Wrexham is the largest town in North Wales with a population of a mere 42,000 people. It is a town with a varied industrial history and one of the largest brown field sites in the area is the old Firestone Tyres factory which is situated on the outskirts of the town. This photo was taken in the 1970’s. The value of redeveloping brown field sites is clear. It avoids building on land that has never been developed, and helps to bring back into use, space that otherwise lies derelict and may have only limited value in terms of bio-diversity. The decision by the Government to develop the old Firestone factory and in to create 100’s of local jobs should be good news. However the proposed development is not attracting universal support. The site has been identified by the Ministry of Justice for the construction of the largest prison in the UK with accommodation for 2000 people.
At present there are four prisons in Wales and all of them are sited in South Wales. Despite the number of these facilities, they are currently not very diverse in terms of the use to which they are put. None of them have any accommodation for women, and there is very limited provision for young people. They are also not suitable for the accommodation of high risk offenders. The Government is keen to build new prisons because it like Governments before it and probably those to come is prepared to lock up significant numbers of offenders, despite the evidence that doing so in most cases is ultimately bad for society and that our prison population overshadows that of most other Western nations and against a backdrop of falling levels of recorded crime. There is currently a consultation taking place regarding this proposal and that allows people to respond with their views regarding the use to which the Prison should be put. Even in the most enlightened society, there will always be a need to lock away some individuals for the safety of society at large and in some cases for the safety of the people concerned. Prison also plays an role in punishing people for their crimes, and if resourced adequately can play a role in rehabilitating those who have been punished. However there are alternatives to the use of prison for all of these purposes which can be a great deal more effective for many of the people who currently end up inside a prison.
Assuming that we are to continue locking up young men, and women of any age, which is something that does need serious consideration it is vital that they are held in locations near to people and communities that can support them and assist in their rehabilitation once released. In the case of women who are locked up, some will be separated from their children which creates victims at the hands of the state. In these circumstances it is vital to find prison accommodation close to their homes. Because there is little or no provision in Wales for either of these groups, one might argue that some provision for young people and women in this new prison would make sense. However the journey from the South Coast of South Wales to Wrexham can take nearly 4 hours by car, and many families do not have access to a car, so it is not an appropriate solution for many living in the south of the country.
It is vital that any development on the Firestone factory site takes into account the views of the 42,000 people in Wrexham along with the 90,000 who live in the surrounding District and those more widely in North Wales. However building a massive prison in Wales miles from any large population centre should raise all sorts of concerns for you and I too. There is plenty of evidence that the behaviour of all people who have been sent to prison, both during their period of punishment and after their release is impacted by the extent to which friends and family can visit throughout their incarceration and the extent to which they can be supported through the process of rehabilitation. This super prison is something with the strategic importance of the introduction of HS2 to the rail system of the UK. The Government has not decided which type of prisoners will be held in the new prison in respect of age, gender or security level. The Commons Select Committee are inviting written submissions on the state of the Welsh prison estate, rehabilitation in Wales, and concerns around the impact of proposed criminal justice developments on Welsh offenders. It is vital that all of us consider if we have something to say on this issue and that we respond before the deadline of 2nd July. Our prison estate and the way in which it is used is a strategic issue, not something merely of concern to those living nearby!