With just weeks before Wrexham prison opens former probation chief calls for inmate numbers to be kept down
A former probation chief has urged the courts and prison bosses not to overcrowd the new Wrexham jail as suicides, assaults and self-harm among inmates across England and Wales reach record levels.
In less than a month’s time the UK’s biggest jail, HMP Berywn on Wrexham Industrial Estate, that cost £212m, will accept its first prisoners.
This week figures have shown offenders taking their own lives, hurting themselves or attacking others hit new highs in other jails last year.
Former North Wales chief probation officer, Howard Thomas, who campaigns for prison reform, said the courts should keep the number sent to jail down to help avoid problems.
He also argued instead of sending people to prison for short-term sentences, alternatives should be sought to punish, rehabilitate them and keep them out of jail.
This week the Daily Post has asked the Ministry of Justice what measures will be in place at the new facility to counter the worrying increase and to stop similar riots to ones which broke out at HMP Birmingham and HMP Swaleside in Kent last month.
Mr Thomas said: “ The Wrexham prison is a mixture of closed down old prisons.
“We need to keep the prison population down, so there is enough space for prisoners and prison officers to engage with them.
“We don’t want them overcrowded and under-staffed which can cause problems.”
Figures this week showed there were 354 deaths behind bars in England and Wales last year, including 119 which were apparently self-inflicted.
And self-harm incidents jumped by 23% to 37,784, while there were 25,049 assaults in the 12 months to September – a rise of 31% on the previous year.
The statistics, released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have underlined the scale of the task facing the Government as it attempts to address the jail safety crisis.
Mr Thomas added: “Whilst the new prison at Wrexham ticks some boxes, far better physical conditions than existed in some of the Victorian prisons which the Wrexham regional prison replaces, all the evidence suggests that smaller prisons are likely to engender positive staff prisoner relationships between prison officers and those held in custody.
“If you had as an objective reducing tensions in prison, that should be the direction of travel rather than taking the advice of the of the “bean counters” who point to the lower operating costs of the soon to open UK’s largest super prison at Wrexham.”
The Daily Post have approached the MoJ for comment.