9 Lord Bishop of Gloucester debates involving the Scotland Office

Mon 24th Feb 2020
Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 3rd Jul 2018
Thu 22nd Feb 2018

Prisons: Overcrowding

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 14th May 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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The noble Baroness is right that some data has been removed to be reviewed by NHS Wales. As regards the prisons and cells, we are following a strategy in all prisons in England and Wales which involves ensuring that we have separate isolation for any prisoners displaying Covid symptoms, separate isolation for those in a shielding unit—that is, for prisoners identified by healthcare staff as particularly vulnerable should they come into contact with the virus—and what is termed a reverse cohorting unit, to ensure that those coming into the prison population are isolated for 14 days to give an opportunity for any symptoms to develop. As regards the statistics for prisons as between England and Wales and Wales itself, as of Tuesday 12 May, 401 prisoners had tested positive for Covid-19 across 74 prisons, and 501 prison staff had tested positive across 70 prisons. Of those, as at 11 May, 81 prisoners had tested positive in Welsh prisons and 61 prison staff had tested positive in Welsh prisons.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, the World Health Organization has been clear that testing will be a key part of tackling coronavirus. We just heard some of those stats, but could the Government please give us the number of prisoners who have been tested to date, and give an assurance that testing will always be in place before moving people between prisons?

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, Gold Command has taken control of the movement of prisoners, which is extremely limited between prisons. Where it happens, that cohort is dealt with in the same way as new prisoners, so they are isolated for a period to see whether they become symptomatic. On testing, prison officers and attendant staff are key workers in the present circumstances. We have referred something like 3,000 prison officers and staff for testing. For prisoners, some who have become symptomatic may be subject to testing in prison, but otherwise there is no testing.

Covid-19: Prisons and Offender Rehabilitation

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 23rd April 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I echo what has been said already. I draw attention to my interests in the register, particularly the fact that I am president of the Nelson Trust. I will make just a few points.

The Secretary of State has argued that the public would not accept the early release of certain categories of prisoners. The Government need to be clearer with the public about the risks in a pandemic to prisoners, key workers and their families. The potential risk of low-level, non-violent offenders being released on licence is far outweighed by the risk of inaction and delay. Will the Government commit to put into the public domain as soon as possible substantial and transparent information about how the release programme is working and publish daily statistics about coronavirus in prison, including the impact on staff and those in custody?

My second point concerns the slow release of pregnant women and those with infants. What is the Government’s plan to maximise use of the voluntary sector’s capacity and experience? I urge the Government to fully involve the community. Women’s centres specialise in this sort of work. Charities such as Children Heard and Seen and Birthrights are doing remarkable work, as are faith groups. In this pandemic, good things are happening in the community and the justice system should be no exception.

Finally, one burden of this situation weighs heavily on prisoners’ children, who may be too young to understand why they cannot visit or have contact as usual. When mothers in particular are given a short sentence for a non-violent offence, surely we do society far more harm than good by keeping them in custody rather than allowing them out on licence during the pandemic. At the very least, can the Minister ensure that all children with a parent in prison will be able to have regular, free telephone contact with their parent? These are difficult times and urgent action is required.

Offender Management: Checkpoint Programme

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 27th February 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, not least for his important mention of mercy, which is so important to me in my Christian faith. I too would like to commend the work of the Checkpoint programme, especially on behalf of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham, who also wanted to pay tribute to Ron Hogg—so it is good to have heard that.

There are pockets of good practice across the country. The important question is: what is the Ministry of Justice doing to support and replicate them? The Nelson Trust, of which I am president, has liaison and diversion keyworkers who meet with women in police custody with the aim of diverting them away from the criminal justice system at the earliest opportunity. They also deliver a women-specific point of arrest referral scheme with Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which has supported over 500 women in just two years. The women’s centre is key to this preventive work, so I ask the Government what they are doing to support diversion and alternatives to custody for women, as promised in the Female Offender Strategy?

Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I am grateful to those contributing to this subject today who have far greater knowledge than I do, and I will aim to keep my comments brief.

Certainly, if a society that relies on government to deliver justice has lost confidence in the current system, it is right that we try to address those fears, and we must look at the bigger picture. I share concerns already expressed about the manner in which this legislation has been brought before the House, and particularly the very short time that we have to consider it.

