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05/12/2018

Prison reformers cast doubt on big prisons plans after damning inspection

Words: Huw Morris
Prison guard / iStock-108224617

Penal reformers have called into question government plans to build two large jails after a highly damning report into conditions at Birmingham Prison.

In June, prisons minister Rory Stewart announced plans for a publicly funded prison in Wellingborough and a privately financed jail at Glen Parva in Leicestershire.

The two prisons will provide another 4,000 places and are set to be part of a programme of six new prisons designed for a further 10,000 people.

In a report this week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons said conditions at Birmingham were the worst they had seen in recent years, with prisoners and staff living and working in fear and squalor at a “fundamentally unsafe” jail, with inmates walking around “like zombies” while high on drugs in an environment likened to a “war zone”. It judged the jail to be failing in its responsibility to protect the public by preparing prisoners adequately for their release.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said the inspections revealed how quickly a big jail can deteriorate.

“Large prisons are fragile and everyone of them in this country has proven to be problematic,” said the charity’s chief executive Frances Crook. “If you have a massive, failing institution with thousands of men going through it, the damage it can do is beyond imagination.

“This calls into question the government’s decision to build two new big prisons, contrary to all the evidence. The right approach is to reduce the prison population and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

The report can be found here on HM Inspectorate of Prisons website (pdf).

Image credit | iStock

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