Monday, 4 September 2017

Prisons - Good or Bad?

This is the latest blog post from Frances Crook of the Howard League:-

Building massive jails in remote locations is a recipe for disaster

This government, as with so many of its predecessors, is trying to build its way out of a prison crisis. It has never worked in the past and it will not work this time. I do not need to rehearse the facts about the dire state of prisons and it is now generally agreed that something must be done. The trouble is that, if that something is the wrong thing, the state of prisons will be made worse, not better.

I tend to think that it is best to use evidence when deciding on policy, particularly when lives are at stake and when billions of public money is going to spent. The evidence is that new prisons are not safer than old prisons and that big prisons tend to be more impersonal and therefore more dangerous.

The evidence also points to a building programme expanding the system rather than offering opportunities to reduce the unnecessary and expensive use of penal custody. The evidence indicates that expanding the custodial estate fixes the use of prison in the mind of the public as being the appropriate response to low-level offending and consequently influences political expectations and inflates the system.

Taking a look at the 10 new prisons opened since 1997, we see a grim picture. They are:

Parc, run by G4S and opened in 1997 Altcourse, run by G4S, opened in 1997 Lowdham Grange, run by Serco, opened in 1998 Rye HIll, run by G4S, opened in 2001 Dovegate, run by Serco, opened in 2001 Bronzefield, run by Sodexo, opened in 2004 Peterborough, run by Sodexo, opened in 2005 Isis, run by public sector, opened in 2010 Thameside, run by Serco, opened in 2012 Oakwood, run by G4S, opened in 2012
Two hundred and sixty-four men and women have died in these prisons since they opened. There have been 8,188 recorded incidents of deliberate self-injury. There have been 3,952 recorded assaults. These shiny new prisons were supposed to create safer environments and reduce reoffending when people were released. Neither of these happened.

In fact, violence, drug taking and self-injury are just as awful in newly-built prisons as in Victorian prisons. This is particularly stark as some of these new prisons have been protected from the gross overcrowding inflicted on Victorian jails.The new prisons are big prisons. Oakwood, for example, holds over 2,000 men These are impersonal holding stations where staff are moved from one wing to another and do not have the capacity to get to know their captives.

Decisions made today will lead to increased violence and self-injury and people dying by their own hand

Berwyn in North Wales, which opened earlier this year, is designated to hold 2,100 men when it is full. The prison was designed to replicate the worst prison conditions as three-quarters of the men will be forced to share cells that include open toilets and little ventilation. There are not enough education and work places for all the men and the work available is repetitive, rewarded with pocket money and for just a few hours a week. Within a few years this prison will be a hotbed of resentment and violence.

I have said before, new buildings do not necessarily create a better environment than old buildings. If that were the case, Oxford and Cambridge colleges would all be pulled down in favour of new build. The issue is how the buildings are used, how they are maintained and how many people are crammed into them.

The government’s policy of building massive jails in remote locations is a recipe for disaster that will endure down the generations. Decisions made today will lead to increased violence and self-injury and people dying by their own hand. I will hold this government to account, as I have its predecessors.

Frances Crook


The trouble is, the government is of the opinion that new prisons are good business and commissioned a report to help smooth the way with any local opposition, and of course the likelihood of that is reduced if they built out in the sticks anyway. Back in July I noticed that the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies are on the case, forcing its publication and must be really irritating the MoJ with their request for help in analysing the content:-

We force government to release secret prison report
Monday, 24 July, 2017

Our Senior Associate, Rebecca Roberts, finally won her six month battle with the Ministry of Justice to release a report about the purported economic benefits new prisons brings to local economies. The disclosure of the report followed an investigation by the Information Commissioner's office. You can download the report below.

The report, Economic Impact of a New Prison, written by consultants Peter Brett Associates, was referenced in planning applications in relation to the proposed construction of a number of new prisons, including at Wellingborough, Full Sutton and Glen Parva.

In March 2017 the Ministry of Justice announced plans for four new prisons in Yorkshire (Full Sutton), Wigan, Rochester and Neath Port Talbot. According to the Ministry's statement, the proposed new prisons will 'act as a boost to regional economies across the country - creating up to 2,000 jobs in the construction and manufacturing industries and new opportunities for local businesses.'

