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Rt Hon David Gauke MP, Secretary of State for Justice

Minutes of the Meeting of the All-Party Group on Penal Affairs, held on 6 March 2018 in Committee Room G, House of Lords

Presentation of the annual Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Re-Integration

Speaker, Lady Val Corbett

Guest Speaker 

Rt Hon David Gauke MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice


Lord Ramsbotham (in the Chair)
Earl Attlee
Lord Beecham
Crispin Blunt MP
Lord Dholakia
Kate Green MP
Viscount Hailsham QC
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots
Baroness Howe of Idlicote
Lord Hylton
Bishop James Langstaff
Baroness Masham of Ilton
Lord McNally
Lord Ponsonby
Victoria Prentis MP
Lord Woolf

Lord Ramsbotham welcomed all to the meeting, and especially Lady Val Corbett, who would present the awards in memory of her late husband. Robin Corbett had given many years’ distinguished service as an MP, as Chairman of the Home Office Select Committee when it was responsible for prisons, and latterly as Chairman of this all party group. He was remembered with great affection. It was appropriate that the awards were for excellence in prisoner rehabilitation, a subject close to his heart.

Lady Corbett started by asking attendees not to mention award winners on social media that evening, as there was to be an exclusive in a national newspaper the following day. She thanked Lord Ramsbotham and his fellow judges, the Prison Reform Trust which administered the award, and the Worshipful Company of Weavers, which generously covered its administrative costs. This year there had been some changes. The award was now called the Robin Corbett award for re-integration rather than rehabilitation, as re-integration had to come first. She had also invited the chief executives of rehabilitation agencies to join the Corbett Network, and there were now 35 members. They were involved in a new and exciting initiative, Only a Pavement Away, to capitalise on the number of jobs in the hospitality industry that would become vacant as a result of Brexit. These jobs would be offered, with appropriate training and support, to ex-offenders, the homeless, and former service personnel.

The Award was created in memory of Robin. ‘All men die but some live on’. This award was his legacy. This year there had been 41 applications, more than double the number last year. This could be because the award was better known, or because they had managed to raise the prize money. The Chrysalis Foundation had agreed to sponsor it for the next five to ten years, and she could not be more grateful. The beautiful glass plaques had been donated by James Timpson, and winners would also receive a cheque and a copy of her book about Robin. She had spare copies of the book. No fundraising was allowed in this place so she was giving them away free, but if members wanted her to sign their copy, that was a service, and would cost £10.

She was delighted to announce that the winner of the 2018 award was Khulisa, which worked with the most socially excluded members of our society. Because of their work in HMP Forest Bank there had been a 90% reduction in violence. Dominique Airey and Sonia Johnson came forward to collect the prize. The Highly Commended prize went to Tempus Novo, for its work getting prisoners in Yorkshire into sustainable employment on release. Steve Freer and Valdemar Wawrosz came forward to collect their award. There was a tie for the commended award, and two organisations would receive prizes. One went to Spark Inside for its coaching programme for prisoners at HMP Belmarsh. Baillie Aaron and George Pugh came up to receive the award. The second winner was Anawim for through the gates services provided to women at HMP Foston Hall, and the prize was collected by Joy Doal and Gina Stokes.

Lady Corbett said this was a shorter speech than usual, because she wanted the Secretary of State to have plenty of time. She congratulated all the winners.

Lord Ramsbotham then introduced the Rt Hon David Gauke MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. He was the fourth Secretary of State for Justice since the election in 2015. His predecessor had accepted an invitation to speak this evening before Christmas, and David Gauke had been good enough to agree to honour the invitation, despite having been in his new post for a relatively short time. All of his predecessors had addressed this group, which now extended a very warm welcome to him.

Rt Hon David Gauke MP thanked the group for its welcome. He was delighted to be there on the night of the Robin Corbett awards for re-integration. He had the great pleasure of representing the Hertfordshire constituency which Robin had represented in the 1970s and they had had a number of mutual friends. He continued:

‘As Lord Ramsbotham has said, this is not my first speech of the day and there are one or two of you here who were there this morning and heard me speak at the Royal Society of Arts. Apologies if there is a degree of repetition in what I say: at least if there is repetition there is some consistency. This morning I had the opportunity for the first time to set out my initial thoughts in terms of prison policy, having been in post for a couple of months. If I may I will share with you a summary of my observations.

