On the 22 March 2017, it was announced that HMP Hindley near Wigan, close to Greater Manchester, will be part of the government's £1.3 billion prison development programme which aims to redesign the penal estate so that it can increase current capacity by 10,000 new places.
The expectation is the proposed redevelopment of HMP Hindley will result in a much larger prison and that the costs will be well in excess of £100 million. There was an immediate response by local people in Wigan and Greater Manchester and an event was organised for Monday 3 April to discuss the proposal.
At the meeting, it was highlighted that the prison in question - HMP Hindley, a Cat C adult male prison currently holding 568 prisoners – undoubtedly has serious problems. In an inspection last year, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, provided a damning report of the prison, ‘The regime at Hindley [is] possibly the very worst the inspectors had ever seen of this type of prison’.
In my view, the prison should surely be closed at the first possible opportunity, and this opinion was strongly expressed by a number of other people in attendance at the meeting.
The meeting also focused on the case for a new prison. The speakers pointed out that at 146 prisoners per 100,000 of the population, England and Wales has the highest rate of incarceration in Western Europe. Shocking as this was, the debate on prison numbers moved quickly from the national to the local context.
According to data derived from the National Offender Management Service, analysed in preparation for this meeting by myself and Dr Robert Jones from the University of South Wales, 5,285 people with an address in Greater Manchester were held in the prison estate in England and Wales in March 2014. With a population of around 2.7 million, this means that the rate of imprisonment of people from Greater Manchester at that time was 190 per 100,000.
If Greater Manchester's sentencing to imprisonment were to merely match the national average this would see prison sentences fall to 3,998, a reduction in 1,287 prisoners and allow for not only the complete closure of HMP Hindley but also that HMP Buckley Hall, a Category C Prison in Rochdale with a current population 498 prisoners.
Speakers and members of the public noted that the governments’ prison building plans should be understood with the context of the nationwide austerity package resulting in public service cutbacks. The proposed new prison will cost millions of pounds at the same time as severe cuts are being made to welfare services in Wigan, especially around education and healthcare.
In Wigan today 12,875 children live in poverty. There is currently a major shortfall in funding for local health services facilitating the health and well-being of people in the borough of Wigan, coupled with a crisis of funding for schools in the borough. It was argued that rather than build a new prison, the number of people being sent to prison should be reduced in Greater Manchester and the £100 million budget for the rebuilding of HMP Hindley re-allocated to help reduce social inequalities and boost welfare services.
The situation in Wigan must not be considered in isolation. Proposed sites for mega prisons were announced in Wellingborough and Leicester in November 2016 and in March 2017 proposals for three further ‘mega prisons’, in addition to Wigan, were revealed in North Yorkshire, Kent and South Wales. Campaigns have been launched by local activists against the new prisons in all of these areas. It is clear the story of the mega prisons in England and Wales has only just begun and there is a growing concern about the government strategy.
Dr David Scott is Senior Lecturer, Criminology, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences at The Open University