Lord Dholakia, asking the Minister, Baroness Vere, “what plans. the Government have to eliminate prison conditions that have no place in any civilised society, let alone a developed country in the 21st century?” described the “four major purposes: retribution; incapacitation; deterrence” of prisons. But, underlining the immense scale of the problems, Lord Dholakia noted: “although over 60% of offenders reoffend within two years; and rehabilitation, on which we do not even meet the requirements of the Trade Descriptions Act.”
lord-dholakiaReiterating the recent individual reports from the Prisons Inspectorate on Wandsworth, Birmingham, and High Down prisons Lord Dholakia highlighted the comments from the annual report that disclosed: “inspections during the year had documented some of the most disturbing jail conditions the inspectorate had ever seen, with violence, drugs, suicide, self-harm, squalor and poor access to education being prominent themes.”
Citing evidence that Wandsworth was one of the country’s most overcrowded prisons Lord Dholakia expressed grave concern of a prison “filled with many men with drug and mental health problems, many of whom were locked in their cells during the working day.” Quickly after the Wandsworth report was published, the government was forced to step in and take direct control of Birmingham Prison from G4S due to the “appalling state with high levels of violence, widespread bullying, squalid living conditions and poor control by staff.” High Down has fared no better, with “increasing levels of violence and a very low level of purposeful activity, with 47% of prisoners being locked in their cells during the working day.”
Arguing that “it is impossible to ignore the fact that the deterioration in conditions in so many prisons has followed a swingeing cut in the budget of HM Prison and Probation Service of nearly a quarter between 2011 and 2015,” leading to a 25% loss in the number of front-line staffs between 2010 and 2017, Lord Dholakia asserted: “incidents of self-harm in prisons are at the highest level ever recorded. Serious assaults in prison are at the highest level ever. Assaults on staff have risen by 158% in the past four years. Sexual assaults in prisons have more than tripled since 2012.”
“The fact remains,” he said, “that our prisons are struggling to cope, with far too many prisoners with too few resources to provide them with safe, decent and rehabilitative regimes.”
Comparing almost double the number of prisoners in this country to Germany, Lord Dholakia asked rhetorically that “we is not twice as criminal as the German people, so why do we need to imprison twice as many people as they do?” Explaining that figures show “we have 141 prisoners for every 100,000 people in our general population, compared with 78 in Germany,” Lord Dholakia demanded to know “[w]hat plans do the Government have to reduce the unnecessary use of prison?”
Lord Dholakia suggesting ways to ameliorate the problem, asked “[w]ill [the government] consider legislation to introduce a statutory presumption against the imposition of short prison sentences?” He further suggested “consider[in] legislation to require sentencing guidelines to take account of the capacity of the prison system?” And, “removing prison as an option for low-level, non-violent crimes?” Showing how far change needed to go to improve the situation Lord Dholakia also asked the Minister if the government would “consider prohibiting courts from using prison, except for dangerous offenders, unless they have first tried an intensive community supervision sentence?”
Finishing off, Lord Dholakia reminded the government of the situation for IPP prisoners, whom he has long-argued should have their tariffs converted to determinate sentences “once they have served a period equivalent to double their tariff.”