The report, Economic Impact of a New Prison informed these projections. The report calculates an estimate of the economic impact of a new prison on a local district through these processes:

  1. Direct impacts from local residents being employed at the new prison and the income these jobs generate.
  2. Indirect impacts from jobs and income generated through the prison purchasing local goods and services.
  3. Induced impacts from jobs and income generated by prison employees and visitors spending on local goods and services.
  4. Second round multiplier effects, which are the effects of consequent rounds of spending from the initial injection in the local economy.
Rebecca Roberts said:
We'll be analysing this report, upon which the Ministry of Justice has made grand claims about the benefits of new prisons in terms of jobs and the local economy. Studies from the USA indicate that prisons generally fail to provide long term economic prosperity, jobs and benefits to local communities. We are keen to establish whether this is the situation here too.
Would you like to help us analysis the report?

We're looking for economists, planning and policy specialists to help us analyse the report and produce an assessment of it. If you would like to contribute, please email


Economic Impact of a New Prison

1.1 Background 

PBA Roger Tym (PBA) have been commissioned by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to update our 2009 study entitled “Economic Impact of a New Prison. The 2009 Study estimated the potential local economic impact of a new prison being built by the Ministry of Justice. 

On 10 January 2013 the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, announced that feasibility work would start on what would be Britain’s biggest prison as part of a major programme of updating the country’s prison estate. He stated that the new prison could hold more than 2,000 prisoners – around a quarter more than the largest current facility – and would likely be located in London, North West England or North Wales. 

PBA specialise in planning and economic development and previously were commissioned by the MOJ to examine the economic impacts of four case study prisons in England. Each case study prison had differential characteristics relating to geography, size, security levels and operation (i.e. private or public). The case studies were used to model and calculate the impact on the labour, capital and goods and service markets in the district within which the prison is located, and to provide an expectation of what the standard prison might generate within an undefined number of prisoners, location, security level and operation. 

With these case studies in mind, references to this evidence are used for making appropriate assumptions for estimating the impact of a new prison on the economy, including a local district economy where it might be located. We also note some of the more qualitative impacts relevant to new prisons like investment and job stability, length of the investment impacts, the diversity of jobs, and the training and opportunities for staff progression within them. 

1.2 Study Objectives 

This study aims to update and supplement the 2009 Study, providing an economic impact assessment of a new prison on an undefined local area where the prison might be located. In this study we have modelled the employment benefits relating to an investment of a new prison in line with previous work. These impacts relate to a typical local district area where a new prison might be located. The aim is to calculate the following: 

Jobs created directly at the prison in the local area; 
The turnover and jobs the prison creates in the local area through purchasing on goods and services; and 
The turnover and jobs generated in the local area by spending on goods and services by prison employees and visitors. 
Further unquantifiable impacts are also identified that have an effect on the local economy of the district and can play an important role on the district’s and its residents’ economic prosperity. 

From previous evidence, together with the impacts identified in this study, we draw conclusions on the potential economic impacts that a new prison development is likely to have on its locality. We measure this in terms of jobs supported by income drawn into the local area. 


  1. From the BBC website:-

    Trouble broke out at HMP Birmingham after inmates refused to return to their cells. The disorder was confined to one wing and involved a "small number of prisoners", according to the Prison Service. It began just after 17:00 BST on Sunday and was resolved at 23:45. No staff or prisoners were injured. The Prison Service said the incident did not pose a threat to the public.

    HMP Birmingham, operated by G4S, was the scene of 12 hours of disorder in December 2016, which required riot teams to be deployed. A G4S spokesman said trouble flared "after a group of prisoners refused to return to their cells" at the end of evening association. He said: "Staff have successfully resolved disorder on one wing at HM Prison Birmingham. No staff or prisoners were injured during the incident and the rest of the establishment was unaffected."

    One inmate, believed to be in his 20s, was taken to hospital for an unrelated medical matter. HMP Birmingham is a Category B and C prison in the Winson Green area of the city. G4S took over running the jail from the Prison Service in 2011.

  2. Aug 2017, News&Star:

    "A riot broke out at Cumbria's only prison when a peaceful protest about a tobacco ban turned ugly.

    Police are investigating the incident at HMP Haverigg which was only resolved when specialist riot cops were called in.

    Cells were flooded, while sinks and TVs were trashed after it was announced to inmates that tobacco would no longer be sold, The Mirror has reported.

    Damage is understood to have run into the hundreds of thousands according to prison sources.

    A Prison Service spokesman said: “Specially-trained prison staff successfully resolved an incident at HMP Haverigg on 22 August.

    “There were no injuries to staff or prisoners.

    “We do not tolerate violence in our prisons, and are clear that those responsible will be referred to the police and could spend longer behind bars.”

    The trouble broke out in the prison’s Langdale wing.

