Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Prison break?

Is North Wales the only part of Europe that wants both a nuclear power station and a prison in its own back yard?

Just a random thought (from a lobby colleague) as MPs discussed the prospect of a prison being built in the region with the Secretary of State for Wales.

Peter Hain previewed an announcement from the Prisons Minister, Maria Eagle, although he appears far more enthusiastic about a prison west of Offa's Dyke than his ministerial colleague. Ms Eagle pulled the plug on a proposed prison at Caernarfon earlier this year after the site was deemed unsuitable.

Mr Hain told the Welsh Affairs select committee he is still "very keen" to ensure that North Wales gets a prison and previewed a statement from the Minister published shortly after the committee finished.

"She will announce that there is an intention to look specifically for a new site in North Wales. It could be in Caernarfon, it could be in Anglesey, it could be anywhere else where the local county council and other representatives come up with a credible site.

"I do want to see it in North Wales if we possibly can and I've made it absolutely clear to the Minister herself."

A press release from Ms Eagle stopped short of committing to a prison in Wales: "The National Offender Management Service, which runs prisons in England and Wales for the Ministry of Justice, will look across the country for sites to serve areas with greatest demand for prison places. The search will be focused on London, the North West, North Wales, and West Yorkshire."

The proposed jails would be for up to 1,500 prisoners - one local MP estimates only 600 places are needed in North Wales.

Ms Eagle said: "Finding the most appropriate place for a new prison is of paramount importance. They should be located in those areas where there is the greatest need, areas where the greater number of prisoners come from.

"This will allow us to keep prisoners closer to their home areas and will help ensure that important family and other links can be maintained, which help prisoner rehabilitation."

Earlier this month, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, Sir Suma Chakrabarti, questioned by the former Welsh Secretary Alun Michael, said: "Actually, I think there are plans to start the site search again in North Wales, and I think we are committed to that working with the Welsh Assembly Government and the Wales Office here. So there is no move away from that; that is still the plan."

That may still be the plan but anyone who has read Maria Eagle's carefully-worded statement - and Peter Hain's own comments - will appreciate that there is a subtle but huge difference between a prison in North Wales and a prison for North Wales.

Either way, the issue is unlikely to be resolved definitively before the general election that has to be held by next June.

1 comment:

MH said...

As you say, David, the big problem with the prison is that the Ministry of Justice was planning a smallish prison (500-800, according to various different reports over the months) but is now looking to build a 1,500 place prison. Despite Hain's protestations of surprise this morning, I think the more likely reason the Caernarfon site was dropped was because it was too small for the MoJ's new way of thinking.

A 1,500 place prison is much too big for North Wales' needs. So the only site that would be suitable would be somewhere in North East Wales, fairly close to the border, because the majority of its inmates would be from England. But what's the point of building it in North East Wales when there are other prisons just over the border?

Much better to hold out a few months for a smaller prison that will suit Wales' needs. The indications are that the Tories will aim for smaller community prisons, as I mentioned here ... and for responsibility for running them to be devolved to Wales.