1 AUGUST 1952, Page 2

Prison Disclosures

Few bodies do more useful work than the House of Commons' Select Committee on Estimates. Striking evidence of that is provided by the committee's report on prison con- ditions, published on Wednesday. The facts brought to light are disturbing in the last degree; some of them may properly be described as startling. The antiquated prisons of today are accommodating a prison population of 25,000—the highest figure for over sixty years—only by virtue of gross overcrowd- ing, which in many cases means that prisoners are sleeping three in a cell; in February 4,500 persons were so treated There is a shortage of prison officers—only enough to allow for one shift, so that prisoners are shut up in their cells for 131 hours a day and do only 22 hours a week work on an average; at Parkhurst the weekly average is 18 hours. No blame is placed on any particular authority by the committee. but it is clear that conditions have been degenerating for a long time, and the failure of successive Home Secretaries to call attention to the situation and insist that steps be taken to remedy it must occasion some surprise. What is needed now, as the Select Committee suggests, is a comprehensive enquiry into the working of the whole prison system and the production of a comprehensive scheme of reform. The pro- vision of one or two more camp-prisons may be the quickest and cheapest waii of relievint the immediate pressure, but that could be little more than a palliative. The construc- tion of new prisons would mean drawing on labour and materials urgently needed for the housing programme, but there are particular cases in which even this must be faced. The prison system as it is has been exposed as unhygienic. uneconomic, heartless. It must be reformed radically and without delay.