Prison closure confusion

16/10/2017 15:30:00

Last week, the Ministry of Justice’s programme for modernising the prison estate was thrown into confusion, with justice minister Sam Gyimah MP, appearing to contradict the head of HM Prisons and Probation Service, Michael Spurr, about planned prison closures. Speaking at the Prison Governor’s Association Annual Conference on Wednesday, Michael Spurr said that he anticipated that “we won’t close any prisons this parliament”. However, just the following day, when responding to a question in Parliament, Sam Gyimah said that the commitment to close prisons over the next few years “very much remains”.
The Prison Reform Trust highlighted concerns about the viability of the Ministry of Justice’s prison building programme to HM Treasury, ahead of this year’s budget, in light of the publication of concerning prison population projections and a rapid rise in prisoner numbers this summer. Since May this year growth in the prison population has been extremely strong—rising by over 1,200 places in only 13 weeks, and it remains higher than at any other point in the last four years. In a sign of rising pressures on the prison estate, it was also reported that The Verne Immigration Removal Centre, would revert back to holding prisoners in 2018 just three years after a multi-million-pound re-role.
Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
"Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of HM Prisons and Probation Service, has now publicly admitted what the Prison Reform Trust stated in evidence to HM Treasury’s consultation on the budget a fortnight ago. A major plank of the government's prison reform programme has already bitten the dust. Dilapidated old prisons, rightly damned by the chief inspector's report on prison conditions earlier this week, will now not be closing. Some will even be re-opened. ‘New for old’ has turned into ‘new at any cost’. 
“But the uncomfortable truth is that the government was relying on the savings from closures to finance both the construction and the running costs of new prisons. No-one knows where the money to fill that black hole is now going to come from."