Wales Online: Wrexham £250m super prison labelled an ‘English solution for an English problem’
- By Graham Henry
Panel of experts and commentators raise concerns about 2,000-inmate jail hailed as major boost to North Wales economy
Debate over a proposed “super prison” based in Wales has ignored concerns over the impact on public services and is an “English solution for English a problem”, academics and campaigners will warn today.
At an event held at the National Assembly today, the case for a new 2000-inmate prison in Wrexham – estimated to cost £250m – will be questioned
The project, which will be based at the old Firestone site, was announced by the Ministry of Justice as the chosen site for a “super prison” in September, and has already been given the green light for outline planning permission by Wrexham councillors.
It has been hailed by the UK Government as a significant boost to the North Wales economy, including repeated support from Welsh Secretary and Clwyd West MP David Jones, which estimates 760 jobs will be created and £23m generated each year.
But prison reform campaigners raised a host of concerns over the proposals, which would lead to increased drug abuse and violence within the facilities as inmates would be more difficult to control.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform which is jointly holding the event, said: “People in Wales should see the Wrexham super-prison for what it is: an English solution to an English problem.
“It is the government in London that is struggling with overcrowding in English jails, not the government in Cardiff. As a result of this, the people the super-prison will house will largely be English and not Welsh prisoners.
“All the evidence shows that larger jails find prisoners more difficult to control, with drug abuse and violence more prevalent and opportunities for education and training limited in such crowded environments. Yet that is precisely what the government in London proposes for North Wales.
“Devolution should be about Welsh solutions to Welsh problems. Making Wrexham the site of the largest prison in the UK, and one of the biggest in Europe, is not the answer.”
Eoin McLennan Murray, president of the Prison Governors Association said he opposed “titan prisons”, adding institutions well in excess of a thousand prisoners were “too big”.
“Uniformed staff and prisoners respond more positively to high visibility and personal contact; they feel more included, less isolated and anonymised,” he said.
“Smaller prisons have better outcomes for prisoners than big prisons, one only has to look at the problems at HMP Oakwood where concerns have been raised in its ability to meet acceptable standards of prisoner care.”
Criminal justice expert Robert Jones, from the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, also raised concerns the impact on devolved services of a UK-level decision had not been debated at a Welsh level.
He said, as criminal justice is non-devolved, the UK Government was responsible for the siting of the prison, but other policy areas would be impacted by the decision – such as provision of healthcare and education to prisoners.
Mr Jones said: “The proposed prison in Wrexham needs to be challenged not only from an England-Wales perspective, but also from an entirely Welsh perspective, and what this means for devolved services in Wales.
“It’s inconceivable to think that such a large development may go ahead in North Wales without any consideration as to what impacts this may have on Welsh health or education services for instance which are devolved. It’s therefore essential that the National Assembly for Wales debates what the prison really means for Wales.”
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd also hit out at the plans.
“I am concerned that a super prison will not work in terms of rehabilitation and could be dangerous,” he said.
“The National Audit Office’s ‘Managing the Prison Estate’ report states ‘data indicates that small prisons can find it easier to perform better than large ones in [many] respects’.
“Evidence from surveys show that prisoners tend to be more engaged in smaller establishments and small prisons consistently do better, on average, in the Agency’s internal performance ratings and in independent inspections.”
Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones said: “This Government remains in no doubt that the proposed new prison in Wrexham will bring a huge boost to North Wales.
“It is set to create up to 1,000 jobs and boost the regional economy by around £23m a year, providing millions of pounds worth of construction opportunities and great possibilities for local businesses.
“Only last month, I attended a local supplier event in Wrexham with the Prisons Minister, Jeremy Wright, to meet the contractors and local businesses vying to be a part of the construction of the proposed prison.
“I was delighted to see so many local companies expressing such a strong interest in helping to provide the services required to build this important development.”