When I was waiting for my first daughter to be born in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital I spent a lot of time looking out of the window at Wormwood Scrubs Prison – I reflected on its fine architecture but also on the poor asset management of having a prison so close to central London.
So I am pleased that in a speech earlier today the Justice Secretary Michael Gove said:
“I think we have to consider closing down the ageing and ineffective Victorian prisons in our major cities, reducing the crowding and ending the inefficiencies which blight the lives of everyone in them and building new prisons which embody higher standards in every way they operate. The money which could be raised from selling off inner city sites for development would be significant.
It could be re-invested in a modern prison estate where prisoners do not have to share overcrowded accommodation but also where the dark corners that facilitate bullying, drug-taking and violence could increasingly be designed out.
By getting the law right, getting operational practice right and getting the right, new, buildings we can significantly improve the security and safety of our prisons.
But the most important transformation I think we need to make is not in the structure of the estate, it’s in the soul of its inmates.”
The think tank Policy Exchange has noted how the cost of prison places varies hugely.
Danny Kruger of the charity Only Connect has written:
“I once heard, from an officer at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, of a foreign national prisoner released one Christmas. He wandered out of the famous gates… and turned down Du Cane Road. A few minutes later he was back. ‘Excuse me,’ he asked the officers at the gate, ‘can you direct me to the community?’ Blank faces. ‘I was told I was being released into the community. Where is it?’”
We can do better than that.