Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Monday, 27 April 2009 17:23 UK

Straw scraps Titan prisons plan

Design of a Titan prison
Plans for three Titan prisons were first announced in December 2007

Plans for three 2,500-place Titan prisons have been scrapped, Justice Secretary Jack Straw has confirmed.

Mr Straw told MPs in the Commons that five "modern, purpose-built" 1,500-capacity jails would be built instead.

In December 2007, the government announced plans to build the three Titan jails at a cost of £350m each.

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve welcomed the "U-turn" by the government but said plans for "giant warehouses" had been flawed from the start.

He also regretted that the decision had been leaked in advance.

'Secure and effective'

Mr Straw said the first two of the new 1,500 capacity jails will be at Beam Park West in East London, and at Chelmsford in Essex - both of which will be privately run.

In addition there will be sites at Belmarsh in South East London, the former RAF base at Coltishall in Norfolk, and at Maghull on Merseyside.

Little Hey Prison in Cambridgeshire will also be expanded.

However, plans for a prison ship and a jail at the Omega site at Warrington, Cheshire, have been dropped.

This u-turn is the nail in the coffin of a flawed approach in tackling crime
Dominic Grieve
Shadow Justice Secretary

"These new prisons will be neither Victorian replicas nor large warehouses," Mr Straw said.

"They will be safe, secure and effective in helping prisoners deal with their offending and develop the work, education and life skills which they need to turn their lives around."

In addition, he announced that two "poorly performing" public prisons at Birmingham and Wellingborough will be "market tested", with both public and private providers invited to bid later in 2009.

Prisons in Manchester, Buckley Hall, Blakenhurst, Doncaster and Wolds will be opened to fresh competition at the end if their present contracts.

Mr Grieve said he welcomed the decision not to go ahead with the Titan prisons.

"Giant warehouses are no good for reforming prisoners or protecting the public," he said

"The stark reality is that this U-turn is the nail in the coffin of a flawed approach in tackling crime."

David Howarth, for the Liberal Democrats, questioned the need to raise the prison population.

He said: "How is building five very big, dare I say Promethean prisons instead of three enormous Titan ones, any sort of change of direction?

'Track record'

Roma Hooper, director of Make Justice Work, which campaigns to highlight the cost of locking up non-violent offenders, said the new plans were "depressing".

"Creating 7,500 new prison places, albeit in 'Titan-lite'-style establishments, will do nothing to stop re-offending rates, particularly as the group that cause the most upset in our communities serve short sentences, get no rehabilitation whilst they are inside, and simply leave to carry on with what they were doing before," Ms Hooper said.

THE PRISON POPULATION
There are 82,586 prisoners in England and Wales
52,117 criminals in England and Wales have been released early since June 2007 under a scheme to reduce overcrowding
About 3,000 released under the scheme were foreign nationals
Source: Ministry of Justice

However, John Cridland, CBI deputy director general, praised the government for creating extra private prisons.

"The private sector's track record in building and running prisons of all sizes is a good one," he said.

"Every private prison has been built on time, while delivering considerable overall cost savings to the taxpayer."

The five new prisons will be among the biggest in England and Wales.

HMP Wandsworth, which on average holds 1,461 male prisoners, is currently the largest prison in those countries.

The Titan jail plan followed Labour peer Lord Carter's recommendation for an extra 10,500 places in England and Wales in a review of prison overcrowding.

Their likely locations were London, the West Midlands and the North West.

A 2008 consultation paper on prison expansion said each jail would stand four or five storeys high on a 50-acre site with a cluster of smaller units holding around 300 prisoners.

They were likely to have held a total of around 1,000 remand prisoners and 1,500 medium-security Category B prisoners.



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