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Prisoners (Classification)

Volume 165: debated on Friday 19 January 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give details of the differences in the manner in which prisoners with different classifications are treated by the prison authorities.

The classification of prisoners by age, length of sentence, temperament and record is taken into account in deciding the allocation of prisoners to prisons in Northern Ireland, and determines the amount of pre-release home leave for which they will be eligible to apply in the final stages of their sentence.The security category allocated on committal reflects both a prisoner's escape potential and the risk he would pose to society and the security forces should he escape. Decisions on security categories are taken after a thorough examination of all the relevant information available. Reviews are conducted periodically during sentence and prisoners are often downgraded to a lower security category.The security category is also taken into account in determining the prison to which a prisoner is allocated, and it determines the degree of supervision and control that is exercised. Those in the top risk category are held in single-cell accommodation which is searched at irregular intervals, and they are subject to a higher frequency of searching and cell transfer than other prisoners. They are also assigned individual prison officer escorts during movement within the prison, which is always on a one-to-one basis.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give details of the systems used for classifying prisoners in Northern Ireland prisons; and how many prisoners there are within each classification.

The classification of prisoners in Northern Ireland is governed by the Prison Rules (NI) 1982 which provide that a prisoner may be classified having regard to his age, temperament and record. On committal all prisoners are in addition allocated a security category. Both a prisoner's classification and security category can be changed during his term of imprisonment.The tables provide a breakdown of the population in Northern Ireland prisons as at 15 January 1990:

Adult indeterminate386
Secretary of State's pleasure26
Short term star125
Short term ordinary131
Long term star367
Long term ordinary173
Young person164
Security categoryNumber
Low risk144
Medium risk1,259
High risk302
Top risk23

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is (a) the total number of red-book prisoners in Northern Ireland, and (b) the number of red-book prisoners who have served over 13 years in prison, and who were denied Christmas parole in 1989; and if he will make a statement.

There are currently 23 top risk (commonly known as "Red Book") prisoners in Northern Ireland, only 10 of whom are sentenced prisoners. Two such prisoners, who are serving life sentences, had spent 13 years in custody at 21 December 1989 but were excluded from applying for Christmas home leave. Home leave schemes are designed to assist prisoners to prepare for their eventual return to the community. Prisoners who are in the top risk category after 13 years in custody are not, in my view, making satisfactory progress and I am not, therefore, prepared to grant them this privilege.