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Holloway Prison (Conditions)

Volume 414: debated on Thursday 18 October 1945

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on conditions in Holloway Prison; and whether he will set up a committee of inquiry into the state of the prisons generally.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied that, although there is a serious shortage of officers at Holloway prison, the prisoners are conducting themselves well and that the prison is orderly and disciplined.

I am glad to have an opportunity of trying to put this matter in proper perspective. The number of prisoners in Holloway Prison is now over 600 or nearly twice as many as before the war, but the number of officers (including temporary and less experienced officers) is only a little higher than the pre-war figure. Every effort has been made to find additional recruits, but until recently the dearth of suitable women available for this work has been such that recruitment has done little more than replace wastage. Moreover the staff is weakened by the comparative inexperience of many of the recruits. Excluding the nursing staff of 24 sisters and the V.A.D.s, there are at present employed at Holloway over 80 officers of whom 47 are permanent. Certain adjustments of duty have been made to relieve the staff, but the strain on the staff, particularly on the permanent and more experienced officers, has been heavy; and some impairment of the pre-war standards of administration has been inevitable. In these circumstances I consider the staff have achieved a remarkable and praiseworthy degree of success in maintaining order and discipline. In recent weeks recruiting prospects have substantially improved. About 20 new recruits have been selected for appointment and many more applicants are now being examined. I shall be very sorry if exaggerated statements about the conditions of the prison deter potential candidates from entering a public service where much good work can be done. There is no case for a committee of inquiry either as regards Holloway Prison or prisons generally. Shortage of staff has caused difficulties in many public services. In the prison service the difficulty has been specially acute because of the increase of the prison population but with every month it is now to be expected that the recruiting position will improve.

Is the Home Secretary aware that his remark about "some impairment of pre-war standards at Holloway" can only be described as a triumph of understatement, and does he require further evidence before he can make up his mind that it is time to inquire further into the state of affairs, not only at Holloway but in prisons throughout the entire country?

I accept the compliment paid to me in the first part of the supplementary question, although I think it was completely undeserved. It is, therefore, the more acceptable. With regard to the second part, I can assure the hon. Member that I have this matter constantly before me, that I am convinced that with the inflow of recruits, substantial improvements will be made, and that I think the proper time to have an inquiry will be when we can regard the circumstances as having returned to something reasonably normal.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that recent references to Holloway Prison as "Bedlam" have caused resentment amongst those prisoners who have been co-operating with the officers in trying to meet the situation created by the shortage of staff, with particular reference to those who have been attending the honour class in handicrafts, in which prisoners are put upon their honour and are doing a reasonable job, and which is now conducted by a prisoner in a very satisfactory and orderly manner?

I am convinced that if I understated the case certain other people have been very much overstating it in their public references to this matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, on the admission of the Home Office itself, less than 10 per cent. of women officer recruits stay for a period of over three months, and is there not something wrong with the situation when 90 per cent, of the recruits walk out in three months? Does he say that all is well there?

Nothing I have said this afternoon indicates that I think that all is well anywhere. I am aware of the great difficulties that have confronted the staff and which continue to confront them, and I intend to give them my full support and do all I can, by encouraging and assisting recruitment of the right type of person and allowing persons who are unsuitable to go, to ensure that their task shall be lightened.