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Prison Capacity

Volume 567: debated on Wednesday 4 September 2013

The House is aware of my plans to modernise the prison estate so that we always have enough prison places for those sent to us by the courts but at much lower cost and in the right places to deliver our ambitions for reducing our stubbornly high reoffending rates.

We are doing this through a significant programme of replacing accommodation which is old, inefficient or has limited long-term strategic value and by reshaping the rest of the prison estate so that we are able to release offenders closer to home which we know improves their resettlement and prevents reoffending.

I am able to update the House today on the progress made and next steps in this programme.

In January I set out my ambition to build a new prison and as part of the spending review in June secured a £250 million investment for it to be built in north Wales. I can today announce that, following the assessment of several site options and subject to local planning approval, the new prison will be built on the former Firestone site in Wrexham.

Work will begin on-site next summer with the prison fully operational by late 2017. The new prison will provide up to 1,000 much needed jobs, great opportunities for local businesses and millions of pounds worth of construction opportunities. It also provides north Wales with its first ever prison, offering an opportunity for offenders from the region to be closer to their homes.

I can also announce that I have tasked my officials to come up with plans that would see the existing Feltham young offenders site replaced with a large new adult prison and a new, youth facility on adjoining sites in west London.

In 2012-13 we were able to remove 2,800 old and uneconomic places which has significantly reduced the running costs of our prisons. I announced in January that we will open up an additional 1,260 places in four new houseblocks. The first one at HMP The Mount, is on track to accept prisoners in September 2014. In addition we will open 180 new places at Rochester and Bure this year.

We are now in a position to close a further 1,400 uneconomic places which will save around £30 million per annum. This means the closure of the following prisons by the end of the financial year:

HMP Blundeston

HMP Dorchester

HMP Northallerton

HMP Reading

In addition, we will convert HMP Verne to an immigration removal centre, providing around 600 additional places to hold immigration detainees awaiting removal from the country. Existing staff will continue to run the site but the change means that the Home Office will meet the costs of its operation.

These changes form part of our overall plans that will reduce prison costs by over £500 million within this spending review period.

In addition we will begin discussions with the Duchy of Cornwall about the future of HMP Dartmoor. This lease has a long notice period so nothing will happen immediately but the age and limitations of a prison built in 1809 mean that it cannot have a long-term future as part of a modem prison estate. It therefore makes sense to discuss with the Duchy future options for the site.

It is right that we continue to meet the needs of the prison population. That is why during this year, I commissioned a review on how we best meet the needs of women and conducted a public consultation on proposals to transform youth custody. I anticipate being able to announce the outcome of both in October.

I can however announce two changes as a result of those reviews which form part of our overall prison estate strategy: HMP Downview will stop holding women prisoners and instead will hold adult male prisoners; and HMYOI Warren Hill will stop holding young offenders and will also change to hold adult male prisoners. Both changes will take place by the end of the financial year.