If the justice system is to serve the common good and the flourishing of people and place, there needs to be an emphasis on a radical mutual responsibility, in which we are all truly responsible for one another. Offenders must be expected to take responsibility for their actions. This should be about not only taking the consequences and punishments imposed by a criminal justice system but having the opportunity to take responsibility for past actions, and the possibility of taking responsibility to restore their relationship with society.

What is our responsibility? There are undoubtedly some affected by the measure today for whom time in custody is absolutely vital if they are to have any hope of rehabilitation and a future contribution to society that is about good and not harm. Yet, as has been said, the current condition of prisons and numbers of staff, not least those with experience, means that the Prison Service simply does not have sufficient resources to live its responsibility to ensure a genuine opportunity for rehabilitation, and thus a safer society. Sadly, I do not recognise the picture that the Minister painted of the adequate input already available in prison, not least from my discussions with chaplaincy teams.

As has already been said, it is unsatisfactory that the Bill before us has been produced in isolation from legislation that addresses the urgent need for significant support and reform of the Prison Service and probation services. Given the status quo of our criminal justice system, we will not automatically improve public protection by simply keeping some of these offenders in prison for more of their sentence and removing time spent on licence supervised by the probation service. I am concerned that we might perpetuate a myth that people will be safer because of this Bill.

Given that the legislation will give the Parole Board an expanded role, I hope the Minister can give us assurance that the Parole Board will be appropriately resourced to carry out its task, given the complex nature of determining risk in these cases.

The old adage says that hard cases make bad law. In the light of the tragic events of past months, it is certainly understandable that the Government should want to act to ensure public safety. I want that too. However, I have some fear that tinkering with parts of the system may prove to create as many problems as it solves. I look forward to hearing the rest of this debate.

Female Offender Strategy

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 31st January 2019

(5 years, 5 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in implementing the female offenders’ strategy.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie) (Con)
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My Lords, the Female Offender Strategy, published in June 2018, outlines the Government’s long-term vision for improving outcomes for female offenders in custody and in the community. The strategy sets out a programme of work that contains a number of commitments that will take some years to implement. A new women’s policy framework was published last December, and my noble friend Lord Farmer’s review of family ties for female offenders is expected to report in the coming weeks.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I welcome that information from the Minister, which follows many positive commitments to the female offender strategy. However, we are still awaiting news of residential pilots, action to strengthen links between probation services and women’s centres, the report from the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and a national concordat. Given that many of the strategy’s commitments have no clear timescales—indeed, in some cases the suggested deadline has already passed—how does the Minister plan to effectively monitor progress and stay on track?

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, we are concerned to ensure that these recommendations are implemented as soon as practicable; indeed, the women’s policy framework was implemented as of 21 December 2018. We are taking forward further work in partnership with other groups and parties. I note the work of the Nelson Trust, which I know the right reverend Prelate is directly involved in, which recently put in a bid for additional funding from the ministry to further its community work. We are encouraged by the strength of that and similar bids, and want to take that forward as soon as possible.

Justice: Women’s Centres

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Wednesday 12th September 2018

(5 years, 10 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the ability of women’s centres to improve outcomes in the justice system.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to introduce this debate. I thank all noble Lords who have agreed to contribute to it; I am especially grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, for choosing to make her maiden speech in it. I know that her extensive experience in business and the charitable sector, as well as her time working on the Youth Justice Board and as a magistrate, will inform many excellent contributions to this House. I look forward to her speech.

My interest in this issue flows not least from my experience in the diocese of Gloucester, which has one of the country’s 12 women’s prisons—HMP Eastwood Park—and the women’s centre, run by the Nelson Trust, whose work is exemplary. I now support the Bishop of Rochester in his role as Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons with regards to the female estate, and I recently visited Anawim, the superb women’s centre in Birmingham. As a Christian, I believe that our humanity and flourishing is rooted in relationships. I also believe that transformation is possible, both in the lives of individuals and in systems. I will come back to these themes.

