Prisons: Death Statistics

Debate between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Wednesday 30th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the statistics in the report by the Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to December 2021, Assaults and Self-harm to September 2021, published on 27 January; and in particular the finding that the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison custody had increased by 28 per cent in the 12 months ending December 2021.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, every death in custody is a tragedy. Although in 2021 there were more self-inflicted deaths than in 2020, the number was the same as in 2019. The number of self-inflicted deaths in 2020, used in this Question as a benchmark, was in fact the lowest since 2012. However, each death is one too many. We continue to do everything we can to ensure and improve the safety of those in our care.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his Answer. As he says, every suicide is an occasion of great sadness. That there were 86 in prison—an increase of 28% on the previous year—is seriously worrying. Does he agree that the figures reveal something interesting and important? All 86 were males, nearly all were white and they were predominantly in the age groups 21 to 25 and 30 to 39. So many of these deaths occurred in the first 30 days in prison—15 in the first week. The rate was particularly high among prisoners on remand. In the light of these figures, what precautions will Her Majesty’s Government take to address people who fall into this profile, because it seems clear that a particular group of people is at risk?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I accept there are particular risks with people on remand, and with those who have just come into or been recalled to custody. We do focus on those particular groups. However, I point out that, although they were all men, as the noble and right reverend Lord said, that is because there were no self-inflicted deaths of women in custody that year. Historically, we have had female deaths in custody, so the figures also show an improvement because of the work we have been doing in the female estate.

Non-fatal Strangulation and Suffocation

Debate between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Thursday 8th July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am confident that my officials will be aware of that programme, but I personally am not. Could my noble friend write to me—or I will write to her—so that we can exchange information about that? It sounds like a very useful programme and I would be very happy to learn more about it.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, is to be warmly congratulated on her successful campaign to include non-fatal strangulation in the Act. Does the Minister agree that, for it to be effective, we must have the kind of information that the noble Baroness has asked for—both the number of cases and their relationship to sexual violence more widely? I understand that it is not possible to have that information available now, but will he perhaps commit to reporting to Parliament within a year, when the Act has been in operation for a year, in response to her question about those figures?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, we have to be a bit careful here. There will be a new offence of non-fatal strangulation, but non-fatal strangulation can also be an element in many other offences such as grievous bodily harm with intent. It can form part of a course of action that amounts to the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour. It can form part of just drunken thuggery outside a pub or a night club. We therefore have to be very careful. We collect statistics on offences; we do not really collect statistics on behaviour, and that lies at the heart of a number of the answers that I have given today.

Criminal Justice Review: Response to Rape

Debate between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Wednesday 26th May 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, it is not correct that the review was delayed solely because of the judicial review of the CPS policy. The noble Lord will be aware that the court concluded that there had not been a policy change, although, frankly, I accept that that does not mean that there were no important issues for the CPS to address. The delay was also in part because we wanted more engagement with victims’ groups. We are delighted that Emily Hunt has joined us; she can give us, and has given us, invaluable insight from her position as a victim.

As far as the culture is concerned, the noble Lord is absolutely right. This is a cross-governmental issue. It is fair to say that, in schools and colleges, there is now more understanding of what consent means and, if I can put it this way, of what consent does not mean. If I may be personal for a moment, frankly, I see that in the education my own children get at their schools. They get an education that I do not think people in this House would have got when they were at school.

On legal proceedings, the noble Lord is absolutely right. There are careful rules now over when a claimant’s sexual history is relevant to the case. Often, it is not. We have put in place a number of changes to ensure that complainants are better looked after by the courts system. For example, Section 28 is currently being rolled out. It will enable vulnerable victims and witnesses who are subject to intimidation to give evidence and be cross-examined online and on-screen in advance of the trial.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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Everyone is agreed that the present system is failing badly, with only 1.6% of rape allegations leading to a charge and so many victims left traumatised by the process. The Minister called this “regrettable”. To a lay person in this sphere, to put it bluntly, it comes across as quite appalling.

I want to press the Minister, if I may, on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, which I am afraid he did not answer. Does he agree that, if we are serious about the recommendations when they are published, the Government will need from the outset to do what the Welsh Government have done: put forward a number of progress indicators, with a report published each year? If it is anything like the Northern Ireland report, there could be hundreds of recommendations in a wide range of spheres, and it would be so easy for them simply to drop through the sand unless there is a proper system of prioritisation and annual reports to Parliament on the progress on their implementation.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I will not quibble over the adjectives we use. The present position is entirely unsatisfactory. We need dramatic improvement, and it is my hope and that of the whole Government—particularly my honourable friend Mr Malthouse—that we will see that improvement.

On the specific point about data, we recognise the need for all partners across the criminal justice system to be held accountable for their part in improving outcomes for victims of rape and sexual violence, as well as for delivering on the action plan in the review. We will look for ways to address this. As Mr Malthouse said in terms in the other place yesterday,

“transparency is one of the key themes that we have been looking at … There will be an announcement, when the plan comes”,—[Official Report, Commons, 25/5/21; col. 267.]

as to how we will approach and publish the reporting of data.