On 25th May 2023, the Bishop of St Albans spoke in a debate on the government’s Imprisonment for Public Protection Action Plan, pointing out a high rate of suicide among prisoners serving IPP sentences and urging reform of the system:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his tenacity and for keeping this terrible situation before us. I rise with a certain reluctance because I do not have the expertise that many other noble Lords in this debate have, though like all bishops I have a right to visit the prisons in my diocese, which I do, and I am regularly in touch with people working in the legal and penal systems. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the lead bishop on prisons, has raised this matter on numerous occasions and sadly cannot be here today.
It is now seven months since the House of Commons Justice Select Committee issued its report on IPP sentences. There were some alarming conclusions in it, such as noting:
“The indefinite nature of the sentence has contributed to feelings of hopelessness and despair”,
leading to some suicides within the IPP population. There are reports that perhaps as many as 81 people have taken their own life when serving an IPP sentence. If we could identify in any other area of life that 81 lives had been taken, we would be calling for inquiries and wanting answers. Many of us are concerned to hear of further, more recent suicides.
The Bishop of Gloucester asked a question on ensuring homes for those released from prison during a debate on the repeal of the 1824 Vagrancy Act on 17th May 2023:
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I thank the Minister for those statistics and for his assurance of an eventual commitment to no one being criminalised simply for having nowhere to live. Is he aware of the Ministry of Justice data which shows that people released from prison to homelessness are over 50% more likely to offend within a year? What more is being done to ensure that prison leavers have a home on release?
The Bishop of Derby received the following written answer on 17th May 2023:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds asked His Majesty’s Government how many children are being held on remand in the most recent period for which data is available; and whether they are taking steps to reduce this.
Lord Bellamy (Con, Ministry of Justice): As at 31 March 2023, there were 244 children and young people remanded to custody in the Youth Secure Estate (this figure includes 18-year-olds). Remanding a child to custody must always be a last resort, however that option must remain open to the courts where it is necessary to protect the public.
The Bishop of Gloucester asked a question on the rhetoric used emphasising arrest and imprisonment, rather than rehabilitation, during a debate on the promised uplift in numbers of police on 2nd May 2023:
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, it is very good to hear the Minister speak about police uplift. I am certainly not asking for more and more but I am asking for more join-up. I am really concerned about the “we are coming for you” rhetoric being part of the solution, and the sense that if we simply arrest more people and send more people to prison, we will reduce reoffending. There was nothing in the data about the high rate of reoffending. Unless we look at what is going on in our prisons, at how we rehabilitate people and address some of the systemic issues relating to why people offend in the first place, we will not be doing that join-up across the criminal justice system. I am really concerned about the rhetoric whereby, if you arrest more people and lock them up for longer, our streets will be safer; the data simply does not reflect that. Will the Minister say more about the join-up across the whole of the criminal justice system?
On 21st April 2023, the Bishop of Leeds spoke in support of the Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill, which would ensure that people are not released from prison on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday in order to ensure proper access to services and support:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise in the gap to sing from the same hymn sheet and welcome this Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his inspirational work and commitment to these matters. We need an urgent change in practice for those who leave prison. I know that my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who is not able to be here today but leads for the Church of England on prisons, also welcomes this Bill.
The Bishop of Derby received the following written answer on 22nd March 2023:
The Lord Bishop of Derby asked His Majesty’s Government:
what steps they have taken to improve the opportunities for sport and physical activity for women and girls in the criminal justice system.
what progress they have made in improving the availability of sport and physical activity for women and girls in the criminal justice system; and what plans they have to expand provision.
Lord Bellamy (Con): Encouraging engagement in sport and exercise amongst women and girls in contact with the criminal justice system can have a significant impact on reducing reoffending through both early intervention and diversionary activities, as well as rehabilitation for those sentenced.
The Bishop of Gloucester received the following written answer on 6th March 2023:
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester asked His Majesty’s Government how many restricted status prisoners were held in the female estate in each of the last 10 years.
Lord Bellamy (Con): A Restricted Status (RS) prisoner is any female, young person or young adult prisoner, convicted or on remand, whose escape would present a serious risk to the public and who is required to be held in designated secure accommodation.
The Bishop of Chelmsford asked about support for prisoners re-entering the community on 10th January 2022, during a debate on prison chaplaincy:
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, on Christmas Day, I was pleased to be able to visit my local prison and young offenders’ institute in Chelmsford, where I was taking a service. I had several conversations with both prisoners and members of staff who expressed concern about ensuring continued support for those who are leaving prison and re-entering the community. As the work of multifaith community chaplaincy and indeed the Welcome Directory continues to be developed to support those leaving prison, can the Minister say what discussions there have been, if any, regarding possible funding support from HMG?
The Lord Bishop of Carlilse asked a question on what the government is doing to promote alternatives to prison sentences, during a debate on prison capacity on 6th December 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester much regrets that she is not able to be present today. I know she shares my concern over this Statement since we, like others who have spoken, believe that the emergency use of police cells for prisoners is deeply worrying. We greatly welcome the increase in the number of police officers but feel that it is connected to the larger number of people going to prison, and that that should not be the case. Initially I wanted to ask about rehabilitation, but that question has already been addressed. I accept that the question of sentences is for the courts, but can the Minister help us by saying what the Government are doing to promote community and non-custodial sentences, rather than people simply going to prison?
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