At the office today we received the news that two of the prisons where we work are going to close. We heard through the BBC, having had no previous warning.
I have my views on the closures, which I posted to my Facebook profile earlier but have since removed, since on reflection I think it’s better to keep them to myself. I don’t speak for the charity.
A friend has, however, posted the text of a letter he wrote to his MP after reading my original post. His letter reminded me that while governments are elected, entitled and expected to take difficult decisions such as these all the time, they should also be accountable for those decisions. Accountability is not the same thing as changing a decision or admitting that, in retrospect, it was the wrong one; instead, it involves decision-makers being able to explain how and why they reached a particular decision, and explain whether and how they planned to mitigate any negative consequences.
I have adapted my friend’s letter and sent it to my own MP. With his permission, I’m re-posting his text with minor changes here so that you can do the same, should you wish.
I am very concerned about the plans announced today to close seven prisons and build one new ‘super prison’.
Firstly, I am concerned that there is a plan to build a new ‘super prison’ for 2,000 prisoners. When this idea was raised by the previous government, it was dropped because of concerns about ‘warehousing’ prisoners, essentially holding them without effective rehabilitation. This is because of various factors, including the lower staff-to-prisoner ratios and the lack of sufficient training or education opportunities for such large numbers of often diverse prisoners. Moreover, several of the prisons due to close are specialist prisons catering for foreign national prisoners, life sentenced prisoners, remand prisoners and young offenders. I am concerned that the specialist care and services in the closed will be lost in the new ‘super prison’.
Secondly, I am concerned about the impact of the closures on prisoners’ children. These children have a right to a relationship with both their parents (as set out in Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child), but the closure of the seven prisons could mean a significant number will be far further away from their imprisoned fathers (the closing prisons are all men’s prisons), and possibly too far to visit. These children have not committed a crime and should not suffer because of the crimes of others.
Thirdly, there is the impact on the current prisoners, in particular the disruption to any unfinished training or education they are undertaking. It can be very difficult to get onto courses in prison, which are an important part of the rehabilitation process.
Please could you write to the secretary of state for justice, asking him questions on the following three points:
1. How he intends to continue to provide the specialist support for the prisoners in the seven prisons due to close, in particular how the needs of a) foreign national prisoners b) life-sentenced prisoners and those serving indeterminate sentences c) remand prisoners and d) young offenders will be met.
2. What consideration has been given to the impact of the closures on the children of prisoners, in particular on those children’s right to a relationship with their imprisoned fathers. Have their best interests been taken into account as a primary consideration in this matter which concerns them? What measures are being undertaken or planned to minimise the negative impacts of these closures on the lives of prisoners’ children?
3. What measures are being taken to ensure that unfinished education, training and other courses being undertaken by prisoners at the seven prisons due to close, can be completed? What measures are being taken to ensure that specialised voluntary sector providers currently working with these prisoners, who have often invested years of training and resources in them, will be able to continue their work with the prisoners they are currently in contact with?
Please reply, informing me of your action on this matter, and then notify me when you receive a reply from the secretary of state, forwarding me his reply. If you need any further information or have any questions, please contact me.