Corporate Watch | 05.01.2010 21:58 | Repression
According to local newspapers, the council's executive board voted eight to two on 15th December 2009 in favour of a proposal for the county to be considered for a PFI jail. Councillor Rodney Skelland (Tory), lead member for regeneration, is quoted to have shamelessly said: "We shouldn't be sitting on the fence any more and we should be supporting a prison in Wrexham, wherever it goes." Using unemployment as a pretext, he added, "This offers a long-term, reliable employment source. It will be a major plus for Wrexham county." Deputy council leader Bob Dutton (independent) similarly said, "We would be failing in our duty if we didn't try and secure such a development in Wrexham. We need to think ahead and make sure we have something to offer if the opportunity presents itself."
Both Labour members of the Lib Dems-majority council's executive board voted against the proposal for a prison in Wrexham. In a recent poll on whether locals wanted a prison built in nearby Caernarfon, 78% (553 out of 728) voted no (see http://pub5.bravenet.com/minipoll/results.php?usernum=368204801&qid=32739).
Two potential locations for the prison are said to be the ex-Firestone factory and the former Owens Corning plant, both on the town's industrial estate. The Ministry of Justice will conduct its own consultation before announcing a shortlist of potential sites, due to be published in February. The land occupied by the Firestone factory was originally on a previous shortlist, announced in August 2008, but lost out to a location in Caernarfon, which was eventually rejected too (for more details, see http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/docs/comments-re-shortlist-welsh-prison-sites(1).pdf).
On 5th December 2007, the government announced a massive prison expansion program to create 10,500 new prison spaces by 2014, on top of 9,500 spaces announced previously. The original £2.9 billion plan was to build three massive US-style 'Titan' prisons, which would have held up to 2,500 prisoners each. Due to widespread opposition, however, the government changed its plans and now intends to build five 'mini-Titan' prisons instead, at a cost of £3.1 billion. Each will hold 1,500 prisoners and will be built and run by private security companies on 25-year contracts (for more details, see http://www.againstprisonslavery.org/alive_&_kicking.html).
Last October, Justice Minister Maria Eagle revealed that search for potential locations for the mini-Titans in England and Wales had already started, with the North Wales and North West regions on the list of specific sites. In addition to Wrexham, two other counties in North Wales, including Gwynedd, and two in the North West have put in submissions so far.
Communities of Resistance, a national network campaigning against prisons, has come out in opposition to the plans to build a new prison in North Wales. In a statement last month, Emma Davies said, "A new prison in North Wales is not the answer and we will be supporting those that choose to oppose these plans, whether at the planning permission stage or on the streets." (See the campaign's reasons for opposing prison expansion at http://www.co-re.org/joomla/index.php/component/content/article/34-newswire/72-reasonsstopprisons).
The Welsh authorities have been arguing that there is an "overall shortage" of prison capacity in Wales and that Welsh prisoners should be "housed in prisons in Wales." There are currently around 1,300 people from Wales in prison, 800 from North Wales and 500 from South Wales. Research shows that, statistically, building more prisons does not reduce crime. More prisons, however, do lead to more prisoners.
According to Ministry of Justice statistics, the prison population in England and Wales grew by 32,500, or 66%, between 1995 and 2009 - the highest rates of imprisonment in Europe (see http://www.justice.gov.uk/about/docs/story-prison-population.pdf). One of the main factors behind this increase in prison population was tougher sentencing by judges, pushed by politicians who want to appear 'tough on crime'. Prison population projections anticipate that, by the end of June 2015, the demand for prison spaces is expected to increase to between 83,300 and 93,900. The projections, however, are based on assumptions about future criminal justice trends (e.g. sentencing) and incorporate the anticipated impacts of selected policy and process initiatives (see http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/stats-prison-population-projections-2009-2015.pdf).