Prisons in Parliament – 19 September

‘Terrible’ safety in prison comes under fire

Bob Neill MP Bromley and Chislehurst

Disappointed: Bob Neill MP. Photograph: Department for Communities and Local Government

Prisons in Parliament brings you up-to-date on the last week of politics and prisons. What’s been said? And by whom? Get it all here. 

Ministers discussed on Thursday 15 September the government’s “disappointing” response to the Sixth Report from the Justice Committee of Session 2015-16 on Prison Safety from May.

Battling the ‘prison safety crisis’

Robert Neill, MP for Bromley and Chislehurst (Conservative) and member of the Justice Select Committee, said prison safety was “terrible” when the report came out in May and had now reached a point of “crisis”.

On every measure, safety has deteriorated and has continued to do so over a long time. That cannot be regarded as a one-off blip and we see no sign yet, despite considerable Government endeavour and intervention — which I do not dispute — of the situation or the underlying reasons being turned around.

When the state legitimately takes it upon itself through proper process to incarcerate someone for their wrongs against society, there is an element of punishment in doing that properly, but we also take on board responsibility for ensuring that they are treated not only humanely, but safely. If the state fails in that, it fails in one of its primary obligations.

John Howell, MP for Henley (Conservative) and Mr Neill agreed that the government’s response to the report had been “disappointing”. Mr Howell said the response seemed to “paraphrase what we said in our report without giving any substance to our recommendations”.

They said that while there had been some progress towards publishing statistics, what remained absent were the “matrices that we said are critical to any proper monitoring”.

Mr Neill continued:

“A sense of urgency must be engendered, not least because the deliverability of the whole broader prison agenda depends on getting safety right so that there is a stable environment in which to deliver it.”

Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk, (Conservative) added that “a healthy and safe ratio between staff and prisoners is vital” and urged the government to “grasp the nettle” and ensure there were either more prison officers or fewer prisoners “to get the ratio back into equilibrium”.

In context

  • Despite efforts by NOMS to recruit more prison staff, the number of new personnel coming is being offset by the lack of retention.
  • The Justice Secretary Liz Truss this monthrefused to guarantee to the Commons justice select committee that the government would proceed with her predecessor’s prison reform plans.

This session was one in a string of events last week about prison safety. Catch up on our live coverage from a conference on preventing suicide and self-harm in prison and read our round up of the story that more prisoners are being moved to mental health hospitals.

Getting a grip on absconsion

Mr David Nuttall, MP for Bury North (Conservative) requested a statement on what the government is doing to stop convicted killers absconding from prison? “Ministry of Justice figures show that prisoners convicted of murder have been absconding at the rate of one a month for years,” he said, “so it is time that we really got a grip”.

The one-sentence response from David Lidington, MP for Aylesbury (Conservative), was: “As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is preparing legislation on prisons reform, and I am sure that she will want to take account of my hon. Friend’s concerns as she develops her policy further.”



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