Pentonville for sale

On 22 June the Inspectorate of Prisons published a damning report of an unannounced inspection of Pentonville prison, north London carried out in February. The inspectors found the prison was filthy, with areas piled high with rubbish and a lack of basic items such as clean clothing, bedding, cleaning materials and eating utensils. It was also dangerous with two-thirds of prisoners reporting they had felt unsafe at some time and over 40% at the time of the inspection.

Like many other decrepit inner-city prisons, Pentonville is completely unfit to house human beings with any decency. Closing them would be a very positive step if it resulted in the reduction by tens of thousands of Britain’s ever-increasing prison population. However, despite many prison closures over the past few years, the population has continued to rise, as old establishments are replaced by new ones – usually run by private companies like Serco and G4S and situated in inaccessible locations – while the old prisons are flogged off. City and Country, developers specialising in the conversion of historic buildings for residential and commercial use, has bought Gloucester, Dorchester, Kingston and Shepton Mallet prisons; Bullwood Hall, Essex is currently up for sale for residential development; Canterbury prison has been sold to Kent University for student accommodation, and Ashwell in Leicestershire has become Oakham Enterprise Park.

Right on cue, on 17 July in his first major policy speech, new Justice Secretary Michael Gove called for the closure of Pentonville and the rest of the ‘ageing and ineffective Victorian prisons in our major cities’, and for their replacement with ‘new prisons which embody higher standards in every way they operate’, admitting that ‘the money which would be raised… would be significant’.

Nicki Jameson

FRFI 246 August/September2015


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