New prisons for old ... as prime sites redeveloped for luxury flats

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On 22 March the Justice Secretary Liz Truss announced plans to build four new prisons in England and Wales. Three of these will be on sites next to or replacing existing prisons at Full Sutton in York, Hindley in Wigan and Rochester on Kent, with the addition of a new site in Port Talbot in Wales. The four prisons will together provide 5,000 new prison places – half of the 10,000 promised by the government in its White Paper last year.

Another 2,000 places will be created at recently opened HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, north Wales, with further expansion due at two sites which were named in an earlier announcement in 2016. Glen Parva young offenders institute in Leicestershire is to close and be redeveloped as a Category C men’s prison, while Wellingborough prison, which has been empty since 2012, will also be rebuilt. The Wellingborough development has already been granted planning permission by the local council, while the Glen Parva one is due to be considered after the current prison closes in June.

Like Berwyn, it seems probable that all these prisons will be state managed, but with huge swathes of the infrastructure and facilities within them contracted out to private providers. This seems to be the government’s favoured model at present, as opposed to its earlier strategy of either complete private sector construction and management of new prisons such as Oakwood (which opened in 2012 and holds 1,600 prisoners) or the wholesale handing over of state prisons such as Birmingham (now run by G4S, holding 1,450 and the scene of a serious revolt in December 2016). This renders the Labour Party Manifesto commitment that ‘under a Labour government, there will be no new private prisons and no public sector prisons will be privatised’ somewhat hollow.

Although all this new prison building will undoubtedly serve to increase the already excessively high prison population, the government is clearly keen to close some old prisons and make money from the prime land on which they are situated. Plans for the redevelopment of the Holloway prison site are still under consideration and North London RCG comrades have been working with the ‘Reclaim Holloway’ campaign group, Sisters Uncut and other groups to demand that the site is used for social housing and a women’s resource centre, instead of simply being handed over to a developer to build yet more luxury flats.

Holloway is the most recent prison to shut, following the closure of Canterbury, Dorchester and a dozen other small inner-city prisons in 2013. The government now has Feltham, Pentonville, Wandsworth, Swansea and Cardiff in its sights and has commissioned notorious social cleansing property firm Savills to look at plans to raise £300m by selling off the three London sites to build luxury apartments.

Nicki Jameson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 258 June/July 2017