There are approximately 4,000 women in prison, which is about 5% of the total prison population. Although this is a relatively small percentage, these women present a distinct set of needs and their imprisonment has a significant impact on communities and society as a whole. The long-awaited female offender strategy recognises the vulnerabilities and challenges of women in prison. It builds on the tireless work of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston. I would like to express my sincere thanks to her and to those who contributed to that strategy, not least Dr Phillip Lee, prior to his resignation. However, I fear that, 11 years after the Corston report, the strategy simply does not go far enough. We know that women’s centres work and it is time for proper investment.

I want to return to those themes of relationships and transformation. People of all ages thrive and flourish in healthy, loving relationships. Unfortunately, the majority of women offenders have experienced some sort of abuse, whether from a partner or a family member. According to the excellent organisation Women in Prison, 53% of women in prison report having experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse during childhood; 46% report having suffered domestic violence; and over 30% spent time in local authority care as a child.

Where healing and rehabilitation take place, it comes from a place of trust in a relationship. As a member of the clergy, I have often been trusted with people’s most intimate personal information and it usually takes a strong relationship of trust for a woman to discuss an abusive relationship, a problem with drugs or alcohol, or a mental health problem. To that end, prison is rarely the most appropriate or effective place for these issues to be addressed, not least because so many women are assigned short sentences. On the other hand, a short stay in prison can dramatically affect a woman’s relationship with her children, harming both the mother and the child. Of course, that has an impact on the wider community. I am particularly grateful to Dr Shona Minson for her research and all that she is doing to inform magistrates and judges.

Women’s centres provide an opportunity for a different path. The Nelson Trust recently shared Sue’s story with me. Sue was sentenced to eight months for theft. She had been taking cash from the shop where she worked, in order to pay off her debts and fund her alcohol and drug addiction. She had a painful history and her daughter had been taken into foster care. While Sue was in prison she was fortunate enough to make contact with the Nelson Trust. She began to develop a trusting relationship. When she came out of prison the Nelson Trust worked with Sue. It obtained rented accommodation for her and she began participating in various courses, including on crime and its impact, preventing relapse, and self-esteem and confidence building.

When Sue was investigated for another offence, committed at the time of her initial offence, she immediately admitted it and was supported by her key worker through meetings with solicitors and another trip to court. She pleaded guilty and the women’s centre was able to give the court a full picture of how Sue had been engaging with services. Instead of going back through the revolving door of prison and risking undoing months of hard work, Sue was given a community order involving unpaid work hours, many now spent at the women’s centre where she is making a difference to the lives of other women. Sue has not used drugs since she left prison 18 months ago. The Nelson Trust is supporting her towards potential future contact with her daughter.

This example shows that women’s centres can give judges and magistrates the information they need to make effective sentencing decisions and give women the tools they need truly to transform their lives. None of this would be possible without the relationship Sue has with the women’s centre—doing things with her and not to her. This is just one of many stories from the Nelson Trust and Anawim.

I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, will be conducting an independent review into how we can better support female offenders’ relationships with their families. All too frequently, magistrates do not have informative probation reports before sentencing. Action must be taken to review how women interact with the justice system and how they are sentenced, particularly by magistrates. It may be that a presumption against short sentences, as in the Scottish system, would be desirable, particularly given that in 2017, almost half of such women were given a short custodial sentence for shop theft.

We know that women get caught in the so-called revolving door with short prison sentences. They lose their homes and often lose custody of their children, even to adoption. This often exacerbates that downward spiral into more serious offences and an inability to secure employment. This is why a focus on women’s centres is needed: in their daily provision and where possible, appropriate residential provision, they can provide that place of relationship and trust. Properly resourced women’s centres can provide everything from early intervention right through to supporting women through the entire criminal justice system. For women who are already in prison, centres such as the Nelson Trust and Anawim have teams who engage with women in prison and then through the gate.

This is not simply about tackling the presenting offending—the “what”—but rather, providing a holistic trauma-informed approach which focuses on the “why”. Caseworkers in a place of relationship focus on getting to the heart of the women’s story in order to address what are often complex needs. A number of reports have shown that women’s centres offer an inspiring and effective alternative to custody, not least in their multi agency work. However, they have been operating on a shoestring and, at present, there simply is not enough resource. If the Government are committed to transforming the justice system, as the female offender strategy suggests, they need to commit and invest in it. We know it costs approximately £47,000 per year to keep a woman in prison, and yet we know that women’s centres can work effectively with approximately £4,000 per year per individual. Moreover, the benefits of women’s centres are multiplied if they can operate as a network so that women can stay close to their families. If we do not have a whole network of women’s centres, we will not see the fruit of provision.

