Prisons to close in England as super-prison site revealed


Danny Shaw: "I don't think there's going to be a net increase in prison places"

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Four prisons in England are to close as the government announced the site for a new super-prison in north Wales.

The jails in Reading, Dorchester, Blundeston and Northallerton will be shut down by March next year, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said.

Feltham Young Offender Institution will also be replaced.

But campaigners said replacing old prisons with new, bigger ones would make them harder to manage and would not reduce crime.

'Overcrowded and violent'

Prison closures

HMP Oakwood

Closed since May 2010: Ashwell, Brockhill, Bullwood Hall, Camp Hill, Canterbury, Gloucester, Kingston, Lancaster Castle, Latchmere House, Shepton Mallet, Shrewsbury, Wellingborough

Due to close: Blundeston, Dorchester, Northallerton, Reading

Likely to close: Dartmoor

Opened: Thameside, Oakwood

Due to open: Wrexham, and mini-prisons planned for Parc, Peterborough, The Mount, Thameside

The closures mean 1,400 prison places will be lost in England and Wales while the new £250m prison in Wrexham will hold more than 2,000 inmates.

The super-prison will create 1,000 jobs, according to the government.

In the four English prisons that are due to close, 685 staff could lose their jobs.

Dartmoor prison, in Devon, is also likely to shut, although not for some time.

Work will start on the new Welsh prison next summer and it is due to open by late 2017.

Officials are also investigating the possibility of building another large prison in south-east England - possibly on the existing Feltham site in west London - with a youth facility attached.

Mr Grayling said the plans would "modernise" the prison system and bring down costs. He pledged there would be more prison places than when the coalition was elected in 2010.

Artist impression of super-prison This is how the super-prison could look, according to artist impressions released by the Ministry of Justice
Artist impression of  super-prison This is an interior view of what it could look like
Artist impression of  super-prison The details of the super-prison have not been finalised
Artist impression of  super-prison The prison would be built on the site of the former Firestone tyre factory in Wrexham

"Of course the reorganisation of our prison estate which we are undertaking means some difficult decisions," he added.

"But we have to make sure that we have modern, affordable prisons that give the best opportunity for us to work with offenders to stop them committing more crimes when they leave."

But the Prison Officers Association accused ministers of paying "lip service" to prison workers who it said have to work in "overcrowded and violent" institutions.

Chairman Peter McParlin said the closure programme was "cuts-driven and does nothing for the rehabilitation revolution".


Steadily, almost imperceptibly, the prison estate is changing. Small, local jails are closing as new, bigger jails in city areas open.

Since 2010, 12 prisons have shut and one has been converted into an immigration removal centre. The only two prisons to open in the same period were the giant Oakwood jail in the west Midlands, home to 1,600 prisoners, and Thameside, in south-east London, which can hold 900.

The latest plans follow the same trend. It may make economic sense - older, smaller prisons are more expensive to run - but will it help cut re-offending? Prison reformers doubt it, claiming that super-size jails are little more than "warehouses".

The latest official performance indicators placed both Oakwood and Thameside on the lowest level possible. Ministers will be hoping that the 2,000-bed jail planned for Wrexham has a smoother launch.

Last year around 19,140 inmates on average were made to share a cell designed for one person, according to Ministry of Justice figures.

Since January, 2,800 "unstrategic and uneconomic" prison places have been cut from the estate, his department added.

It said the four new closures would reduce the prison budget by £30m a year.

The new closures brings the total number of prisons closed since May 2010 to 16.

'Too large'

There has been a mixed reaction to the announcement from prison reform campaigners.

"Closing failing prisons is the right move to make, but without a coherent strategy to reduce prison numbers it will make the problem of overcrowding worse," said Frances Crook from the Howard League for Penal Reform, adding the new super-size prisons would be "too large to manage effectively".

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, added: "Closing small local prisons and replacing them with super-sized jails will not reduce crime or make communities safer."

Labour said its plans while in government would have "would have provided cheaper prison places much earlier".

"New prison places don't appear out of fresh air to replace those being closed now," shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said.

Meanwhile, the MoJ also announced The Verne in south Dorset will become an immigration removal centre, with capacity for around 600 detainees awaiting deportation.

Downview prison, in Surrey, is to hold male rather than female prisoners and Warren Hill, in Suffolk, will stop holding young offenders and will instead hold adult males, it added.

Figures published by the Ministry of Justice show that jails held an average of just over 85,000 prisoners between April 2012 and March this year.

Map showing prison closures and openings

Prisons closures and openings

Name of prison Status since 2010 No. prisoners held

Ashwell, Rutland



Brockhill, Redditch



Bullwood Hall, Essex



Camp Hill, Isle of Wight



Canterbury, Kent



Gloucester, Glocs



Kingston, Portsmouth



Lancaster Castle, Lancaster



Latchmere House, London



Shepton Mallet, Somerset



Shrewsbury, Shropshire



Wellingborough, Northants



Blundeston, Suffolk

Closure announced 4 Sept 2013


Dorchester, Dorset

Closure announced 4 Sept 2013


Northallerton, N Yorks

Closure announced 4 Sept 2013


Reading, Berks

Closure announced 4 Sept 2013


Dartmoor, Devon

Closure planned (no date)


Morton Hall, Lincs

Converted to immigration removal centre


The Verne, Dorset

To be converted to immigration removal centre


Total places lost


Thameside, London

New prison opened 2012


Oakwood, W Mids

New prison opened 2012


Wrexham, N Wales

New prison announced


Parc (S Wales)

New houseblock (extension)

Peterborough, Northants

New houseblock (extension)

The Mount, Herts

New houseblock (extension)

Thameside, London

New houseblock (extension)

Total houseblock places




Total places gained



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  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    I can't help feeling that smaller, local jails, such that people are held closer to the communities in which they committed their crimes are more likely to be able to be able to help prisoners understand the harm they did to their local community and enable them to reconnect with it. I don't see how you can do that if you send them hundreds of miles away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Some prisoners actually respond to the staff in them who are trying to help them. By increasing the prison population and reducing the staff, the prisoners will loose out. Also the real prison officers should run them not some private company who pay their staff peanuts. There is a skill to being a prison officer and it is achieved through experience. We need modern prisons but not big ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    What about the visitors? It's quite a trek from North Yorkshire or Suffolk to Wrexham. Prisoners are not going to be able to see their families so often and it'll be more expensive for family members, who'll have to cut down on the number of visits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    As we are desperately short of prison places why replace four with one. Build the new one AND keep the other four.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I hope they get planning permission before the old prisons close!

    Honestly, what a farce. Surely it would make sense to have the new prison ready before closing the old ones? What will happen to the prisoners from the closed ones? Will they be put into portacabins on-site?
    I guess joined up thinking wasn't required for the people who are running this shambles.


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