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Open Prisons

Volume 585: debated on Tuesday 9 September 2014

Open prisons are subject to inspection by Her Majesty’s inspectorate to measure performance in four key areas: resettlement, purposeful activity, safety and respect. Alongside this, the Ministry of Justice operates an internal audit assurance mechanism. Open prisons are subject to audit in the same way as the rest of the prison estate and are awarded a rating based on assurance against national baselines. HMIP and internal audit outcomes are combined with scores from other performance measures to give an overall performance rating on the prison rating system. All open prisons are currently rated as 4, which is exceptional, or 3, meeting targets.

I thank the Minister for that response, but Sudbury prison is neither effective nor meeting its targets. The local newspaper recently ran a story with the mugshots of 24 prisoners who were still on the run from Sudbury prison. We recently had four prisoners absconding in five days and two have disappeared in the last month. My constituents are concerned for their safety. This is not working; what is the Minister going to do about it?

I recognise my hon. Friend’s concern, but let me give him some helpful facts. The list of 24 Sudbury prisoners unlawfully at large that was recently published by Derbyshire police includes cases from 1992 onwards, with half occurring before 2006. Absconds have reduced by 80% in the last 10 years, and this Government have recently made significant changes to the way prisoners are assessed for eligibility for open prisons and to receive relief on temporary licence.

Following representations from me and others to the Minister’s predecessor, I welcome the fact that the Government reversed their decision on having steel-strung guitars for prisoners in prison cells. Will he update us on how the reversal of that policy is going? Have there been any problems, and does he recognise the value of music as a rehabilitative force in our prisons?

I think that one of the first letters I received after my appointment was from the hon. Gentleman about this issue. I was pleased that we were able to resolve it. As far as I am aware, there have been no issues and no difficulties. I believe the new policy is settling down well.