Be Careful What you Wish for? Exploring the Personal, Social and Economic Impact of New Prison Builds

Published 18/03/2009
Type Article
Author(s) Iolo Madoc-Jones
Corresponding Authors Iolo Madoc-Jones, Principal Lecturer in Criminal Justice, Glyndwr University

Over the last twenty years the prison population in the UK has been rising at an unprecedented rate. In 1971 the number of people held in prisons and young offender institutions (hereafter in prison) numbered 45,046, in 1991 it was 50,736 and in 2001 it was 66,300. At the time of writing, April 2008, the UK prison population stands at 82,945. De Silva et al (2006) have sought to make projections as to what the UK prison population might be in 2013. Based on the assumption that recent sentencing trends continue into the future, they projected that the prison population would be 98,190. This 18% increase would require room for an additional 15,000 inmates. The largest existing single prison in the UK – HMP Wandsworth, holds on average 1,461 prisoners. If all the new prisoners in 2013 had to be housed in new prisons of this size, ten new prisons would have to be built in the next five years to accommodate them. Possibly anticipating that ten more new builds would be an expensive prsoposition, the Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced in 2007 that in addition to more traditional medium sized prisons, three ‘Titan’ prisons would be commissioned and built over the next five years to hold 2,500 inmates each. The policy of imprisoning ever larger numbers of people has been subject to considerable research and commentary over the last ten years. The focus of criticism has been on the efficacy and philosophy of imprisoning more and more people. This article does not seek to reproduce that debate; rather it focuses on what is known about the impact of a new prison build on the prisoner and local community experience. As the prison building programme evolves over the next few years, local debates about the perceived desirability and impact of new prison builds are likely to flourish. This article aims to provide a focus and make a contribution to those debates to better inform decision making in this area.