23rd April 2020: Lord Faulkner of Worcester:

My Lords, we have been told that life in Britain will be different once the Covid-19 emergency is over. I hope that one change will be in the approach that we adopt towards Britain’s prisons and the men and women who are held there. The Prison Service has struggled to contain overcrowding for at least the last 50 years. Measures to reduce the prison population have been discussed continuously during that time. Governments have sometimes expressed themselves as being in favour, but far too little has been done to bring that about. The Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public White Paper in 1990, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, will remember, described prisons as an, “expensive way of making bad people worse.” Noble Lords will rightly recoil from the idea of executive release to cancel the effect of a sentence lawfully imposed by the court. However, we now have a situation when a prison sentence carries with it a real risk to the life of a prisoner or of prison staff because of the conditions inside the jails, in half of which the coronavirus is present. There has always been a time when prisoners have died in prison—for some time now, there have been over 300 prisoner deaths a year, a third of them by their own hand—but we have to go back to the time of the great 18th-century prison reformer John Howard, after whom the Howard League is named and who was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, to find dangers similar to those that we have today because of Covid-19. In preparing for this debate, I spoke to someone who works at Her Majesty’s Prison Hewell in Worcestershire, described last year by HMIP as “squalid, demeaning and depressing”. As far as spreading the coronavirus is concerned, he said that the prison was as dangerous as a cruise ship—worse in many ways, as the cells are smaller than a typical ship’s cabin. As so many other countries have decided, and as many of your Lordships have said in this debate, the release of prisoners has now become a matter not just of compassion and humanity but of practical necessity to save lives.

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