The Rise of the Super Prison: HMP Wrexham and Implications for the Prison System
It was recently announced that the proposed super-prison, HMP Wrexham, would be governed by Russ Trent, a former Royal Marine.
Given the estimated operational capacity of HMP Wrexham is planned to be around 2,000, it seems only fitting that a man with a military background should be selected for the role. After all, when the prison is constructed, it will be the largest in the country, not to mention one of the largest in the continent.
Whilst many claim that the construction of the prison will help to resolve some of the UK’s problems with overcrowding, others have expressed concerns over the sheer scale of the design. Whilst a ‘super-prison’ may serve to house record numbers of inmates, the question remains: Will it be able to house them effectively?
The Current Situation with Overcrowding
It’s undeniable that the UK’s prison system is facing an overcrowding crisis at present, despite Chris Grayling’s protestations to the contrary.
The Prison Reform Trust identifies how numbers of prisoners are growing by the week; and in the space of five weeks in 2014, swelled by over 700; which is roughly the size of an average prison capacity in itself.
In the light of this, it’s easy to see why the government is choosing to construct bigger prisons, in an attempt to address the problem. However, whilst HMP Wrexham will be able to provide an option for holding some of the inmates currently squeezed into overcrowded prisons, there are others who think that simply building larger establishments won’t actually solve the issue.
In a speech made in 2014, Sadiq Khan, then shadow Justice Secretary, stated: ‘when we say we want prisons that work, we know that can’t mean jails that are simply huge warehouses, squashing in ever more prisoners, who are doomed to idle away their days, all too ready to slip back into a life of crime when they’re released. That means more victims, more human misery and a massive waste of talent.’
The Current Track-Record of Larger Prisons
There are several prisons in the UK with operational capacities of 1,000 or more. In order to predict how successful HMP Wrexham will be, it may be of interest to examine these existing prisons, and see how well they are meeting the challenge of holding large numbers of inmates.
Here’s just a few in the spotlight:
- HMP Oakwood. Privately run HMP Oakwood, which is privately run by Serco and has an operational capacity of 1,605, claims on its own website that it aspires to be the ‘leading prison in the world’. Regrettably, the reality could not be further from the truth. Rated as one of the worst performing prisons in the UK in a 2013 report, it was labelled a ‘serious concern.’
- HMP Wandsworth. HMP Wandsworth is currently the UK’s largest prison, with an operational capacity of 1,665. It’s also widely known as one of the most overcrowded prisons in the country, with inmates sharing cells designed for single occupancy. A 2011 report indicated that ‘Wandsworth compared badly with similar prisons facing similar challenges.’
- HMP Altcourse. With an operational capacity of 1,324, HMP Altcourse is a sizeable establishment. Unfortunately, it’s also one where drug smuggling and violence is rife. A former inmate commented: ‘Cons are being taken to hospital weekly for taking overdoses on spice or mamba. There are two or three ambulances called at weekends.’
Military Regime to Control 2,000 Inmates?
Given the lack of success that most of the larger prisons have had in terms of controlling inmates and supporting their needs; perhaps a Royal Marine as governor is a shrewd move indeed!
The prison is due to open in 2017. Grayling, prior to his departure as Justice Secretary, made the following comment: ‘My priority is to provide enough prison places for those sent there by the courts – and to do so in a way that gives taxpayers the best possible value for money. This will be the first prison in North Wales and a massive boost to the Welsh economy.’
It may well add revenue for the area; but the question still remains; will HMP Wrexham actually benefit the prison system as a whole? Or will it end up being yet another underperforming establishment?