On 16th December the Bishop of Gloucester received written answers to questions on pregnant women and mothers in prison, and the impact on families of the remand backlog:
Prisoners on Remand
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the remand backlog on (1) prison overcrowding, and (2) the health and wellbeing of prisoners, including children and young people held on remand. [HL11119]
Baroness Scott of Bybrook: The remand population has increased during the pandemic, mostly due to the challenges in holding Crown Court trials during this period. However, as published in the Prison Population National Statistics on the 26th November, the remand population is forecast to drop by September 2021 as trial capacity is expected to increase in the next year as the court system recovers from the impact of COVID-19. In turn more remand prisoners will flow out of the remand population.
The total prison population has also reduced by over 5,000 since the start of the pandemic and as a result the total number of prisoners currently held in crowded conditions has reduced. The extent to which crowding has reduced in 20/21 will be reflected in the publication of the HMPPS Annual Digest.
The pandemic has brought new challenges to managing the estate and we have worked at pace to ensure we have enough suitable accommodation, protect the most vulnerable and reduce transmission of infection. We have produced a range of products to support Governors in devising and implementing local safety and welfare plans designed to mitigate risk of self-harm, including tailored guidance for supporting specific groups of people in prison whose wellbeing may be more impacted by Covid-19 measures.
Additionally, the latest monthly Youth Custody data published in September show there were 620 children and young people (including 18 year olds) in the youth secure estate – this is significantly down from the published figure of 852 at the end of February 2020, and the lowest number recorded within this publication. Of the 620 children and young people in custody at this time, 236 (38%) were on remand.
MoJ is currently undertaking a review into the use of custodial remand for children, including identifying options to reduce numbers where appropriate. In the Smarter Sentencing White Paper, MoJ announced plans to raise the threshold for imposing custodial remand on children and require courts to record their rationale.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the remand backlog on the welfare of the families of those being held in custody. [HL11120]
Baroness Scott of Bybrook: Crime recovery work is moving at pace – there are currently more than 260 courtrooms available to hold jury trials and 2,360 jury trials have been listed between restarting in May and 25 October. Since August, Magistrates’ courts have been disposing more cases than they are receiving, dealing with over 22,000 cases each week. Cases where the defendant is held in custody are actively monitored and continue to be prioritised.
Pre-trial detention is never considered lightly and is designed to minimise the risk that defendants who pose a risk to the public, or those likely to abscond and evade justice, could be released back into the community on bail before their trial can be listed. In the event this was to happen, this could significantly undermine public confidence in the justice system and have a detrimental impact on victims and witnesses.
We recognise that maintaining the ties individuals in custody have with their families and friends during this stressful time is important for the wellbeing of both the individual and their family. To facilitate family contact during Covid, we commenced the rollout of video calling which is now available in all 110 public prisons at no cost to families at the current time. This was introduced alongside other emergency measures, including the provision of 1,500 secure mobile phones and extra phone credit, to help maintain family contact while physical visits were suspended.
We continue to learn lessons from this to inform both the current service and longer-term planning in line with the recommendations of Lord Farmer’s reviews for maintaining family ties.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many women in prison are (1) pregnant, or (2) mothers with primary caring responsibilities. [HL11076]
Baroness Scott of Bybrook: Pregnancy data is collected locally by individual prisons, to ensure the appropriate support can be provided to women in our care. Currently, there is no central collection of this data.
I am however, able to confirm that an ad hoc data collection exercise was undertaken last year, which found that at 15:00hrs on 28 October 2019, 47 women in prison self-declared as pregnant, including those on remand and who had been sentenced.
On 31 July we published a summary report of our review of operational policy on pregnancy and women separated from children under 2. This includes an undertaking to extend the range of data we publish in relation to pregnant women in prison and can be found in the attached document. We have already taken steps to increase our internal national data collection processes to support the policy review, and to enable us to plan for future publication.
We recognise that maternal imprisonment can have particularly detrimental impact on family life, and that children whose mothers are in prison are a vulnerable group and may need additional help to address both the short and long-term impacts that maternal imprisonment can have.
At the moment, information on a prisoner’s caring responsibilities and children living in the community is monitored locally by prison Governors/Directors to ensure the appropriate support can be provided to women and their families.
On reception into custody, all prisoners are asked if they have any children living at home and what their ages are. Currently, this information is not captured in a way that can be centrally monitored, and we know that there are challenges around parents being reluctant to disclose this information due to fear of involvement from social services.
However, we are considering how to monitor and publish this information.
Report: The material can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2020-12-03/HL11076