Open Prisons

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th April 1999.

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Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 12:00 am, 26th April 1999

If he will review the procedure for selecting candidates to serve their prison sentences in open prisons: and if he will make a statement. [80967]

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, quite properly, the principal criterion for the allocation of prisoners to open conditions is that they are assessed as posing a low security risk. The Prison Service reviewed categorisation procedures for male prisoners last year, and is piloting a revised formula. Most importantly, it has also developed a systematic risk assessment for determining the suitability of women prisoners for open conditions.

Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

I thank the Minister for that response, but Ford open prison is in my constituency and I can tell him that the system is not working terribly well, as was shown by the escape of a prisoner who had a serious criminal record and who had also escaped from his previous prison. An ex-governor told me that the governor's job was much like that of the headmistress of a boarding school for girls who has to solicit inmates by telephoning around junior schools.

There is no central system governing the allocation of prisoners from closed prisons to open prisons. Some closed prisons are pioneering their own open units, while some open prisons are inadequately filled. Does the Minister accept that the system that he described is not working as intended?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I said, that is being considered, but Ford's occupancy rate is 73 per cent. of operational capacity. Were we to go in the direction that the hon. Gentleman suggests, we would, presumably, have to send people there on a much lower standard of risk assessment than at present. We must strike the right balance so that those who go to open prisons are those considered to be the lowest possible risks. To have 100 per cent. occupancy at Ford and elsewhere, which seems to be what the hon. Gentleman would like, would mean relaxing entry qualifications, for which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not argue.