I am struck by one of the challenges in this particular area. Very easily, secretaries of state get categorised as either ‘Lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ types, or ‘Open all the doors and let everybody out’ types.  The reality is that these matters, as you all know, are somewhat more complex than that. But what I have set out today is an approach that recognises that we have to get the basics right, we have to deal with criminal activity within prisons, but also demonstrates a belief that a prison system does have to be focused on rehabilitation, that you have to give people second chances. There is an important need to ensure that prisoners who make moves in the right direction are properly rewarded. To put it into a two-word phrase: incentives work. I think we need to do more to look to sharpen some of those incentives, and to make sure that we have got a prison system that meets all of its objectives. One is about protecting society, and two is that there is a need for punishment. But three is about rehabilitation. A balanced approach requires us to deal with all of those things.

I set out today, and I was very blunt and straightforward about this I hope, some of the pressures the prison system currently faces. In particular the widespread use of drugs in many of our prisons, and the levels of violence which are clearly leading to shocking levels of assaults, prisoner on prisoner, and prisoner on prison officer. Last year we saw 8,000 cases of that. Just last weekend we saw a particularly ghastly example where a prison officer in Bedford was very seriously injured. I am pleased to say he is making a good recovery, but that was a particularly ghastly example of what can happen. It seems to me that there are a number of drivers of this but drugs are a particular problem that we face: the way that drugs can change the behaviour of some prisoners, so that they become very violent immediately. But also ways in which drugs create indebtedness to the smugglers, to the gangs, and also some shocking stories of drug dealers being repaid debts by payment in kind, by taking violent action. They are attacking a prison officer in order to repay a debt to their drug supplier. That is a terrible state of affairs to find ourselves in.

What we are seeing, in recent years, is the way in which drugs have been used by organised criminal gangs in a systematic and sophisticated way, that has meant that they are able to make substantial sums of money, and as a consequence they make prison discipline incredibly difficult. They lead other prisoners down a path where it is much harder for them to be rehabilitated. Therefore we have got to focus on some of those organised gangs. I have set out measures today whereby £14 million pounds will be invested into intelligence units focused on those gangs, also ensuring there is technology whereby, if a mobile phone is confiscated, information from it can be downloaded and immediately accessed by prison officers in that prison, rather than sending it off and getting the results back weeks later.

Those are all important steps to try to deal with this. But more significantly I have raised the issue of categorisation of prisoners, which I think we have to look at very carefully. At the moment categorisation is largely based on length of sentence and risk of escape. Both perfectly valid issues, but I think we also need to look at behaviour in prison, and particularly whether somebody in prison is manipulating the system, manipulating other prisoners, and making life much harder for a prison to fulfil its activities.

That is, if you like, the tough side, but I think we also need to look at the tender side – the carrots rather than the sticks. We need to look at, ways in which prisoners who are doing the right thing, trying to rehabilitate themselves, who are complying with the requirements that the prison places on them, can be rewarded. I want to see greater freedoms available to governors, to be able to offer greater privileges, greater freedoms, to those prisoners. Two examples from my speech to today: one is Release on Temporary License (ROTL). Is there more we can do? Can we liberalise that? Of course it is important that there is proper supervision and that there is a proper risk assessment, but can we do more to ensure that prisoners are able to go out and work, and come back into prison at the end of the day? It seems to me that that is something that in principle must be helpful for preparing prisoners for life outside prison, for enabling them to get used to working life, to prove to themselves that they can undertake a proper working life.

The second point was on family contact. I certainly don’t want to be taking away the levels of family contact that we have at the moment, but can we do more to increase it? The work that Lord Farmer has done in stressing family ties is very interesting, but can we do more? Can we for example make use of Skype, so that people can see each other, not just speak to each other on the phone, plus of course the face to face meetings? So I am keen to see what technology can provide in this area. Those are just two examples. I think it would be really helpful to have a debate about where freedoms could be given to governors, greater discretion, so that they could provide those incentives to prisoners to do the right thing.

I’d also make the point that there is a recognition across government that not all the levers in preventing reoffending are in the hands of the Ministry of Justice. We had a meeting of Cabinet subcommittee yesterday where we discussed the £15 billion cost to the economy of reoffending. It is important we deal with mental health issues and I know that Jeremy Hunt is very keen to support us in this. It is important, particularly but not exclusively with young offenders, that we look at education. It is clearly very important that accommodation is dealt with, and I know that Sajid Javid is very keen to support that. I know from my previous department, Work and Pensions, that in terms of helping people into work, we need to make sure that the move into receiving universal credit can be as smooth as possible: all of that is very important. There is a real appetite and energy across Government to try to develop this.

