Following her keynote presentation at the Modernising Criminal Justice Conference 2020 - which has been summarised in this blog post - Lucy Frazer QC, Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, joined our chair for the day, David Ormerod QC, Professor of Criminal Justice at University College London, to answer a number of questions from our audience. Here are the highlights.
Can you share more about the Prisoners Education Service and whether this will include in-cell technology to support education?
Ms Frazer explained that this was an issue very close to her heart and that the government is “absolutely committed to ensuring that prisoners are getting opportunities in prison because there's no point in coming into prison and leaving in the same way, in the same state, because then we haven't changed anything”.
She added that education is a key to this, and her team is looking at a number of things – including how to work best to serve the “significant and disproportionate” number of people who come into prison with a disability.
The Minister also stated it would be important to “link up what is being done in prisons to opportunities in the local area,” and therefore ensuring that prisons are teaching the skills that will be relevant to their jobs upon release.
In terms of in-cell technology, Ms Frazer said that the government was “looking very closely at what we can do in that sphere” in order to improve their education and learning.
Is there a worry that the long and short-term impact on government spending due to COVID-19 will hit a sector like prisons and how confident are you around securing and maintaining the required funding levels?
In response, the Minister said the government is committed to spending billions of pounds to “ensure the recovery from COVID-19”, including the significant investment that must be made in the NHS – and that will “have an impact on resources available to government”. However, since becoming Prisons Minister, she has been “struck by the commitment right at the very top level”, highlighted by the £2.5bn already set aside for the prison building programme. “I am confident that money will be preserved, and I do hope that we get further funds to continue some of the exciting programmes,” Ms Frazer concluded.
What immediate plans do you have for vulnerable female prisons, in particular those who have been very seriously affected by COVID-19?
The Minister highlighted the importance of this question and explained she has paid close attention to the current statistics, as well as individual stories.
“We have learned that the adult male estate has coped significantly better than the female estate and the children's estate, in terms of the isolation that has been necessary as a result of the pandemic. We are really alive to that, and the CEO of HM Prison & Probation Service, Jo Farrar, is undertaking specific work at the moment looking at the female estate to see what more we can do to support them.”
Ms Frazer said she recognised that the recent overall statistics in relation to violence was good, and that self-harm figures were also down – but this wasn’t the case in the female estate over this period. She mentioned how she was in contact with Governors of all female estates to determine what they can do to improve. The Minister explained female estates were in the first group to receive the ability to make video calls to family and friends. She concluded by stating that she is currently looking at a “number of other measures in order to protect those women in our care and custody”.
Follow the link to watch Lucy Frazer’s keynote presentation at Modernising Criminal Justice 2020. You can learn more about the agenda for the 2021 virtual event or book your ticket here.