HC Deb 25 February 1981 vol 999 cc361-2W
Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current capacity of prisons and the number of prisoners held in prison; and what were the comparable capacity and occupation figures on the same date in each of the previous 10 years.

Mr. Mayhew

Comparable information on the total certified normal accommodation as against the total number of inmates of all prison department establishments in England and Wales is available only for 31 December each year, and is set out in the following table:

31 December Certified normal accommodation Total number of inmates
1970 32,992 38,982
1971 35,605 37,835
1972 36,236 37,692
1973 36,391 35,010
1974 35,342 37,275
1975 36,404 39,211
1976 36,675 40,391
1977 36,520 40,158
1978 37,735 40,523
1979 38,494 41,152
1980 38,930 *35,825
* In addition, 932 persons were detained in approved places under the Imprisonment (Temporary Provisions) Act 1980. and about 3,200 were exceptionally detained in police cells.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he has taken to reduce prison overcrowding; and what further initiatives he plans to deal with the problem.

Mr. Whitelaw

A small reduction in the prison population will result from the Prison (Amendment) Rules 1981 which came into effect on 23 February and which allow remission to be earned on short sentences of imprisonment of more than five days.

Within the prison system, adjustments are regularly made to reduce overcrowding by the best use of the available accommodation; and the Government hope, throughout the 1980s, to have a steady programme of starting the construction of two new prison establishments each year as well as continuing a programme of modernising and improving the existing estate.

The prospect of a substantial reduction in overcrowding must, however, rest primarily on a renewed commitment to avoiding custody wherever possible and, where imprisonment is thought essential, a move towards shorter sentences for all except the violent offender. The Government have made clear their commitment to increasing the use of alternatives to custody for nonviolent offenders whenever possible, and we are supporting fully the new initiative sponsored by the Central Council of Probation and After-Care Committees and the Magistrates' Association, which will be exploring ways in which this can be achieved. In addition, the Court of Appeal has called for the imposition of shorter prison sentences on certain offenders for whom prison sentences are unavoidable, and the best prospect for an early reduction in the prison population lies in the exercise of judicial discretion in the manner indicated by the Court of Appeal.