HC Deb 17 February 1949 vol 461 cc1330-3
30. Mr. Percy Wells

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the resentment on the Isle of Sheppey, arising from his decision to utilise Eastchurch Royal Air Force Camp as an open-air prison; whether he has taken the views of the local authorities concerned into consideration; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Ede

The answer to the first part of the Question is "No, Sir." As regards the remainder of the Question, I am informed that this camp is no longer required for use by the Royal Air Force and, as it is considered by the Prison Commissioners to be eminently suitable for use as an open prison to relieve the serious overcrowding in London prisons, negotiations for taking it over have begun. The proposal is now being considered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and it is his responsibility to take into consideration the views of the Kent County Council, as the local planning authority, before a final decision to take over the camp for use as a prison is reached.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is an open-air prison? Do the prisoners live in the open-air permanently, or what?

Mr. Ede

I do not think that I said "open-air." This is what is called an open prison, which means that the restrictions are rather less than in other prisons.

31. Mr. Molson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prisoners have escaped from Leyhill since this barless prison was established.

Mr. Ede

Since this prison was established in June, 1946, 33 prisoners have escaped. The proportion of prisoners that have escaped compared with the total number of prisoners at Leyhill has steadily decreased. Nine escaped out of a total of 141 during the six months of 1946; 14 out of 377 during 1947; and eight out of 437 during 1948.

Mr. Molson

Is it the case that amongst these escapees one was serving a sentence for murder, another for manslaughter and another for using arms to avoid arrest; and does the Home Secretary consider that this proportion of escapes from this prison is entirely satisfactory?

Mr. Ede

I think that the figures of the number of escapes show that the position is entirely satisfactory, and from the visit which I paid to the prison I am certain that that is very largely due to the state of corporate feeling that the Governor and the officers of the prison have managed to build up inside it. I cannot, without having a Question on the Order Paper, answer the question with regard to the particular offences which may have been committed by persons who have escaped.

Mr. Stanley

While having every sympathy with the character of this experiment, I must ask: Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is quite a fair risk to the public to include among these people criminals convicted of offences against the person, and others of a violent character?

Mr. Ede

There is a later Question by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), on which I shall, I think, answer that point.

Mr. W. J. Brown

Is the Home Secretary satisfied that the staff at Leyhill is adequate?

Mr. Ede

No, I do not think the staff is adequate; but the fact that from this open prison, where any man can walk out if he feels inclined to do so, only eight out of 437 have escaped during 1948 does speak very highly of the spirit which the staff have managed to engender.

Brigadier Head

That only shows what life is like outside.

32. Mr. Molson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what disciplinary measures are being taken against the two prisoners guilty of crimes of violence who escaped from Leyhill.

Mr. Ede

As I indicated in my reply to the hon. Member's Question on 10th February last, both prisoners are now detained at Bristol. The punishment awarded in both cases was: 14 days' confinement to cell, 15 days' "No. 1 Restricted Diet," 168 days' forfeiture of stage, and 280 days' loss of remission of sentence.

33. Mr. Molson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what principle prisoners are gaoled in barless prisons; why the two men, one convicted of rape and of wounding with intent and the other of robbery with aggravation, aggravated assault with intent to rob and mutiny, were put into Leyhill Prison; what steps were taken to ensure that they did not escape and become a menace to the neighbourhood; and how many persons convicted of similar crimes of violence are now in Leyhill and Sudbury Prisons.

Mr. Ede

Open prisons are established for different purposes. Leyhill is a prison for first offenders with sentences of four years' penal servitude and upwards. Sudbury is a training centre for selected men, mainly first offenders, with shorter sentences. Their object is to protect society from crime by training suitable prisoners in conditions which are most likely to divert them from crime and fit them to lead honest and useful lives after discharge. No prisoner is sent to an open establishment until he has been confined in a secure prison for sufficient time to enable an assessment of his suitability for open prison conditions to be made, and the prison authorities attach great importance to careful selection.

The risk of escape from open prisons must be accepted. The general advantages of the open system for suitable cases has been abundantly demonstrated. Experience shows that the risks attached to it are small, and no prisoner who has escaped from Leyhill has, so far as is known, committed any offence in the neighbourhood. Of the 336 prisoners now at Leyhill 112 were convicted of crimes of violence of varying degrees. Of the 78 prisoners at Sudbury three were similarly convicted.