As details become clear on prisons expansion, campaigners prepare for a fight

The Empty Cages Collective and Community Action on Prison Expansion (CAPE) campaigns are calling for people to get involved in fighting at what they say is a crucial stage in government plans to build four new megaprisons across Britain.

Plans to build new facilities at Full Sutton in east Yorkshire, Hindley in Wigan, Rochester in Kent and Port Talbot in south Wales were announced by Justice Secretary Liz Truss on Wednesday, adding to a number of other sites which are either newly built, such as megaprison HMP Berwyn near Wrexham, or under consideration, such as in Greater Manchester, as part of a major ongoing expansion programme.

CAPE said in a statement, supported by Empty Cages:

Prison expansion will not reduce crime. Prison expansion will not reduce the reasons people commit crime. Prison expansion will not help reduce trauma and harm. However, prison expansion will further damage communities already suffering from cruel cuts to local and national support services. It will continue to break people, and allow deep social problems to be hidden in cages.

When the government claims that there is no money available for frontline services, and then finds over a billion pounds for new megaprisons, it is hypocrisy. More crucially, it is not an answer. Even by their own standards, prison is an ineffective way to prevent re-offending. And the US clearly shows us that mass incarceration is a toxic and devastating policy.

Instead of building prisons, why don’t we build our capacity to support people? Rather than shutting down provision for homelessness, addiction and domestic abuse, why don’t we expand them? Rather than selling prisons as “new jobs,” why don’t we create more meaningful employment that allows communities to actually support each other? Prisons profit from the super-cheap labour of inmates, which they then offer to businesses — this undercuts wages in the local area.

The below map, produced by Freedom, shows likely or confirmed closures under the “new for old” rebuild programme in red, possibly threatened sites listed by Empty Cages in orange, known new prison sites in blue, and “first wave” new and expanded sites in green.

Alongside heavy criticism of the prisons system generally, concerns have been rising about the placements of the new facilities. A “new for old” of HMP Berwyn for HMP Pentonville for example, allows the selling off of a potentially highly profitable site in central London in exchange for moving prisoners far away from loved ones to facilities requiring long and expensive journeys, punishing families and further isolating inmates from outside social contact.

In the wake of the collapse of the Titan jails scheme in 2009, the Conservatives have been scrabbling to find ways to add up to 10,000 places to the massively overcrowded system, which currently counts 85,500 inmates — nearly 21,000 of whom are “doubled up” in cells designed for one. Alongside a slate of new prisons, they have also promised the Prison Officers Association that they will create 2,000 new senior roles across the prison estate.

The UK already has the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe.

 

CAPE’s list of ideas for action

  • Sign the moratorium on building new prisons – add your name or that of your organisation, and publicise it in your networks.
  • If you are located in the areas affected, get organised – and if you want support get in touch. We can help organise meetings, write petitions, design flyers or give info talks.
  • If you aren’t located in the areas affected, also get organised, and let’s signal boost those who have it on their doorstep. 
Whatever your capacity, you have a skill – please get involved