The Ministry of Justice has officially announced its plans to build four, new, supersized jails in the UK. The new plans will mean that there will be 5000 new modern prison places available throughout England and Wales. The sites that are due for development are Full Sutton East Yorkshire, Hindley in Wigan, Port Talbot South Wales as well as Rochester in Kent. Transforming prisons in the UK is set to cost the government £1.3 billion. Although the actual capacity of the jails cannot be decided until the plans have finished processing, it is thought that the capacity of each jail will be around 1000 inmates, earning them the name ‘supersized’ prisons. Liz Truss, the justice secretary, has defended the reasoning behind spending so much on improving places for criminals by saying that we cannot expect the crime rate of the UK to decline if we do not have prisons that resemble places of reform where things like hard work and self-improvement are highly encouraged and an active difference can be seen.
The condition of prisons at the minute have been addressed by the justice secretary and she has concluded that they are simply not doing enough to encourage reform. Describing them as ‘outdated with dark corridors and cramped conditions’ she has said that these places will not encourage criminals into a crime-free life and they are just likely to re-offend when released. She also highlighted the difficulties that prison officers face when they do not have the correct environment to do the job that is expected of them, effectively. It is clear that something needs to change, but is this a step in the right direction?
Of course, the plan has its critics. Penal reformers have said that whilst the new prisons could be a positive contribution towards crime prevention, there is no real plan in place to discourage crime in the first place. The reduction of prison popularity needs to be a priority as in the past five years it has stabilised at around 85, 000 throughout the UK. Director of the Prison Reform Trust, Peter Dawson has called Britain’s overuse of the prison system as ‘reckless’ and dramatic plans to reform them is not matched by any credible plan to stop this usage. The crucial question that stands at the moment is when overcrowding in Britain’s prisons will cease, and the new plans to reform jails and build bigger ones does not, in any way, answer this question.
A Wider Programme
The announcement of the four new prisons is, in fact, part of a wider programme which has an aim of creating 10,000 modern prison places by 2020. In total, the government hopes to build nine prisons, with their current aim being to build five by the next general election.Last month, the largest prison in the UK opened, HMP Berwyn which can hold 2,100 inmates at a time. The newest prisons, which have been built over the past 30 years currently have capacities of around 600 so the new prisons certainly mark big changes to the system. Of course, with openings come closures, and the government’s ‘new for old’ policies is seeing Victorian style inner-city prisons closing to make way for new ones opening. HMP Holloway, a women’s only jail, shut during the summer time, was the most recent one to go under the proposals. Although these will be the first super-sized establishments, the gradual expansions of jails has also been happening over time, nearly 30 prisons in the UK now hold over 1000 inmates at one time.
But the battle is not yet won, with the new jails still needing various sorts of approvals, including planning approvals as well as an ultimate decision to determine whether it is actually worth the money. The public prison service will make the final decisions, which will then be run by private prison operators. it is thought that new jails could boost economies in general as they will also create 2000 new construction and manufacturing jobs. Another argument as to why the reforms going ahead is a good idea.
Reports have suggested that England and Wales have the highest incarceration rate in Europe, which is undeniably a problem that needs addressing. Although it does not exceed its certified capacity, it is certainly above what is considered normal accommodation as in nearly a quarter of prisons, inmates are doubled up in cells that are designed for one, and it is getting to the point where it is no longer acceptable. Replacing prisons with bigger prisons may slightly tackle the overcrowding crisis, but surely it would be more effective if crime was reduced in the first place? It is clear that prisons are liable to underperform in their duties when a prison is overcrowded, which can lead to putting both officers and inmates in danger, such as the 1990 Strangeways prison riots. It will be announced over the coming year whether or not new ‘supersized’ jails will be built in specific locations across the UK.