On 27 April 2009, Official Report, column 569 my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Justice made a statement on prisons and probation, in which he announced plans to build five new 1,500 place prisons. The Secretary of State for Justice announced the preferred location for the first two sites: one on the site of the former Runwell Secure Psychiatric Hospital in Essex and one at Beam Park West, Dagenham.
I am pleased to announce today that we are starting a fresh search for sites on which to build new 1,500 place prisons. This search will be more open and transparent than previous searches and we will be asking local authorities, landowners and other interested parties to identify potential sites. We 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. 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. As part of this search, we will announce our interest in an identified site and will consult with all interested parties.
Crime has fallen by more than a third since 1997, with 70 per cent. more violent and dangerous offenders locked up, and for longer. We have already created 25,000 additional prison places in the last 12 years and we are committed to providing sufficient prison places to hold serious and persistent offenders, who rightly should be behind bars.
These new prisons will allow us to modernise the estate by closing down older, inefficient and worn-out places. They will help protect the public and make communities safer by providing regimes to punish and reform offenders.
Once a prison is established in an area, almost without exception the local community becomes very supportive of it. A prison is a source of secure, well paid employment and a focus for much volunteering. The research evidence which shows that prisons have no adverse effect on house prices or crime rates is then borne out by experience. But proposals for new prisons can at first be controversial, which is why this new site search will be more open and transparent than previous searches, and we will publish a short-list of potential sites.
Once a site is identified, consultation with local MPs, local authorities and residents will be undertaken in order to achieve the most open and transparent process possible. Once consultation has concluded, we will seek to acquire that site with an appropriate planning consent.