Prison Building Moratorium

Women in Prison has signed an open letter published in The Guardian calling for a moratorium on the Government’s £1.3bn prison building programme. The statement, organised by the Reclaim Justice Network, gained more than fifty signatures from frontline services, academics and other professionals working in the field of criminal justice.

Part of the Government’s plans, as published in the upcoming White Paper Prison Safety and Reform, is to build five new community prisons for women. Women in Prison strongly opposes this and is calling for investment to be spent on reducing the prison population instead.

Women in Prison’s Chief Executive Kate Paradine said: “We desperately need to reduce the prison population not expand it. At a time of austerity and when tragically deaths in prison are at a record high, it is not new prisons we need but investment to address the root causes of offending like mental illness and homelessness.

“The call for the moratorium extends to the women’s estate where the Government is proposing to build five new prisons for women. What is needed is investment in community alternatives and support services. These are proven to be more effective in reducing re-offending and helping women turn their lives around, while saving the human and financial cost of children taken into care when their mothers are imprisoned.

“The Government needs to question who is sent to prison and why - and what happens afterwards. Most women in prison do not pose any risk to others only to themselves, are on short sentences for minor offences or held on remand. They are usually in prison as a direct result of domestic violence, sexual abuse or facing addiction, mental ill health and homelessness. 

“For the vast majority of women and their children caught up in the current of the criminal justice system, a prison sentence just makes a desperate situation even worse. It’s time to break with the past and ‘turn the tide’ on the harmful use of prison when what is required are refuges, housing and  better support for addiction and mental ill health. We urge the Government to reconsider their approach to solving the prison problem.”

The letter printed in The Guardian can be read below:

Wednesday’s opposition day debate on prisons served to highlight the ongoing crisis in the system. At the same time, the government’s “prison-building revolution” is gathering pace, with plans to expand prison capacity by at least 10,000 places. This appears to be a revival of the “Titan prisons” policy opposed by penal reformers and mothballed in 2009. It should be halted immediately. For example, the new prison recently proposed for the site of HMP Wellingborough will more than treble its capacity to 1,600 and grand claims have been made about the opportunities that this will bring in terms of local jobs and financial investment. These plans are being rushed through without full public scrutiny and democratic debate.

The numbers of people criminalised and sent to prison have already spiralled out of control to a record high. Yet prisons do very little to address the needs of people experiencing harm or violence. Building more prisons is not the answer to the current acknowledged failings of the existing system. Rather than investing £1.3bn in building new prisons, the government should be prioritising policies that radically reduce the number of people in prison. This could include meaningful jobs, social housing, healthcare, education, transport – for all.

We are calling for an immediate moratorium on prison construction and a national debate about how to build a safer society and secure communities instead of continuing with a failed policy of criminal justice expansion. We need to build safe and healthy communities – not prisons.

For a full list of signatories see Reclaim Justice Network