Open Prisons

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 28th October 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox Labour, Tooting 2:30 pm, 28th October 2002

What plans he has to review the procedures to be followed by inmates on day release from open prisons; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Minister for Prisons and Probation)

It is important that prisoners in open conditions can re-establish links with the community, for all the reasons set out in the social exclusion unit report on reducing reoffending. That is the purpose of granting release on temporary licence. The Prison Service is currently reviewing all forms of such release and will report to Ministers in due course.

Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox Labour, Tooting

While I note that reply, is my right hon. Friend aware of the enormous publicity that a convicted criminal has recently received as to the sort of lifestyle that he was leading while on day release, including driving to work in his own car and having lunch in top restaurants? Did the prison authorities know about that, and if so, why did they not stop it? Is my hon. Friend further aware that public confidence in the day release system has been seriously eroded? It really is time that prison governors are clearly told what inmates can and cannot do when they are on day release from prison.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Minister for Prisons and Probation)

Although I entirely understand the concerns that gave rise to my hon. Friend's points, it is important that we do not allow the activities of one individual—who could not in any way be described as a Xquiet man"—to undermine the use of release for rehabilitation and resettlement. The fact is that prisoners on facility or resettlement licences are advised of the terms of those licences, and they are placed on trust to comply with their requirements.

As for travel arrangements, it is not uncommon for prisoners in open establishments to use their own transport to travel to work placements. Indeed, while Lord Archer was at North Sea camp, about 24 prisoners did that each day. The fact that the Prison Service has been criticised both for being too harsh and for being too lenient on Lord Archer suggests that it has got it about right bearing in mind the unusual challenges posed by this particular prisoner.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

May I put it to the Under-Secretary that too many prisoners are held in overcrowded local prisons such as Lincoln and that they could quite well be held in open prisons? It would be a great help if he could expedite the process of categorisation so that yet more people now held in the crowded local prisons could be transferred to the open prisons.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Minister for Prisons and Probation)

I agree about making sure that categorisation is undertaken as quickly as possible, and I have recently raised the issue with the Director General of the Prison Service for precisely the reason that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given. However, it is important to ensure that the prisoners allocated to open conditions are suited to those conditions. The proof of the success of the current arrangements is that, from memory, about 250,000 licences for leave from open prison were granted last year, and the failure rate is 0.1 per cent. That is testament to the robust nature of the current arrangements.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Does my hon. Friend accept that more prisoners should be allowed on day release schemes when that is considered appropriate and that any abuses committed by Archer should not be used as an excuse to discourage such schemes? They can be very useful in making sure that, when the prisoner leaves prison, he or she can lead a useful life. Are there not other ways of reducing the prison population? When the offence is less serious or there is no danger of violence, could not non-custodial sentences be used more than at present? Our prisons face a crisis, and I believe that my hon. Friend understands that.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Minister for Prisons and Probation)

My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that the prison system currently faces considerable pressures. He will have heard the statements on sentences made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor and about the need to consider the appropriate use of custody and to reserve it, in particular, for dangerous offenders, sex offenders and persistent offenders. My hon. Friend is also right to speak about the importance of allowing prisoners to resettle within the community. My original reply referred to the social exclusion unit report, because all the evidence demonstrates that, if prisoners lose contact with their families and lose their job or their home, it is much more difficult for them to resettle when they come out of the prison gates. Having a job is an effective crime prevention measure, because the statistics clearly tell us that a prisoner who walks out of the prison gates with a job to go to is half as likely to reoffend as someone with no job.