Justice secretary Michael Gove has mooted a massive prison building programme as a potential solution to reducing crowding and removing inefficiencies in the current system
In a speech delivered on Friday (17 July), Gove said that closing down current Victorian institutions could help ‘design out’ bullying, drug-taking and violence.
Selling land currently housing outdated inner city prisons could raise significant sums to fund the redevelopment programme, he said.
‘[We]have to consider closing down the ageing and ineffective Victorian prisons in our major cities, reducing the crowding and ending the inefficiencies which blight the lives of everyone in them and building new prisons which embody higher standards in every way they operate,’ Gove said.
New buildings could significantly improve the security and safety of prisons, said Gove who as the coalition government’s education secretary was widely perceived as an opponent of good design in schools. In 2011, early into his tenure, he provoked the wrath of the profession after claiming that taxpayer money would be wasted if high-profile architects were appointed to school design projects. He wasted little time after being appointed to that role in cancelling the Building Schools for the Future programme instigated by the previous Labour Government.
His latest comments follow a recent report by the government’s Chief Inspector of Prisons into Pentonville Prison in London, which houses 1,300 prisoners but was originally designed to hold just 900.
Gove said: ‘The chief inspector’s team found blood-stained walls, piles of rubbish and food waste, increasing levels of violence, an absence of purposeful activity and widespread drug-taking.
‘Of course, Pentonville is the most dramatic example of failure within the prison estate, but its problems, while more acute than anywhere else, are very far from unique. Overall, across the prison estate, the number of prisoners in overcrowded cells is increasing.’
The justice secretary said that 45 per cent of adult prisoners re-offend within one year of release, rising to 58 per cent of those serving shorter sentences.
In addition nearly one in ten previously clean prisoners reported that they acquired a drug habit while in Pentonville, he said.
‘Dealing with these problems in our jails has to be the first priority of those of us charged with prison policy,’ Gove said.
‘Unless offenders are kept safe and secure, in decent surroundings, free from violence, disorder and drugs, then we cannot begin to prepare them for a better, more moral, life.’