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Supersize prison plans condemned

Nearly half of prisoners in England and Wales could be held in 1,000-plus super-sized jails under government plans to transform the prison estate, campaigners have said.

Around 38,000 prisoners will ultimately be held in 30 super-sized jails based on current trends, according to the Prisons Reform Trust.

The charity has warned that larger and cheaper-to-run jails come "at the expense of prisoners' safety and rehabilitation".

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: " Minds could be concentrated by severely limited resources. Instead the pressure of budget cuts and economies of scale have led ministers to go for ever larger and cheaper-to-run jails at the expense of prisoners' safety and rehabilitation.

"Rehabilitation is a worthwhile goal but complex problems require complex solutions. The needs of vulnerable people should concern every department of national and local government, not be monopolised by Justice.

"Prisons cannot, and should not, continue to pick up the tab for a range of social and health needs.

"A more effective and far-sighted use of taxpayers' money would see addicts receiving treatment in the community, or in residential centres, and people who are mentally ill, or those with learning disabilities, getting the health and social care they need to lead responsible lives in their communities."

The number of super-sized jails has nearly trebled in the past decade from 11 to 28 prisons in England and Wales currently holding more than 1,000 men, the Prison Reform Trust said.

The Government plans to build a 2,000-place prison in Wrexham and is conducting a feasibility study for a second giant-sized institution in London, while there have been 13 closures of smaller prisons since 2010 and a further six still to come.

An additional 1,260 places are also to be opened in four new house blocks across the prison estate.

The top three super-sized jails are all in the private sector - G4S-run Oakwood and Birmingham and Sodexo-led Forest Bank.

Earlier this month, HM Inspectorate of Prisons heavily criticised Oakwood prison, which holds 1,600 prisoners at one-third of the average cost per prisoner place, for its inexperienced staff and high levels of violence and self-harm.

A separate Prison Reform Trust briefing, published in 2008, drawing on a comparison of large and small prisons claimed larger institutions are poorer at meeting prisoner needs and creating a healthy prison environment.

It found that a prison with a population of 400 prisoners or under was four times more likely to perform 'well' than a prison with a population of over 800.

Prisoners in large jails found it easier to get hold of illegal drugs and were more likely to say that they had been assaulted or insulted by a member of staff or by another prisoner.

The Prison Reform Trust added that the move towards larger prisons marks "a reversal of policy" for Prime Minister David Cameron, who commenting in 2009 on the then-Labour government's plans to build five new 2,500-place Titan prisons, said: "The idea that big is beautiful with prisons is wrong."


From Belfast Telegraph