A geography lesson
The Rehabilitation Revolution omnishambles has taken a new turn with the announcement by the Ministry of Justice of the 70 prisons that are to be re-branded as‘Resettlement Prisons’. The idea is that all short-term prisoners, that is those serving 12 months or less and that currently do not qualify for any help or support upon release, will serve all their time at one of the newly-designated establishments. This is so that they can be prepared for release by one of the new contractors currently considering whether to bid for the so-called through-the-gate services or not. It’s intended that the new providers of resettlement support and supervision will establish contact during the sentence and famously according to Chris Grayling they will be met at the gate on the day of release by a ‘reformed old lag’ who will show them the error of their ways. In theory it’s a good idea, but those guys down there in London need to get out a bit more. I don’t think geography is their strong point. For example, lets have a look at HMP North Sea Camp – bit of a clue in the name there, built as it is on land reclaimed from the North Sea by Borstal boys – in fact not that many years ago I well remember nearly getting stuck in a blizzard visiting the godforsaken place, out in the windswept wilds of Lincolnshire as it is. Being miles from any significant habitation, how is this place ‘near’ to any ones resettlement location? Where will the volunteer mentors be recruited from; how will they get to the prison and back in a reasonable time frame and how is the cost to be covered in the pared-to-the-bone contract? How are families expected to visit regularly? Or what about HMP Haverigg? Basically an old RAF base and again, pretty much no where near any where, but amidst some absolutely stunning Cumbria landscapes, a full hour from the nearest motorway:- How to get there:
- Bus: Take the number 15 bus from the Market Square which is 200 yards from Millom railway station.
- Train: The nearest railway station is Millom. A bus or taxi must be taken to complete the journey.
- Car: Haverigg is about one hour from junction 36 of the M6 motorway.
From the M6, Leave the M6 at junction 36, signposted Barrow and Kendal. Continue on the A590, taking the first slip road still following signs for Barrow for approximately 27 miles until the road runs adjacent to Morecambe Bay. At the village of Greenodd, turn right on to the A590, signposted to Workington, Whitehaven etc. Stay on this road for 10 miles, going up over the fells and down by-passing Broughton in Furness. After Broughton in Furness (you will pass the High Cross Inn on your right), follow the A595 over Duddon Bridge and continue for 2.5 miles until Hallthwaites. (The prison is signposted from here.) Turn left, following the signs for Millom and Haverigg. Travel through Millom turning right at the BP garage and turn first left for Haverigg. Turn left at the end of the road and follow this road to Haverigg village. Turn right at the Harbour Hotel and turn left at the end of the main street. One of the real joys of this job is getting out of the office, away from the computer and on the road at the crack of dawn in order to visit a far-flung outpost of the prison estate, nearly always located in some of the best scenery this nation possesses, and of course find time to eat and relax in one of the pubs handily pinpointed on the prison website (and no a video link is not the same and does not assist in establishing a constructive and therapeutic relationship). What I don’t think they’ve fully appreciated down there at metropolitan MoJ HQ is that most prison building since the war has been dictated by cheap land already in government ownership and handily located miles away from troublesome middle class nimby’s who even insist that the prison name bears no relation to where it’s actually located, such is the stigma involved. Unlike the Victorian gaols, conveniently located in the centre of our major cities, for years the favoured locations for new prisons have been old RAF bases, isolated institutions, marshalling yards, failed industrial estates or reclaimed marshland. Almost without exception, they are not renowned for ease of access or closeness to habitation. For this idea to work, real resettlement prisons need to be in population centres, and of human scale, but that won’t happen because the land is too expensive and the bigger the prison, the cheaper it is to run. Take a look at the new Titan prison just announced for Wrexham, North Wales for a staggering 2,000 prisoners. There may be economies of scale, but it will mean the catchment area will be vast and make maintaining family ties difficult and expensive. Talking of catchment areas, due to the pressure on the prison estate and exacerbated by recent closures, many prisoners already find themselves located miles away from home, especially in London and the South East, and the disruption caused by these plans will only make matters worse. Resettlement prisons? I don’t think so and the Howard League isn’t impressed either. Courtesy of Jim Brown at On Probation Blog