Political News Updates

10.01.2013

Kent News: Canterbury Prison closure plan slammed

Government plans to close down Canterbury prison have been slammed by prison officers.
Union chiefs say the decision is a “desperate blow” to the service after the announcement on Thursday.

The Ministry of Justice announced the jail is one of six to be shut, while three others will be partially closed. They will be replaced by a new large prison, to be located either in London, the north west or Wales.

Four smaller facilities are also set to be constructed, most likely in Cambridgeshire, south Wales, Hertfordshire and south London.

Canterbury currently has a capacity for 314 inmates but will close for the final time this April.
The Government says the move is part of a drive to replace older prisons and so bring down the cost of operating the prison system. It is expected to save £63 million a year.

Tom Robson, vice chair of the POA - the professional trade union for prison, correctional and secure psychiatric workers - said: “This is a desperate blow to our staff and the news was greeted with shock.”

Mr Robson spent nine years overseeing staff at Canterbury and said there is no reason at all to close it.

“A report described it as run down but that simply is not true. It is a clean, well operated establishment and the staff do magnificent work. There is no reason whatsoever that it could not continue to operate.

“This plan has very little to do with the good health of the prison service. It is all to do with cutting costs.”

Mr Robson said the welfare of prisoners would also be hit by the move.

He added: “Rehabilitation of offenders is a very important part of the work of the prison service and re-integrating them with their families is part of that process.

“If prisons are closed down inmates will be moved to wherever space is available – and that could be far away from their families, making contact much more difficult.”

The numbers do not add up either, said Mr Robson.

“Prisons are overcrowded and this move will see 2,600 places in total being lost. It seems 1,260 will be created, but that obviously leaves a shortfall.”

Canterbury prison holds foreign nationals serving up to five years with an expectation of deportation.

The prison dates from 1808, when a county jail was built just outside the city limits. The front of the prison still bears the carved inscription House of Correction.

The other prisons affected by the plans are Bullwood Hall in Essex, Gloucester, Kingston, Shepton Mallet and Shrewsbury, with some accommodation at Chelmsford, Hull and the Isle of Wight also closing.

The plan follows the opening of a new prison called Oakwood near Wolverhampton which has a capacity of 1,600 prisoners, and is now approaching full operation.

The Government says this prison has the most modern training and rehabilitation facilities in the country and the cost of holding a prisoner in an older prison is often more than twice as expensive as keeping them in a new one as new prisons require less maintenance and general upkeep compared to older ones.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “We have to bring down the cost of our prison system, much of which is old and expensive. But I never want the courts to be in a position where they cannot send a criminal to prison because there is no place available. So we have to move as fast as we can to replace the older parts of our prison system.

“That’s why we are moving ahead with immediate plans for new prison capacity, as well as closing older and more expensive facilities.

“It’s also why I am now moving ahead with planning for the next generation of new prisons.”