London’s ‘Victorian’ jails, such as Wandsworth and Brixton HMPs, are to be closed to make way for new housing in plans announced by the government last week.
Chancellor George Osborne said many prisons are outdated ‘relics from Victorian times’ on ‘prime real estate’ and is expected to announce the plans as part of his spending review on November 25.
The exact details have not yet been made known, but it is estimated that 10,000 inmates will be relocated as a result.
The Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers (POA), formerly known as the Prison Officers Association, have criticised the announcement.
A POA spokesperson, Glyn Travis, said: “The Prison Officers Association is absolutely appalled at the contempt that has been shown by Mr Gove and senior management to make such sweeping statements about closures without any attention to communities and staff who will be affected.
“The Ministry of Justice has no intentions of telling us exactly which prisons will see changes.
“It’s a common trend for the Ministry of Justice to just announce things. We’ve been excluded from any discussions.
“They’ve left everybody worrying about the future, nine weeks before Christmas.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice emphasised that no concrete plans have been made.
He told SW Londoner: “We’ve not made any announcements. Announcements will be made in due course. We have not confirmed which, if any, prisons will be closed, and no decisions have been made.
“It will be a joint measure between the Ministry of Justice and the Treasury.”
But according to the press release issued by George Osborne and Justice Secretary Michael Gove on November 9, the reforms will allow more than 3,000 new homes to be built.
George Osborne said he will close old, outdated prisons in city centres, and sell the sites to build thousands of much-needed new homes.
Mr Travis also highlighted the problems facing prisons in London and across the UK.
He said: “The biggest problem is that we don’t have enough places. We don’t need closures.
“We should be looking for new, decent accommodation to support our overcrowded prisons. The majority are 30% above capacity, with four to five people inhabiting cells designed for just two people.
“The problem should have been addressed before. There’s two options now – build more prisons or stop sending people to prison.
“The Conservative government are allegedly tough on crime, so I don’t know how that’s going to work.”
Possible London candidates for closure include Wormwood Scrubs and Pentonville, as well as Wandsworth and Brixton.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, also voiced concern: “Firstly, it is not clear who owns the land on which the Victorian prisons sit, and you can’t sell what you don’t own.
“Secondly, it is not that the Victorian prisons are badly designed, it is just that they are overcrowded.”
The government has promised to open just five new prisons by 2020.
Picture courtesy of diamond geezer, with thanks