HC Deb 08 June 1978 vol 951 cc358-60
13. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the capacity of prisons without overcrowding in England and Wales; and what is the present prison population.

Mr. John

On 30th April 1978 the certified normal accommodation of Prison Department establishments was 37,764 and the prison population was 41,929.

Mr. Knox

In view of the serious overcrowding in prisons, does the hon. Gentleman think that the Government's plans to produce fewer than 5,000 additional prison places in the next five years are adequate? Does he not think that a bigger provision than this is necessary if rehabilitation is to be a meaningful reality?

Mr. John

To the 5,000 places must be added a new prison which will be started in the 1981–82 period. Certainly we are concerned about overcrowding. The hon. Gentleman would be better advised to talk to his hon. Friends and spokesmen for his party who are calling for harsher treatment for people in prison.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the prisons which is not overcrowded at present is Parkhurst, and that the time is long past when the dispute there with the officers was resolved? It is also causing great problems for the civilian workers in that prison, and people who wish to visit inmates. Will he do what he can to settle this dispute?

Mr. John

I shall certainly bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the nature of the dispute.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

In view of the excessive amount of overcrowding, is it not now time to take steps to remove from our prisons those, such as alcoholics and mentally abnormal offenders, who have no place in prison in the first instance, and to take steps to clear our prisons of the petty and trivial offenders who have no access to parole? We can do this by introducing a system of remission, as, indeed, was the case in Northern Ireland.

Mr. John

As to the last part of my hon. Friend's remarks, he will know that we are looking at the matter. We have some sympathy with what he says. Concerning the question of alcoholics, as my hon. Friend will know, the Criminal Law Act removed the penalty of imprisonment for simple dunkenness. As for mentally disturbed prisoners, we are doing what we can with the Department of Health and Social Security to see that what my hon. Friend suggests is brought about.

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