HC Deb 20 June 1974 vol 875 cc670-1
17. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many women are now held in prison; and what changes he proposes in the custodial treatment of women offenders.

Dr. Summerskill

On 31st May 1974, there were 1,086 women and girls in custody in prison service establishments in England and Wales, of whom 302 were unsentenced. We intend to continue the policy of providing a flexible régime of treatment and training for women offenders which will, so far as possible, take account of their individual needs.

Mrs. Short

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that information. Does she not agree that of those women who are in prison the overwhelming majority really ought not to be there, and that women who are committed to prison because they are prostitutes, drug addicts, drunkards or shoplifters get very little help from the prison system? Will she do everything possible to see that they are either transferred to open prisons or receive care in the community? Can my hon. Friend say anything at this stage about the abolition of forced feeding of women in prison?

Dr. Summerskill

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already announced that it is his long-term aim to secure a significant reduction in the prison population and he has emphasised that the courts have a wide range of non-custodial penalties available to them. As regards the forced feeding of women in prison, the Home Secretary has already said that he is considering this matter.

Sir John Hall

The Minister said that over 300 women are in prison today when still awaiting sentence. I think that I heard her correctly. What is the average length of time, roughly, that they spend there before sentence is passed?

Dr. Summerskill

I should like to give the hon. Gentleman an accurate answer to that question—if he will table a separate Question, I shall answer it—but efforts are being made to increase the number of women bailed and to reduce the number of those held on custodial remand.