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Pre-Release Hostels For Prisoners

Volume 929: debated on Wednesday 6 April 1977

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7.33 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to empower the Secretary of State to make regulations with regard to pre-release hostels and for connected purposes.
The pre-release hostel scheme is an excellent one in many respects. It allows a prisoner who is shortly to leave prison to acclimatise, to some degree, to living in the outside world. By no means all prisoners are permitted to take advantage of pre-release, but those who are thought suitable move into a hostel a short while before their release, go to work in normal factories and offices during the day and return to the hostel in the evening.

Unfortunately, there is reason to suppose that the scheme is not working as well as it might in all respects, and I refer particularly to what is happening at Win-son Green Prison in Birmingham. I am told that security at the prerelease hostel there is virtually nil.

After men return to the hostel, as they must, they are allowed to go out again during the evening but must be back by 10.30 p.m. After that, the hostel is locked, but there is only one warder, and I understand that the pre-release prisoners are free to open a window and get out, with, I am afraid, often disastrous results.

I cite the case of Roy Abdul Kelly who was well known as a man who always carried and used a knife. He got out after 10.30 one evening, stole a car, got drunk and broke into four houses. People were at home in two of the houses and he held them at knife-point and terrorised them. One couple had an 18-year-old daughter whom Kelly tried to rape at knife-point. Kelly and the girl were both cut in the struggle, but he returned to the safety of the pre-release hostel.

When the police were investigating the crime, they checked the Criminal Records Office because the crime had the hallmarks of certain criminals, notably Kelly. However, the police thought that Kelly could not have been guilty and he was struck off the list because he was still in prison at the time of the offence.

It is a tragedy that this man later fled to Bath and, again using a knife, broke into a house and raped and stabbed to death a woman of 78. He was tried for that crime and is in prison today, but during the course of the trial he asked for 34 other cases of burglary to be taken into consideration, all of which were carried out while he was on pre-release.

This man had a long prison record and was known to be a knife man—indeed, he claimed that a knife was the tool of his trade. He was known as a violent man and a drunkard. One must ask why he was allowed on pre-release at all.

However, the Kelly case is not the only cause for concern by any means. Two men are awaiting trial at Warwick Crown Court accused of robbery with violence while on prerelease. One is awaiting trial at Stafford Crown Court but has unfortunately disappeared into the wide blue yonder and it is anyone's guess whether he will turn up. Two pre-release prisoners murdered a policeman in Reading some time ago. I have no wish to end the pre-release scheme, but I do wish it to be operated in such a way as to protect the public.

The Bill provides that prisoners should be selected for pre-release hostels with more care. I know that in some places they are selected with care, but it is clear that in many other places they are not. Secondly, I wish to make the hostels secure.

Pre-release hostels were and are meant to be halfway houses and not places which prisoners are totally free to leave at any time. The men are still serving sentences while they are there. They are free to go to their jobs during the day but should not be free to commit crimes at night. My Bill would not harm the more trustworthy pre-release men because they do not abuse the scheme at present. It could do no harm to them if hostels were more secure.

It may be said that as a man would be free soon anyway, we should not worry about making hostels more secure, but surely a prisoner who had just been released would be more careful and anxious not to commit another crime that would lead to another gaol term. However, these men in pre-release hostels are protected by the best alibi—"I could not have committed the crime, your honour, because I was in prison at the time".

This is a small Bill, but I think that it is necessary on three counts: first, to protect the public; secondly, to prevent the pre-release system from falling into disrepute; and, thirdly, because, peculiarly enough, the Home Secretary apparently has no such powers as I seek for him. I think that he should have such powers. My Bill asks that these powers be made available to him.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Jill Knight, Mr. Keith Stainton, Mr. Antony Buck, Mr. John Farr, Mr. Reginald Eyre, Mr. T. H. H. Skeet, Mr. R. Bonner Pink and Mr. Andrew Mackay.