U.K. Announces Super-Jail Plan as Six Prisons to Close

U.K. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced plans for a new super-prison holding as many as 2,000 inmates, saying six smaller jails will close in a drive to save 63 million pounds ($101 million) a year.

The Justice Ministry will look at whether to build the new prison in London, northwest England or north Wales. It will also construct four new accommodation blocks at existing larger jails to hold as many as 1,260 extra criminals.

“We have to bring down the cost of our prison system, much of which is old and expensive,” Grayling, who favors privately run jails, said in an e-mailed statement today. “But I never want the courts to be in a position where they cannot send a criminal to prison because there is no place available. So we have to move as fast as we can to replace the older parts of our prison system.”

The announcements follow the opening of Oakwood prison, run by G4S Plc, the world’s largest security company, near Wolverhampton in central England last year. The jail holds prisoners at an annual cost of 13,200 pounds per place -- less than half the average of some other prisons, especially in facilities that are more than a century old.

Statistics released by the ministry last week showed there were 83,632 prisoners in England and Wales. Ministry forecasts show the prison population could hit 90,900 by 2018.

In 2009, the previous Labour administration abandoned plans to build three super-jails, known as “titans,” after criticism from opposition parties and penal-reform groups. The project, which would have cost 1.2 billion pounds and housed as many as 2,500 prisoners in each prison, was scrapped in favor of five new smaller jails, each holding 1,500 inmates.

‘Gigantic Mistake’

“Closing prisons and reducing prison numbers offers major social and economic gains, but it would be a gigantic mistake if the justice secretary were to revive the discredited idea of titans and pour taxpayers’ money down the prison-building drain, when the coalition government could invest in crime prevention, health-care and community solutions to crime,” Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said in an e-mail.

The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents 270,000 workers, said the decision to close six prisons and part-close three other facilities was “irresponsible” and job losses would hit local economies.

The “closures are unnecessary, irresponsible and amount to more privatization by stealth,” PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said in an e-mailed statement. “The fact this is happening without any public debate or discussion ought to be a national scandal and we urgently need an independent review to look at the impact of prison privatization on our communities, staff and prisoners.”

G4S was stripped of a contract to run another prison -- Wolds in Yorkshire -- in November, and the jail is being returned to the public sector. Three remaining bidders, Sodexo, Serco Group Plc and MTC/Amey, are still in competition to run Northumberland prison and another group of jails in Yorkshire -- Lindholme, Hatfield and Moorland -- with contracts to be awarded early this year.

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