I would like to encourage the Government to dream a bit bigger and be a bit bolder. Similarly, I hope that all parties will commit to properly funding this network. In 2017-18, we spent more than £400 million on probation and services for women; £5 million for women’s centres is a drop in the bucket and will not be enough to transform the system. Let us give a proper network of women’s centres a proper go.

Shortly after Dr Phillip Lee’s resignation, when the female offender strategy was published, he shared his concerns about the failure to secure all the funding required. He also made it clear that he had full faith in the Secretary of State to navigate the Government’s spending review in order to benefit vulnerable women caught up in the criminal justice system. I am hugely encouraged by this and by the appointment of Ed Argar, and I look forward with hope to seeing the funding for women’s centres secured.

There need to be enough women’s centres, and they need to be appropriately funded so that magistrates and the public can trust that they can improve outcomes in the justice system. I hope that the Government will back this strategy with vision and proper investment, and with a focus on relationship and transformation.

Prisons: Women

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Tuesday 3rd July 2018

(6 years ago)

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Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, there are issues that arise more frequently and more obviously among female offenders. Indeed, to quote just a few of the figures, 60% of female offenders who have an assessment have experienced domestic violence, while drug misuse is identified in about 40% of cases and alcohol misuse in about 25%. These issues therefore arise more particularly within the female cohort of offenders. With regard to community orders, it is part of our task to reinvigorate their use, which will involve us in persuading the courts at all levels of the practicality and effectiveness of such sentences.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I am grateful that Her Majesty’s Government do not intend to open new women’s prisons, as has been said, and I am grateful for the assurance that more money will be put into women’s centres. However, what work will be done to ensure that those who sentence know what is actually available in the community?

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, I am confident that the sentencing guidelines, and judicial guidelines in general, are sufficient to inform all levels of the judiciary as to the appropriate way in which to treat sentencing provision. Indeed, there is further guidance on this in England and Wales, which the noble Lord at the back may not be familiar with.

Prisons

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 22nd February 2018

(6 years, 4 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their vision for the long-term future of the prison system.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie) (Con)
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My Lords, we shall seek to maintain a prison system that is sufficient for public protection and will provide opportunity for the rehabilitation of offenders. Where it is necessary for offenders to be deprived of their liberty, their detention should be decent and safe.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, in 2015, the Justice Committee of the other place concluded that funding for women’s centres,

“appears to be a recurring problem”.

Ten years after the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, can the Minister assure me that secure, long-term funding for women’s centres is now a high priority?

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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Clearly, the matter of female offenders is one of the priorities that we are addressing. Indeed, we can note that the number of female offenders has dropped to the point where it is now in the region of 3,936 out of a total population of about 86,000. We are of course concerned with ensuring that there is funding in respect of female prisoners and offenders as they leave the prison system.

Transparency of the Parole Board and Victim Support

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Tuesday 9th January 2018

(6 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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He has, of course, to satisfy the Parole Board that, from the perspective of public safety, he can be released. However, he is released under licence so that monitoring can be maintained. For example, an individual may have been prompted to carry out the most violent, vicious crimes when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Therefore, the licensing conditions may ensure that they do not revert to a life of drug dependency or alcoholism. Where there are indications that they have done so, it may be necessary to revoke the licence as they then present a danger that they would not otherwise have been seen to present when they were first released. This is an issue of proportionality and balance. To impose an absolute upon an individual in these circumstances would, I fear, impose upon him a lifetime of incarceration, in which case we would lose that balance altogether.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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I thank the Minister for bringing this issue to the House and for the pertinent points made on this important subject. What action are the Government taking to ensure that the Parole Board is adequately funded so that due diligence can be performed before decisions are made?

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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I do not understand that any concern was expressed by the chairman of the Parole Board about resources or the standard of review that the board carried out before making this decision. The issue is whether or not it can disclose the reasoning behind its decision. As the law stands, it cannot do that, so the issue is one of transparency more than anything else. I reassure the right reverend Prelate that that is the position as I understand it.