for deterrence, for punishment and for the protection of the public. The central duty of any government, let alone any Home Secretary, is the protection of the public, but the protection of the public does not solely depend on prison sentences. In July 1998 the prison population was 66,500 and on the 12th January of this year it was 64,378: a decrease.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, misheard me, I think, when he was offering to instruct me if he ever got into serious criminal trouble. I did not say I would not represent him. I said I would find some mitigation for him: namely, an hereditary peerage, born into an over-privileged family, taken away from his family far too young as a child and therefore never having had a proper chance in life.
In some ways this debate has been a shade disappointing. Your Lordships have been tilting at windmills whose locations have been moved and whose sails have been taken away. It is almost impossible for me to describe the transformation in attitude towards dealing with crime, its prevention, its deterrence and public protection, that has occurred since May of last year. I shall be quite brief because I simply invite your Lordships to study the Crime and Disorder Act, and see the themes and philosophies which have been expressed by the Home Secretary and myself on so many occasions, to look at what we are doing in the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act and to see what has been done under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in the Youth Justice Board.
Many of the observations made tonight are of historic interest only. We do not believe that prison works. We believe, as Jack Straw has said, that for those who have to be in prison you have to make prisons work. It is rather depressing to note no recognition by some of your Lordships of the work that is done by the Prison Service—the rehabilitative, dedicated and skilled work which actually makes prisons work, because it gives those who have never had an opportunity a chance of making something of themselves.
It is gloomy not to hear a better recognition of the work done by the Probation Service and it is distinctly disappointing not to recognise the fact that we have actually instituted for the first time ever a prison probation review so that we will come to the conclusion—an amazing one—that for the Prison Service and the Probation Service to work together with the same population at the same time is rather a good idea. Your Lordships, I think, might have recognised that a little more graciously.
There is an extraordinary amount of work being done at the moment: exciting, brave, bold. It is not kowtowing to any momentary spasm. It is, I repeat, recognising a central fundamental duty of the Home Office to see to public protection; and public protection depends on public confidence. It is idle to say that those who go to prison are simply unfortunate. Tell that to the elderly 173 single woman whose house has been burgled. That crime is wrongly described as a crime against property: it is a crime against the person, sometimes with effects that never disappear. In those circumstances, a penal sentence is not only necessary but essential, and it is wholly justifiable.
Let us look at the themes behind the Crime and Disorder Act. They are for early intervention. There was much scoffing among the ill-informed about the purpose of that Bill simply being to lock up 10 year-olds. Nonsense, my Lords. Early intervention means that the 10 year-old does not become the 17 year-old incarcerated juvenile prisoner or the 27 year-old recidivist who eventually stops committing crime at 45.
Let us look at the local plans rightly devolving decisions about local concerns and worries to local communities, setting forth for the first time the statutory purpose of the youth justice programme; namely, the prevention of crime and the reduction of juvenile offending.
Look at the early intervention in juvenile cases and family assistance. None of those tasks has been addressed in the past 15 years and more. We have begun the work in the past 18 months. The right reverend Prelate misquoted. I know that Biblical quotation may be a distinct speciality, but he chided me with the rather pale observation that,some additional resources may be needed for national implementation of the new range of youth justice services".I must say this to the right reverend Prelate. I have read the whole citation. I read it to your Lordships. The Government's response states:One of the Government's purposes in piloting the youth justice provisions is to enable us better to assess the resource implications … In doing so, we will be looking at how the new arrangements can build on existing provision and how, through new ways of multi-agency working, the youth justice measures can be delivered most cost effectively. We recognise"—this is the citation given by the right reverend Prelate—that some additional resources may be needed for national implementation of the new range of youth justice services"—the right reverend Prelate paused there, but I continue—and the pilots will help us explore this fully".I do not put that in a tendentious way. I simply express a degree of regret that all the work which is already well under way is barely being recognised by some of your Lordships. It is worth going to prisons to see what is being done on anger management programmes, drug offending programmes, and so forth.
The home detention curfew is a tool to manage the return of offenders to the community. As Mr. Kenneth Baker, when Home Secretary, said in his evidence to an earlier House of Commons committee, we need to recognise that almost all offenders go back into the community. The home detention curfew is designed to manage exactly that. We know the indicators for re-offending: no home; no job; no community ties. The 174 purpose of the home detention curfew is to see whether one cannot manage people back into a job, a home and community ties. If it does not work, the sanctions are severe.
What are we doing about the Probation Service, which in so many aspects is coincident with the Prison Service? We are encouraging the Prison Service and Probation Service to work together. I pay tribute to the Association of Chief Officers of Probation and the National Association of Probation Officers for the open-minded approach—I do not say that it is more open-minded than some of the observations tonight because that would be indecent, but wholly right—to the proposals that we are making. I have said to them, and I repeat to your Lordships, that if they fail, we fail; and they are happy and open-minded about a new constructive way.
What about resource? The former government's proposals for the forthcoming year for the Probation Service were a diminution of £6 million. Jack Straw has struck that out at a stroke and increased the amount by £18 million. That is a £24 million difference. Prison additional spending over the next three years is a further £660 million. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, about the real menace of drug-taking as a contributory factor to crime whether or not inside prison. We are ring-fencing money for dealing with drug-taking in prison; and we are ring-fencing money for the drug treatment and training order outside prison. It has never been tried before. That is a source of constant shame to us all.
We should not be dismal. We should consider what has been done and what is being done, and it is a good, promising start. There is a lot of work to be done. We are starting on a long, difficult journey. It will not always be popular. Jack Straw knows that better than anyone. Nevertheless, he is determined to do the right thing. I believe that, if this debate is related to the response, Alternatives to Prison Sentences, it will be very difficult indeed for the chairman, Chris Mullin, or any of the members of that admirable committee of another place to say that we have not responded fully, promptly and faithfully.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may venture to ask whether my noble friend is aware that anyone who visits prisons once or twice a week, as I do, has seen no improvement since Labour came into power.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I visit prisons regularly. I dispute what my noble friend says. It is not the evidence I hear and see on every occasion. I further pay tribute to what members of the Prison Officers' Association are doing in conducting new, vigorous courses which are a distinct improvement for many young men in the Prison Service today.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before nine o'clock.