Outdated Victorian prisons are set to close in a bid to reform the infrastructure of the UK’s prison industry.
The government has stated that the prison sites will be sold for housing and inmates will be transferred to secure, more modernised facilities , five of which are set to be built by 2020.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, revealed that nine new prisons will be built in England and Wales, five by 2020, in an effort to save approximately £80m a year and make the UK’s prison system “fit for purpose in the 21st Century.”
The exact details of the Chancellor’s proposal are to be outlined in the spending review which is due to be announced on 25 November.
The cost of building the new prisons and transferring over 10,000 inmates to new facilities across England and Wales will reach an estimated £1bn. This figure is in addition to the expenditure of current projects taking place, such as the new £212m super-prison, the UK’s largest prison which is in the process of being built in Wrexham, and expansions and renovation work at prisons at HMP Stocken, Rutland, and HMP Rye Hill, in Warwickshire.
The old Victorian jails, some of which are Grade II-listed buildings such as HMP Reading, will be sold and some may be demolished in order to accommodate 3000 new homes. The news comes a month after Reading Borough Council was informed by the Ministry of Justice that the prison would be kept intact as a “contingency measure.” Other prison sites that may be sold include Pentonville in North London, which has been heavily criticised by inspectors in the past and Brixton prisons, both of which are old facilities and very costly to run effectively. Some prisons are also currently unused, such as Dover and the former women’s prison, Downview in Surrey.
It’s thought that George Osborne has announced these plans as a result of the wishes of Justice Secretary Michael Gove who announced that he wanted to reform the prison system and modernise UK prisons shortly after the 2015 general election. Gove has said: “We will be able to design out the dark corners which too often facilitate violence and drug-taking. We will be able to build a prison estate which allows prisoners to be rehabilitated, so they turn away from crime.”
Victorian prisons require a lot of work to manage and run effectively as a secure prison facility which is why new prisons, which would be cheaper to run, maintain and equip with the necessary resources will save the industry in excess of £80m a year.
The new builds aren’t just about modernising the prisons, but also about helping to reform prison inmates to a life away from crime and stop them from reoffending. Prisons as rehabilitation units are currently proving to be inadequate, as a report issued by the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick in July stated that UK prisons were in their worst state for a decade and crime and violence was at an all time high. The director of the Prison Reform Trust, Juliet Lyon, said that more needs to be done and that the plans don’t go far enough. “Prison reform isn’t just about building new prisons. Gove needs to be prepared to make a proper investment in mental health care, treatment for drug addiction, dealing with binge drinking; the things that are driving crime at the moment, and only then will we begin to see changes.”