Following the scandalous report into the safety of HMP Liverpool the Justice Select Committee used its powers – powers we have not used in many years – to demand the appearance of contractors, ministers and the officials who run our prisons.
I focused much of my questioning on the outsourcing of maintenance to private firms. Amey – the company who undertook the contract to run maintenance at HMP Liverpool – has obviously failed to fulfil its contractual agreement with the Government. I wanted to know what penalties they faced and who is responsible when they fail.
What we learnt was that they had been penalised for their failings, but the Chief Executive of HM Prisons and Probation, Michael Spurr, was not satisfied with the effectiveness of contracts across the whole prisons estates. He went onto note the failings of Carillion and how contracts across the estate are not working.
2018 has shown us that many firms who take on these contracts neither have the expertise or the resources to fulfil them. We have seen this at Oakhill Young Offenders Institute – run by G4S – we have seen it with the collapse of Carillion and now we have seen it with the failings of Amey at HMP Liverpool. We now need a root and branch investigation into government contracts to make sure that the services being provided are in the public interest.
The Chair of the Justice Select Committee and I successfully secured a debate in the Commons on the shocking state of our prisons. I focused my contribution on the safety of our prisons. This included deaths in prisons, self-harming, drug use and attacks on prison officers.
The statistics are clear for all to see: prisons in the UK have become more dangerous and less conducive to rehabilitation. The ultimate goal of our prisons should be to ensure that those convicted of crimes are turned into productive members of society. There will no doubt be a small, but significant. minority who will never be allowed to return to civil society and will remain in prison. But for the vast majority we must be able to provide them with education and skills to ensure that they never return to prison. But this needs a safe environment for the prisoners and the prison officers to fulfil that goal.
I put a number of questions to the minister which he needs to answer. There have been a number of moves taken by this Government which have undermined prison safety – such as the huge cuts to prison officer numbers. There was a unanimous voice from the Commons during the debate and it said the Government has failed to provide a prison service we can be proud of.
Reform prisons were announced with much fanfare by the Government as a way to tackle the deterioration in our prisons and to ensure that prison governors had the powers they needed to cater for the needs of the prisoners, the prison officers and families to improve rehabilitation.
A trail was put in place with a small number of prisons to demonstrate how these prisons would work. However, one of these prisons, HMP Holme House, has been in the news as a recent investigation found that it had a “very serious drug problem.” All along I have stated that it has been unclear who would be responsible if something went wrong in the reform prison. So today I asked the Secretary of State who was responsible for this failing: the governor, the head of the justice department civil service or himself.
Parliament returned today and first order of business was Justice Questions. As you know, I was re-elected to sit on the Justice Select Committee – responsible for holding the Government to account on how they run prisons and the courts – so I was eager to press the Government on what has occurred over the summer.
In particular I wanted to raise the recent rise in incidents of drones being used to smuggle banned items into prisons and on those who have escaped from prison. The Minister gave an inconclusive answer that begs more questions. The Justice Committee will be reconvened shortly and I will be pressing further for a decent answer.