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Volume 931: debated on Thursday 12 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many prisoners have broken prison rules; how much remission they have lost; and what is the range of crimes which they have committed, for the latest convenient period.

As at 10th May 1977, 99 prisoners convicted of offences committed after 1st March 1976 were refusing to wear prison clothing or to work. Ten female prisoners were also refusing to work. This is a breach of prison rules and an offence against discipline. Adjudications by prison governors take place at regular intervals and as at 10th may 145 prisoners had been punished and had forfeited some 27 years—9,936 days—remission of sentence. This includes loss of remission by 52 prisoners who were formerly refusing to wear prison clothes or to work but who are now conforming to prison rules.

The crimes for which these prisoners were committed to prison include murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, explosions and other firearms and explosives offences.

Will my hon. Friend say how many prisoners are conforming? With regard to his policy of ending special category status, which many of us supported, will he give us some comment, in the light of all these figures, about how this policy is working?

The best answer I can give is that while 99 prisoners are not conforming, 218 are conforming to prison rules and discipline.

As I have said on many occasions before, the ending of special category status is now a fact and has been so for over a year. The Government are formally committed to this policy. From the peak figure of nearly 1,600 special category prisoners, we have come down to 998 at the last count.

To what extent is the breaking of prison discipline a matter for prison visitors? If it is entirely the responsibility of visitors to adjudicate in these cases, will the Minister say whether he is entirely satisfied with the operation of these boards?

I am entirely satisfied with the operation of these boards. The prisoners are allowed a statutory visit, I believe, once a month. If I am wrong in that respect I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

The prisoners are liable to lose other privileges such as parcels and so on. But I am quite happy and contented with the activities of the prison visitors.