Prison Population

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th May 1983.

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Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Wandsworth Battersea South 12:00 am, 5th May 1983

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the size of the prison population; and how many people are currently being held in police and court cells.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

On 29 April the prison population stood at 44,407, in addition to which 296 prisoners were held in police cells.

Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Wandsworth Battersea South

Does the Home Secretary agree that holding prisoners in police and court cells is unsatisfactory, and will he advance proposals to remedy that problem urgently? Is he aware that families of prisoners are sometimes told that their relative is being held in custody at one police or court cell, only to find, when they go to visit him, that he has been moved to somewhere completely different where visits are not possible?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I agree that that is unsatisfactory. As the hon. Gentleman knows, certain wings in some local prisons in London are out of action because we are undertaking improvements and maintenance which should have been carried out a long time ago. No one should suggest that that is wrong. I hope to propose measures that will put the matter right quickly. I have plans to make other places available so that people can be moved from London prisons to others outside.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

Is there any alternative, in the longer run, to building even more prisons than my right hon. Friend proposes?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

At long last we have a Government who have had the courage to take on the job and to build prisons. That must be right and be seen to be right.

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

Does the Home Secretary agree that the key to the alternative to prison is the probation service? Yet, in his article on prison overcrowding in The Times today, the right hon. Gentleman did not mention the probation service. Is that not an extremely regrettable omission? Will he bear in mind that the expected increase of only 155 probation officers next year will be hopelessly inadequate if the prison population is to be reduced significantly?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

In that article I referred to the use of non-custodial alternatives. The Government have done a great deal in that regard. Indeed, we have done a great deal more to build up the probation service than any of our predecessors. We have also done a good deal more to increase its numbers. The hon. Lady should remember that.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I appreciate the improvements in the prison service that my right hon. Friend has achieved, but has he had an opportunity yet to read the all-party Select Committee report which unanimously recommended that all prisoners should have the right of access to education as a means of alleviating the problem of thousands of prisoners being kept locked up for as much as 23 hours a day? Does he agree that that is having a severely deleterious effect on their chances of improvement when they return to society?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Yes. I am grateful for that important report, which should be studied. As I have made clear several times, the more public debate there is on what happens in our prisons, the more likely we are to deal with many of the problems that we have had for a long time and ignored at our peril.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

Will the Home Secretary look for a cheaper and more effective alternative to prison for vagrants who are frequently sent to prison for comparatively small social security frauds, and for whom prison has no rehabilitative effect and is extremely expensive?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that those people should not go to prison, but the magistrates have a problem if someone persistently refuses to pay a fine. What else can they do with him?