Have prisons replaced the pits in our former industrial heartlands?

Friday, 29 January 2021

Prison-building has become one of the go-to regeneration tools in the former industrial heartlands of England and Scotland, according to new research we are publishing today.

The report, Coal today, gone tomorrow: How jobs were replaced with prison places, reveals that prison-building programmes since the 1960s have been disproportionately concentrated on sites such as former coal mines, factories and chemical works. 

Over one hundred prions have been opened across England, Wales and Scotland since 1901, with most of them being opened since the end of Second World War. Up until the early 1980s many new prisons were opened on former military bases and former country houses.

Following the decline and destruction of the coal mines and manufacturing industry from the 1980s on, former industrial sites were increasingly used for new prisons. Indeed, the report finds that prison capacity growth in former coalmining areas was around ten times greater than growth in non-coalmining area.

Speaking today, Professor Stephen Farrall of the University of Derby, and one of the report co-authors, said:

While prison expansion may appear to be a common-sense response to an increasing prison population, it appears that it has disproportionally taken place in the regions affected by the crises of deindustrialisation and urban decline. These areas may be further affected as plans to ‘supersize’ existing prisons becomes customary, compounding the ‘legacy’ of deindustrialisation even further.

The vestiges of neo-liberal economic policy in former coal-mining areas has been a far-reaching expansion of criminal justice infrastructure. While deindustrialisation in the 1980s could be described as a dramatic and hard-hitting process, with time we can also recognise it as a ‘slow-moving’ process, the consequences of which may not become fully realised for several decades.

Matt Ford, our Research Analyst, who is leading the Centre’s ‘After Prison’ programme said:

It’s tragic that pieces of land which once provided jobs for local people are now wasted on prisons. There are all kinds of better ways of using these sites for the benefit of local communities, particularly as they have been so impacted by decades of decline and disinvestment. The land these prisons occupy should be handed back over to local people to decide how they would like to see them redeveloped. There is always a better use for a piece of land than as a place for a prison.