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As the Government pushes ahead with its prison modernisation programme, we take a look at the economic impact; what it means for local communities and job creation. 

Thriving economic lifeline

The latest phase of prisoner estate modernisation across England and Wales was announced at the end of March.

Within plans to create 5,000 modern prison places were proposals for new prisons at Port Talbot in Wales and Full Sutton near York, with HMP and Young Offender Institution (YOI) in Rochester in Kent and HMP and YOI Hindley in Wigan to be redeveloped.

The government says the new builds are expected to create up to 2,000 construction and manufacturing jobs and generate millions of pounds to British economy via investment in materials and a labour force and deliver new opportunities for local businesses as suppliers and contractors.

Economic scrutiny

The plans, and indeed promises of an economic boost, have been closely followed and scrutinised though with the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies director Richard Garside asking the Justice Secretary to publish a Ministry of Justice report on the economic impact of new prisons.

In a letter to Ms Truss, he wrote: “As the Ministry embarks on this latest stage in the prison-building programme, it is important that its plans are subject to proper scrutiny by parliamentarians, independent experts and members of the public, particularly in those areas where the new prisons are planned to be built. The publication of the Economic Impact of a New Prison report will assist the scrutiny process.

New jobs and apprenticeships

Figures show that prison developments are already having an impact on local economies.
The £250m HMP Berwyn in north Wales, which opened earlier this year and will hold over 2,000 prisoners, and is Britain's biggest prison. Construction contributed over £100 million to the local economy and created around 150 jobs and apprenticeships, even before the first prisoners arrived.

The new sites are part of the government’s wider commitment to build up to 10,000 modern prison places by 2020, underpinned by £1.3 billion of funding to transform the estate, with an additional £100 million to bolster frontline staff by 2,500.

Concerns over ‘cost-driven’ changes 

There is a concern that estate management decisions have been too ‘cost-driven’. Evidence submitted to the Justice Committee’s prison reform enquiry strongly suggests that there’s a strong need to build prisons that ‘can respond flexibly to changes in the prison population’ and that prisons need to be built close to offenders’ communities to assist with resettlement and family relationships. 

The Committee closed its consultation calling for further evidence on 7 May, but it’ll be interesting when it reports back on responses from those working in prisons on what the new designs need to take into account to reflect the constantly changing prison population. This will be particularly interesting to those working in offender healthcare and substance misuse, with mental health being one of the key concerns. 

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