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Prison Building

Volume 895: debated on Thursday 17 July 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is his latest estimate of the cost of the current prison building programme.

Capital expenditure on prison building in England and Wales in 1975–76 is estimated at £32·1 million. This includes expenditure on additions and improvement to existing etablishments and on staff quarters.

Provision for prison building in England and Wales in the forecasts contained in the White Paper on Public Expenditure of 1978–79—Cmnd. 5879—is £35·3 million in 1976–77, £36·9 million in 197778 and £35·3 million in 1978–79.

Is the Minister aware that approximately 20 per cent. of the prison population of nearly 40,000 consists of people who have not paid fines? Does the hon. Lady believe that imprisonment is the most appropriate way of dealing with defaulters? Does she agree that one way of cutting both the prison population and this massive and unjustified cost of the prison building programme is to accept the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Penal System and to institute a system of day fines?

That is one of the ways in which the prison population might be reduced, but there are others. My right hon. Friend recently made a speech in which he outlined the proposals we have in mind, including an increase in the use of non-custodial penalties.

How much of the proposed expenditure on building new prisons is in respect of open prisons? Does my hon. Friend accept that in suitable cases it is both more humane and more effective to keep as many prisoners as possible in open prisons rather than in the mausoleums dating from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in which most of them are now housed?

In reply to the last part of my hon. and learned Friend's supplementary question, great efforts are being made and plans are being brought forward to redevelop and improve the outdated Victorian prisons and the hutted camps. The number of open prison places available depends very much on the number of prisoners who are suitable at any one time to be put into an open prison.

Will the hon. Lady consider urgently the possibility of selling off the freehold sites of some town centre prisons, thereby establishing open prisons in better locations, as the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) suggested? Would not that provide a good comercial deal for the prison service for less cash spent by the taxpayer?

The definition of an open prison does not depend upon where it is located. It depends upon the degree of security it gives. Therefore, the logic of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is not clear to me.