With the required political processes out of the way, the building of the 2,500 capacity jails is set to begin.
A new report by the Prisons Reform Trust has accompanied the end of the “consultation” period on the government's policy of constructing huge new “titan” prisons, which Gordon Brown has stated will mean the beginning of construction of the jails.
The scheme was originally slated to cost £1.2 billion, before ministers doubled the sum, now standing at £2.4 billion, excluding all running and associated costs. They are set to hold around 2,500 inmates, being built around London, the Midlands and the North-West.
An official government review of the program took place at the end of 2007, under Lord Carter. It argued for the construction of new Titan prisons in order to hold the expanding prison population, based on economies of scale. According to the Prisons Reform Trust report, the exercise was cooked in order to produce the desired outcome, and was potentially premised on this. Carter met 51 individuals and representatives from organisations, but only 17 of these were questioned about Titans, and over half of these had a clear vested interest in the program, being construction firms, private prison operators and government departments.
The consultation paper excluded any meaningful discussion of the criticisms of massive prisons, being focused instead on how Titans will function inside the prison system. The terms of “debate” have been shifted from last year, where the focus was on whether Titans should be built, to how they will hold a projected population, to the “consultation” paper where “discussion” was organised around how “Titans can strengthen our ability to provide … comprehensive rehabilitation to individual offenders.” In the words of the PRT report, “it seems as though the government embarked on the search for arguments in favour of Titans only after deciding to go ahead.”
The prisons are almost certain to involve private funding through a private finance initiative. Though the Labour party claimed to oppose private jails whilst in opposition, their use has been expanded massively, along with PFI involvement in the seizure and imprisonment of asylum seekers. 10% of prisons are now run by companies such as Serco and Group 4, who pay their staff less than the government, and by the government's standards, perform poorly.
Larger prisons are documented to put inmates at higher risk, and to increase the levels of reoffending. At the same time, a recent study by Carol Hedderman at King's College London has shown that the levels of serious crime have actually remained static for the last five years, and that the increase in prison population has been based on increased rates of incarceration for other kinds of crime.
The Trust highlights that the prison building scheme is being pushed through as the world economy is gripped by a serious crisis, with Britain looking to be severely hit. The clear implication is that economic contraction, and any government-sanctioned austerity, will increase crime significantly as in similar scenarios historically. The prisons will be ready to incarcerate the increased number turning to crime out of necessity and desperation, punishing the victims of the crisis while protecting those responsible, and the system of private property. Strikingly, the program is being pursused at the same time as “reforms” to benefits which will force claimants to work for the dole. The connection between prisons and class society is clear, even if such an analysis is outside of the purview of a liberal organisation such as the Prisons Reform Trust, which would prefer “strong political leadership” on a crime policy with which they agree.