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Unconvicted Prisoners

Volume 977: debated on Thursday 31 January 1980

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12.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to cope with the rising number of unconvicted adults held on remand from London and the home counties; and whether he proposes to provide additional secure prison accommodation in London to assist with this problem.

The causes of pressure on remand accommodation in London and the South-East are complex; they include the shortage of suitable accommodation, the number of prisoners remanded in custody by the courts and the time taken for defendants to come to trial. We are reviewing the accommodation available in the light of the recommendations in the May report, and we are discussing the other matters with the Lord Chancellor's Department.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Is he aware that there are approximately 5,500 remand prisoners in the prison system of whom 1,200 are in Brixton prison? Is there not an urgent need for a new remand prison within the Greater London area?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The pressure in Brixton prison is indeed great and something should be done about it. I have hopes that it will be possible to make room for more remand prisoners in Pentonville. Whether and when that can be done is dependent on several factors, including refurbishing and security work.

In view of the fact that most of our prisons become schools for crime for those who enter them with little criminal experience. would it not be a better way of tackling the problem to hasten the trials of the people in custody and look to the court system as a method of quicker despatch, so that we do not need more prisons?

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that one important way of speeding up important trials is to abolish the presumption of innocence from silence and introduce tape recorded interviews with police officers?

Those matters are being considered by the Royal Commission on criminal procedure, but my hon. Friend will know that the first of those recommendations will meet with substantial objections of principle.

Will the Minister explain how a known psychopath was allocated to the cell of a young offender who had been convicted of a petty offence? Is he inquiring into this, to ensure that such a disgraceful state of affairs does not occur again?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are inquiring into that incident.