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January 10, 2013 11:19 am
Ministers are considering plans to build a US-style “super-prison” holding more than 2,000 inmates, as part of a cost-cutting drive which will see six existing “old and uneconomic” jails closed within the next three months.
The closures, announced on Thursday by justice secretary Chris Grayling, will result in the loss of 2,600 prison places and aim to save £63m a year from the Ministry of Justice budget. But Mr Grayling – the self-styled “tough justice” secretary – has denied he wants to see fewer criminals going to prison and set out plans for additional “houseblocks” to be built at four existing prisons, providing up to 1,260 “modern and cost-effective” jail places.
In the longer-term, the MoJ is starting “feasibility work” on a new prison that could hold over 2,000 inmates, making it 25 per cent larger than any existing jail facility. This would enable the closure of other ageing prisons across the UK. Sites for the super jail are being considered in London, the north west and north Wales.
Mr Grayling suggested money could be raised through the government’s updated private financing initiative, PF2.
“There are a number of financing options for us,” the justice secretary said. “I want to do the detailed work on that so that we’re ready to start a new phase in due course of new for old, of bringing on stream new prison capacity at a lower cost with better facilities.”
The prisons due to close by the end of March are Bullwood Hall in Essex, Canterbury, Gloucester, Kingston in Portsmouth, Shepton Mallet in Somerset and Shrewsbury. Some Places in three other jails in Chelmsford, Hull and the Isle of Wight will also be closed.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said the closures were unnecessary and irresponsible, and amounted to “privatisation by stealth”. The shutdown in capacity comes only a year after the UK’s prison population swelled to an all-time high of 88,179 in the wake of the 2011 summer riots.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, said the government had not done enough to replace the jail places that would be lost and added that the plans for the new prison were short on detail.
“This announcement is about short-term gain, with vague commitments to the possibility of a new prison being built somewhere down the line nothing but red meat for Tory backbenchers,” Mr Khan said.
Before the last election, the Labour government planned to build three so-called “Titan” prisons that would each hold over 2,500 inmates, but the idea was dropped amid almost universal opposition.
Dominic Grieve, now attorney-general but the then Conservative shadow justice secretary, was scathing of that plan. . “Warehousing offenders in hulks twice the size of Wembley Stadium was never going to address increased levels of reoffending and so we welcome plans to scrap Titan prisons,” Mr Grieve said in 2009.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said on Thursday that reviving the “discredited idea” would be a “gigantic mistake”.
“Small community prisons tend to be safer and better at reducing reoffending than huge anonymous establishments,” Ms Lyon said.
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