In the virtual Lords on Thursday 23 April, Bishop Rachel asked Government about prisoners on short sentences, especially women and the children of offenders, and the impact of Covid-19 on their situations.
“My Lords, I echo what has been said already. I draw attention to my interests in the register, particularly the fact that I am president of the Nelson Trust. I will make just a few points.
“The Secretary of State has argued that the public would not accept the early release of certain categories of prisoners. The Government need to be clearer with the public about the risks in a pandemic to prisoners, key workers and their families. The potential risk of low-level, non-violent offenders being released on licence is far outweighed by the risk of inaction and delay. Will the Government commit to put into the public domain as soon as possible substantial and transparent information about how the release programme is working and publish daily statistics about coronavirus in prison, including the impact on staff and those in custody?
“My second point concerns the slow release of pregnant women and those with infants. What is the Government’s plan to maximise use of the voluntary sector’s capacity and experience? I urge the Government to fully involve the community. Women’s centres specialise in this sort of work. Charities such as Children Heard and Seen and Birthrights are doing remarkable work, as are faith groups. In this pandemic, good things are happening in the community and the justice system should be no exception.
“Finally, one burden of this situation weighs heavily on prisoners’ children, who may be too young to understand why they cannot visit or have contact as usual. When mothers in particular are given a short sentence for a non-violent offence, surely we do society far more harm than good by keeping them in custody rather than allowing them out on licence during the pandemic. At the very least, can the Minister ensure that all children with a parent in prison will be able to have regular, free telephone contact with their parent? These are difficult times and urgent action is required.”