It’s hoped the opening of Britain’s first ‘super prison’ will reduce overcrowding and increase the number of inmates in acceptable accommodation. HMP Berwyn, in Wrexham, Wales, cost £250 million to build and can hold 2,106 inmates.

The prison service has come under increasing pressure in recent years, with spiralling rates of assaults, suicides and drug use. Following serious riots at a number of jails, the Government pledged to spend £1.3 billion on new facilities. HMP Berwyn is the first of nine ‘super prisons’ expected to open by 2020. Justice Secretary Liz Truss said Berwyn would “help to reduce overcrowding across the estate” – but how much good will it really do?

Coping with Massive Prison Population Growth

England and Wales has the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe, according to figures for 2015, and the prison population has almost doubled since 1993 – a period during which the overall population only rose by 17%.

Despite having the biggest capacity of any UK prison, HMP Berwyn pales in comparison to the world’s largest. LA County Jail houses 17,000 inmates, while Bangkok’s Klong Prem has a capacity of 6,267.

According to the Ministry of Justice, most of the UK’s prisoners are kept in a “good, decent standard of accommodation” – or certified normal accommodation (CNA). There are currently 78,676 CNA places available, but the prison population has reached 6,512 above that figure.

HMP Berwyn has a capacity of 2,106, which should help to reduce the number of prisoners not in CNA. But it will take time for all of the spaces to become available, and the jail is not expected to be functioning at full capacity in the near future.

Berwyn is anticipated to be the UK’s cheapest prison to run, at £14,000 per inmate, per year. The second cheapest is expected to be the second largest – HMP Oakwood, at £19,505 per head, per year.

Focus on Rehabilitation

HMP Berwyn’s governor Russ Trent said the rehabilitation of inmates would be prioritised.

“If we don’t have rehabilitation as our primary purpose and work carefully with every man who comes here as an individual, helping him to deal with the problems that have brought him into the criminal justice system in the first place, then we shouldn’t be surprised if he goes on to reoffend,” he said.

“We have spent a lot of time working with psychologists and academics to make sure that what we have planned is likely to contribute towards this rehabilitative culture.”

‘Poster Child for Super Prisons’

The Howard League for Penal Reform’s Andrew Neilson called the new facility “a bit of a poster child for super-prisons”.

“It is the first public sector prison to be opened in England and Wales since the 1990s, and they want to show it can work,” he added.

“Russell Trent, the governor, is seen as a high-flying trouble-shooter.

“He has turned around failing institutions in the past. He has been tasked with setting up an institution and getting it off on the right foot.”

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