HC Deb 05 March 1981 vol 1000 cc405-6
6. Mrs. Renee Short

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what percentage of the prison population is currently held in open prisons.

Mr. Mayhew

On 31 January, just over 10 per cent. of adult male prisoners; and just under 30 per cent. of adult female prisoners.

Mrs. Short

Does the Minister recall that about 10 years ago the figure of male adult prisoners held in open conditions was 15 per cent., and that during that period the expenditure on the prison service has increased very dramatically? Will he look at the matter again and see whether more resources can be made available for the development of open prisons, which are generally very much more successful than the old eighteenth and nineteenth century prisons in rehabilitating offenders?

Mr. Mayhew

That aspect of this very difficult matter will be kept under review. It is important to note that a difference today from 10 years ago is that there is a much greater availability of non-custodial sentences, and that therefore fewer cases are suitable, proportionately, to go to open prisons.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise the effectiveness of hostel arrangements—which come under the same category as open prisons—such as exist at Preston prison within my constituency? Does he recognise that, even allowing for the occasional lapse, it is proving to be a most effective method of assisting long-term prisoners to get back into society at the end of their term?

Mr. Mayhew

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. In proper cases, the hostels perform a very valuable service. The difficulty is in balancing in each case the need to protect the public with the important need to ensure that somebody, particularly a long-term prisoner, is helped to go back into the open community.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

How many prisoners at present held in overcrowed closed prisons could be suitably transferred to open prisons without appreciable risk to the local communities?

Mr. Mayhew

That is not a question that is capable of a precise answer. I hope that the answer is"None," because I hope that nobody is held in a closed prison who could suitably be looked after in an open one.

Mr. Stanbrook

In view of the increasing levels of crime, and to avoid the need to release criminals into the civilian population before their time, is my hon. and learned Friend satisfied that he cannot persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to devote more resources to the construction of prisons, if only for temporary accommodation, and if only for open prisons?

Mr. Mayhew

My right hon. Friend has already this afternoon expressed gratitude for the way in which he has been treated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There are very many demands upon the Chancellor, because each of us in his own Department would like to get more money.