So, in conclusion, for me it is a huge privilege to be appointed to this role. I am conscious that there are very significant challenges facing the Prison Service and I by no means ducked that issue when I spoke earlier today. But it also strikes me that there are some opportunities to get this right: opportunities to address some of the causes of criminality within prisons, and some of the problems that exist within prisons, but also some real opportunities to demonstrate that prisons should not be places of despair. They should be places where there is hope, where aspiration is encouraged, where the possibility -indeed let’s turn it into a probability – of turning people’s lives around exists. If we can deliver that, that’s enormously exciting. I am really encouraged by some of the winners of the Corbett awards today, to see what good work can be done and how we can make progress, and how prisons can be places where we can turn people into citizens who can succeed, who will be law-abiding, tax-paying upright members of society if we get this right. That is a really exciting mission, and something that I really look forward to doing over the period ahead as Justice Secretary. Thank you very much.’

Lord Ramsbotham thanked the Secretary of State. He had never been able to understand why prisoners’ rights to benefits were not processed whilst they were in prison, so that they would receive those rather than a discharge grant when leaving prison.

David Gauke MP said he had been asked a similar question in justice questions earlier in the day. One of the challenges was the change to universal credit. He had spent many months setting out the benefits of universal credit. However it relied much more on email than previously, which raised a challenge. He was keen to see what could be done to smooth the process however. Once signed up, you could get advances, and things could move quite quickly. We needed to think about what could be done to facilitate access to email in prison.

Lord Dholakia asked about the situation regarding IPP prisoners, many of whom were in prison for far longer than the original sentence passed by the court. He also wanted to raise the question of the rights of prisoners to vote, following the establishment of a joint working party by the previous administration.

David Gauke MP responded that he could not add anything new that day on the second question. On the IPP question, it was for the Parole Board to decide when such prisoners could be released. In his short period as Justice Secretary he had been more frequently questioned about the decision to release, rather than refusal to release. It was for the Parole Board to make such decisions.

Kate Green MP welcomed the tone of the Secretary of State’s presentation. She wanted to ask about the question of women in custody. There was a widespread belief that many did not need to be there. There had been an excellent presentation by Anawim earlier that day and she knew how valuable the women’s centre model could be. She knew the Justice Department were producing a women offenders’ strategy. She hoped that it would advocate the sparing use of custody. Breach and recall appeared to be driving up numbers, however, and she would welcome his comments.

David Gauke MP said he was struck by the number of times people had told him, since he had started the job, that there was a case for reducing the female prison population. He understood, too, that women offenders were often victims of crime themselves. He was keen to explore that further. He could not make any commitments to population reduction at that stage, but was keen to test the options.

Baroness Masham raised the question of the growing numbers of older prisoners. Would the Secretary of State consider having nursing homes attached to prisons? This could also supply an opportunity for work experience for other prisoners.

David Gauke MP agreed that demographics made this a significant issue. There was a lot in that idea. Again he could not make a commitment, but he would definitely take the idea away, and explore possible models.

The Bishop of Rochester, also Bishop for Prisons, said that such ideas were already being taken forward, for example at HMP Stafford and also at Oakwood, as local initiatives. He said that many in the room knew the things that worked. Yet something inherent in the prison bureaucracy prevented them from happening. Why was that?

David Gauke MP said that the necessary data was not always available. He spoke as an ex Treasury minister. The Treasury always wanted a hard-headed business case. Data was needed from across Government to show not only that particular interventions worked but also that they would reduce pressure on other departments. Then the Treasury would become an ally.

Crispin Blunt MP commented on the issue of IPPs. If prisoners had not done the courses to demonstrate they were no longer a risk, the Parole Board would not release them, which could be described as an administrative own goal for the Prison Service since it lead to greater expense.  He wanted to ask about work in prisons. 131 Solutions had been set up by Kenneth Clarke MP as a cost centre, to try to get more work in prisons. He had also tried to get some of the money for education diverted into training prisoners to work in whatever industry could be brought in. The new prisons minister did not seem to know about 131 Solutions. The number of prisoners working did not seem to have increased since his time as prisons minister. Were there plans to address this?

