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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 August 2007, 08:19 GMT 09:19 UK
Judge calls for north Wales jail
Prison Cell
A prison could boost the north Wales economy, says Judge Evans
A senior judge has added his voice to calls for a new prison to be built in north Wales.

Mr Justice Roderick Evans said the absence of a prison made it more difficult to reintegrate offenders back into society.

In June, a report by MPs recommended that facilities for up to 500 male prisoners be built in the region.

The Ministry of Justice said site searches for new prisons were underway in north and south Wales.

The judge first told a Law Society event in 2006 that Wales was lacking in prison places and said many Welsh families often had to travel long distances to visit relatives in jail.

He said that a lack of visiting endangered family contact, which was vital for prisoners' reintegration into society.

But speaking before he outlines his arguments at a Probation Service event at the National Eisteddfod in Mold, Flintshire, Mr Justice Roderick Evans said there were a number of practical reasons why a prison was needed in north Wales.

I could understand people's fears if you were talking about sex offenders and lifers going into an open prison - that's not what we need
Mr Justice Roderick Evans

"The important thing is that prisoners are held as close to their homes and their communities as possible otherwise it becomes very difficult to maintain links between the family and the prisoners," he said.

"That is particularly the case unfortunately with women prisoners who for some reason have fewer visitors per prisoner than male prisoners."

Often defendants standing trial in the region needed to be transported in from prisons some distance from the courtrooms meaning early morning starts and uncomfortable journeys, which was unfair, he added.

"It's difficult for probation officers, solicitors and barristers to visit people being held far away from north Wales," he said.

"(A prison) would also be a way of stimulating the economy of north Wales - as well as the jobs in the prison you would need people to service it."

'Crime-free lives'

There are currently five prisons in Wales, but all in the south - Cardiff, Swansea, Parc in Bridgend, Usk and Prescoed in Pontypool.

The MPs' inquiry, which responded to concerns about the imprisonment of nearly half of Welsh prisoners outside Wales, also highlighted the lack of custodial facilities in mid Wales and criticised the provision of Welsh-language materials in some prisons.

Swansea Prison
The north needs a prison like the one in Swansea, says the judge

The Welsh affairs committee report also recommended a new approach to managing female offenders.

Mr Justice Roderick Evans said it was "a disgrace" that there was no women's prison in Wales and argued that fears about "closed" prisons in residential areas were unfounded.

"People will have a first reaction and will not want a prison next door to them, but the reality is, the kind of prison you would have in north Wales does not cause a problem," he said.

"I was raised in Swansea where there's been a prison for 150 years and it's right in the middle of a residential area - but there's never been a problem with it," he said.

"I could understand people's fears if you were talking about sex offenders and lifers going into an open prison - that's not what we need."

The comments were welcomed by Carol Moore, chief officer of the north Wales probation area and a keen advocate of a north Wales prison.

She said ensuring prisoners did not re-offend when they were released was made more difficult by jailing them a long way from their communities.

"We need to be able to link them up with services in the community so that all the right work is going on to enable them to resettle and live crime-free lives," she said.

"Clearly if people are uprooted for significant lengths of time that could mean that they lose accommodation, their ties with their community and family are weakened or broken and often they lose their job."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said the government would address the issue of a lack of a prison in north Wales in its response to the MPs' report on Friday.

"Site searches are underway in north and south Wales and decisions on the location and function of the new prisons will be determined by greatest need," she added.

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