Super Prisons: Saving Money But At What Cost?

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‘For all the advances we have made, and are making in education, we still, every year allow thousands more children to join an educational underclass-they are the lost souls our schooling system has failed. It is from that underclass that gangs draw their recruits, young offenders institutions find their inmates and prisons replenish their cells’
– Michael Gove

285, that’s the number of exception reports submitted by government run secure training centres concerning warning signs or serious injuries ,detected during or following the use of physical control in these units ,between 2006 and 2011, on average that works out to 57 incidents a year.
111, that’s the number of incidents of physical restraint per month, in privately run secure training centres, from 2011-2012.
68 per month, that’s the number of incidents of physical restraint which result in injury. These are just the facts I’m quoting here mind,I may need to resort to more emotive language later, but let us continue.

In the financial year 2012-2013, 19,140 prisoners were forced to share a cell designed for one person. A further 777 prisoners were made to sleep three to a cell, in cells designed to accommodate only two prisoners.
The worse affected prison? HMP Wandsworth, followed by Altcourse, Doncaster, Birmingham, Pentonville, Preston, Manchester, Nottingham, Durham and Elmley.
17%, the percentage by which prison officer numbers have dropped in four years. 20,000, the totalnumber of prisoners kept in overcrowded conditions between 2012-2013. So you have a toxic combination of prisoners who didn’t want to be in prison in the first place, kept in cramped conditions, closely overseen by demoralised prison officers who are overstretched because they’re understaffed.

Chris Grayling’s solution to all the statistics? ‘A reconfiguring of the prison estate’ the shutting down of four prisons, HMP Blundeston, HMP Dorhester, Northallerton and Reading prisons. Thus increasing the number of slashed ‘unstrategic and uneconomic’ prison places from 2,800 to 4,200 and in the process reducing the overall prison budget by another £30million a year. A 2,000-place prison is to be built in Wrexham, North Wales and a second ‘super-prison’ may very well be built in the south east. Secretary of State for Wales David Jones has greeted this news with ecstatic approval listing the many commercial benefits that will accrue to Wrexham as a result of one of the UK’s first ever super prisons being located there. Others have been less enthused and here’s why.
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Professor Andrew Coyle, a former Governor of Brixton prison has argued that
‘There is clear evidence from the chief inspector of prisons that prisons should ideally hold no more than 500 prisoners in order to function at their most effective.Going beyond that number pretty much amounts to warehousing.’

Imagine an environment in which there are low numbers of experienced prison officers due to Ministry of Justice lay-offs and a large number of experienced
prisoners. An environment in which prisoners who have been wrongly categorised could pass under the radar, until they either harm themselves or assault another prisoner and where once they are referred for help they may find themselves caught up in a vast back log of similar cases. Imagine a regimen which sees a sudden upsurge in prison numbers, because this is after all a ‘super prison’ and it can therefore take the extra capacity; then imagine the resultant problems as levels of sick leave increase amongst the staff who are hardly ‘super-human’. Imagine a situation in which only 10% of prisoners have been allocated a ‘plan’ detailing the steps the prison intends to take in rehabilitating them and eventually getting them ready for a return to some sort of viable existence in the outside world, that excludes the need to committ crime. If you think that this is an exaggeration then read the report written on HMP Oakwood by an independent monitoring board appointed by the Ministry of Justice. The largest UK prison built so far it was originally supposed to house 1,600 prison inmates, it now houses 1,800, a number that the prison staff were never expecting to have to cope with.
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‘Say you need 3,000 staff for a super prison. Where do they come from, does it plough jobs into the community or does it become an almost single employer?’ asks Paddy Scriven, general secretary of the Prison Governors Association. And she’s right to ask, for the prospect of one entire section of society becoming entirely reliant upon the incarceration of another section of that same society in order to earn its bread and butter, is disquieting to say the least.

Grayling has come up with a superbly cost-effective way to resolve the increasing cost of UK Prisons, but at what cost to those prisoners relocated vast distances to prisons which their families can’t afford to visit. A story comes to mind of a young man who, on being released from a prison some considerable distance from his community , found that he had missed his baby son being born. His anger was so great, that he committed a series of offences which quickly landed him back in prison. Privately run super prisons may cost society less financially but one wonders about the human cost.
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