David Gauke MP said he was keen to get prisoners working, both outside prison, and within. He believed work was good for mental health as well as getting people actively and purposefully engaged. So he wanted to give governors as much discretion as possible to get prisoners involved.

Lord Ponsonby commented on the basis of his experience in the youth and family courts. Youth justice was commonly seen as a success in that there were a third of the numbers in custody as there had been five years ago. However those incarcerated had significant problems, and rehabilitation was more difficult. In his recent experience, access to CAMHS was very poor, and this was having serious knock-on effects.

David Gauke MP agreed that this was consistent with what he had seen. This tallied with what he had said earlier about the need to work cross-departmentally. He would certainly take this issue away.

Victoria Prentis MP said that she too had been impressed by the tone of the speaker’s presentation and his ambitions. She hoped he would be around long enough to make progress. As regards Lord Farmer’s evidenced work on family ties, it was all very well to use families as a reward. But we knew that family ties were particularly important in reducing offending. Sentencing someone to prison also sentenced two thirds of their children to prison. Would he implement the Farmer report?

David Gauke MP said that the direction of travel should be towards greater, not less, contact. However he thought that if they were able to introduce Skype, this could be rolled out as an incentive to encourage good behaviour. He commented on a recent visit to Leicester prison, which had turned itself round. The governor had told him that when prisoners came back to Leicester from a training prison, for resettlement, there could be friction because Leicester had fewer opportunities. He hoped there was more that could be done to facilitate family contact by technological means.

Lord Beecham wanted to ask about remand prisoners, a lot of whom did not end up with a custodial sentence.  There were considerable numbers in the system. Might there be scope to review the situation with the judiciary?

David Gauke MP agreed that this was a fair point, both in respect of justice and also demand on prison places, but not one he had looked into thus far. As with the question of recall, it was important not to be putting people behind bars unnecessarily.

Lord McNally noted that Michael Gove had been enthusiastic about Dame Sally Coates’ report on education in prison. Were her recommendations high on the speaker’s priority list?

David Gauke MP said his department would be publishing an employment and education strategy shortly. If we wanted rehabilitation to work well there were a number of areas that needed to be dealt with. There was a debate to be had about the extent to which new technology could deliver new opportunities in education and he was keen to explore that.

Lord Low said that one of the main difficulties was the number of people in prison. Many of the problems mentioned could be alleviated if there were fewer prisoners. Our rates of imprisonment, as against comparable countries, were very high. Could getting the numbers down be considered as a guiding principle of policy development?

David Gauke MP said this was a big question, which he had already been asked that day. He would like to be able to reduce the prison population, but didn’t think he should set a target. If we could do more to address re-offending, provide non-custodial sentences in which the judiciary had confidence, and get the administrative systems working so that nobody was in prison unnecessarily, then there could be progress. Home detention curfews were now operating more successfully. In recent weeks the prison population had fallen slightly, or at worst held steady, so necessary repairs to cells could be undertaken: for example in Liverpool Prison 172 cells had been taken out of action. He thought it would be putting the cart before the horse to stipulate a number, but he agreed that a smaller prison population would allow a host of issues to be addressed.

Lord Woolf was pleased with the tone of what had been said. The issue of numbers was at the heart of the problem, as was this place. He had yet to hear of a case where the maximum sentence for an offence had been reduced, whereas he continually heard suggestions that maximum sentences should be increased. When he had written the Strangeways report, 25 years ago, there were 40,000 in prison, and the numbers were falling. Now there were 86,000. Because of legislation, this would continue to increase.  The Sentencing Guidelines Council had also increased the prison population. He appreciated the political problems. But sentences had to be kept under control, or all those good ideas would fail. Where judges had attempted to keep the lid on things they had come under huge fire from the press. The case for restraint had to be made, however. He hoped the speaker would be able to stay in his position, to see through the policies he was trying to introduce.

David Gauke MP thanked Lord Woolf for his encouragement and said he would be delighted to stay. However that was not in his hands. It was a privilege to have this role. He was keen to engage with people with expertise and experience in this area and had been glad to be able to do so that afternoon.

Lord Ramsbotham drew the meeting to a close. He thanked the speaker warmly, and said he had a lot of support in the room. He hoped the Secretary of State would return in a year’s time to report progress. The date of the next meeting would be announced shortly.