    A source told The Mirror: “The protest turned violent and the whole place went up.

    “Inmates were smashing up cells, flooding them, throwing TVs, breaking up pool tables.

    “Staff were forced to evacuate the wing, which was left looking like a bomb had hit it.”

    Trouble erupted at 7pm and went on until 4am on Wednesday when prison chiefs called in Tornado Teams to quell the unrest.

    They tackled a group of 24 inmates – deemed to be the main ringleaders – who were then taken to other jails.

    A further 50 inmates were later transferred to prisons in Liverpool and Birmingham.

    Glyn Travis of the Prison Officers Association, said prison chiefs had been given “ten years” to address the smoking ban but had failed to act properly.

    He added: “Now this ban is being rushed into prisons already overcrowded and volatile. It is a lethal cocktail and could lead to more violence and riots.”

    HMP Haverigg holds 286 Category C and Category D male prisoners.

    Mr Travis said: “Haverigg is the one that has had the biggest reaction to date to the smoking ban.

    “We are not even a quarter of the way through the process yet so this will be repeated as more prisoners are being forced to give up smoking, which also limit their access to drugs.

    “No Category A prison has gone smoke free yet. There are longer-serving prisoners here and the reality is the reaction will be worse.”

    A ban on smoking in prisons is being introduced as part of the governments ban on smoking in public and work places.

    Similar unrest has been sparked at others jails where the rule has been implemented.

    Earlier this year, a leaked HM Prison Service (HMPS) document revealed a total smoking ban is set to be imposed in all high security and long-term prisons in England and Wales from August 31st."

  3. HMP Birmingham has in the past week absorbed many rioters from serious disturbances at other prisons. HMP Haverigg and HMP Featherstone being probably the worst in the midlands.
    There was also very serious disturbances at HMP Winchester, where very oddly both the POA and IMB refused to comment on instead of capitalising on.
    The smoking ban will have serious consequences on the prison system both in the short term and for the future. Changing the whole economy and removing the currency creates an inviornment where unpredictable change must inevitably happen. Just have to wait and see what it leads to.
    It's the first justice questions tomorrow of the new parliamentary session, David Lidlington has managed to keep very quiet as justice Secretary so far, but tonight's Panama will no doubt cause him difficulties tomorrow.
    Whilst the focus is on G4s, the recent report by HMIP on failing probation services, and the number of recent serious prison disturbances must surely lead to questions being raised about the notion of privatised justice services? Surely?


  4. Public prisons can be just as bad as private prisons. I spent time at Downview (public) East Sutton Park (Public), Holloway (Public) and Bronzefield (Private Sodexo). Holloway was THE worst by far in terms of living conditions, availability of work and education and staff (behaviour/attitude). East Sutton Park was the next worst (absolutely freezing even on a hot summer's day, shared dorms, staff were appalling although the food was the best out of all four), Bronzefield scored better than both Holloway and ESP although healthcare was abysmal and so was the food. The best was Downview in all areas except food although it had the most suicides during the time I was inside. In other words public prisons can be just as awful as private ones. None of them are great. A lot of that is down to truly awful number 1 governors as they are all top down organisations.

  5. Off topic I know, but from CumbriaCrack website:-

    District Judge Gerald Chalk told a 37-year-old Carlisle woman, he was sending her to prison for a total of 70-days after she pleaded guilty to three-shop thefts within days of each other.

    The court was told Ms McKnight had no-money to buy food, so she had to steal, the judge was told Mc Knight told her lawyer Rachel Dixon she had used a Foodbank for over three-months and was not allowed to go back.

    Jean Elizabeth Mc Knight, of Partridge Place, appeared from custody at the magistrates court, Carlisle, the court was told she entered the Tesco store on Victoria Viaduct on August 30 and stole a large number of items and left without paying, then on September 1 she went to the Asda store in Kingstown and again stole items, the next day she entered Tesco on the Viaduct and packed a trolley full of items, the value of these items was around £347.00, the total of the three thefts amounted to hundreds of pounds.

    Rachel Dixon for Mc Knight told the judge “her client is absolutely terrified of going to prison,” she is already on a Community Order with the Probation Service, she is a “heroin user and her life is in a chaotic state, and has mental health issues,” she suffers from severe depression at the moment the judge was told. Mc Knight was sent to prison for a total of 70-days, 42-days to run concurrent for the thefts, as she has a large amount in fines, for these she will serve 28-days, when she is released she will have no-debt owing to the court, but has to pay a victims surcharge of £115, when released from prison she will be under the supervision of the Probation Service for one-year.