The news last month that seven prisons are to close shortly took many activists of prison issues by surprise and some have taken up the issue with their MPs. In particular they are concerned that the replacement super-prison, yet to be built, will not have the capacity to deal with the diversity of prisoners who it will cater for, leaving prisoners in warehouse-style prisons.
Several of the prisons that are being closed are specialist prisons for foreign nationals, life-sentenced prisoners, remand prisoners and young offenders. There are fears that the rest of the prison system and the new super-prison won’t have the specialist care and services that the current institutions have.
Additional concerns have been raised about the impact on children of prisoners with fears that families will now have to travel further to visit fathers in prison. Consequently, children who have not committed a crime are being punished because of the crimes of others.
The activists are asking people to write to the secretary of state for justice via their MP to ask:
1. How he intends to continue to provide the specialist support for the prisoners in the seven prisons due to close, in particular how the needs of a) foreign national prisoners b) life-sentenced prisoners and those serving indeterminate sentences c) remand prisoners and d) young offenders will be met.
2. What consideration has been given to the impact of the closures on the children of prisoners, in particular on those children’s right to a relationship with their imprisoned fathers. Have their best interests been taken into account as a primary consideration in this matter which concerns them? What measures are being undertaken or planned to minimise the negative impacts of these closures on the lives of prisoners’ children?
3. What measures are being taken to ensure that unfinished education, training and other courses being undertaken by prisoners at the seven prisons due to close, can be completed? What measures are being taken to ensure that specialised voluntary sector providers currently working with these prisoners, who have often invested years of training and resources in them, will be able to continue their work with the prisoners they are currently in contact with?
Writing on the Fine Cell Work blog, Ben Jarman explained some of the circumstances that different prisoners were facing including “another man was due for release in April, after thirty-four years inside. Now he expects to wait for longer, because the prison will close by March, and a new release plan will have to be drawn up, from a different prison.”
Six of the prisons due to be closed are within Conservative MPs’ constituencies and one is within a Liberal Democrat’s constituency. Bullwood Hall in Essex is in Conservative Mark Francois’s constituency. He holds a 22,328 majority over the Liberal Democrats. Camp Hill in the Isle of Wight is in Conservative Andrew Turner’s constituency. He has a 10,527 majority over the Liberal Democrats. Canterbury prison is in Conservative Julian Brazier’s constituency, where he holds a 6,048 majority over the Liberal Democrats. Gloucester prison is in Conservative Richard Graham’s constituency, where he holds a majority of 2,420 over Labour. Kingston prison in Portsmouth is in Conservative Penny Mordaunt’s constituency, where she holds a 7,289 majority over Labour. Shepton Mallet prison is in Liberal Democrat Tessa Munt’s constituency, where she holds a majority of just 800 over the Conservatives. And Shrewsbury prison is in Conservative David Kawczynski’s constituency, where he has a majority of 7,944 over the Liberal Democrats.
Chelmsford prison, where a wing is set to close, is in the Conservative constituency of Simon Burns who holds a majority of 5,106 over the Liberal Democrats. And Hull prison where another wing is closing is the only prison closure in a Labour constituency. It is the seat of Karl Turner, who holds a majority of 8,597 over the Liberal Democrats.
Of the four new houseblocks to be builts, two will be within Conservative constituencies and two will be in Labour constituencies.