Content Warning – this article includes references to imprisonment and suicide
The government has announced plans to build a new mega prison in Chorley, Lancashire. It will be huge, locking up more than 1715 people. It is part of a wave of prison expansion…
…The site is owned by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and sits next to two existing prisons, HMP Garth and HMP Wymott. It is close to Chorley, Leyland, Preston, and Southport and only a train ride away from Manchester. It will no doubt imprison people from communities across the North West.
If the consultation is successful, the Ministry hopes to begin construction in 2022-3, and open the prison in 2025. And this could happen despite the suffering and exploitation that exists in the current prison system.
Part of a plan to create 18,000 new prison places
Corporate Watch has been tracking the government’s prison expansion plans for the UK since 2016, when plans were announced to create 10,000 new prison places “through the construction of six mega prisons and five new ‘residential centres’ for women”. The government also plans to create a further 8,000 places by expanding existing prisons.
Two of the new prisons are already under construction: HMP Glen Parva in Leicestershire and HMP Five Wells in Wellingborough. In addition to the proposed prison at Chorley, plans have been announced for new prisons close to HMP Full Sutton in East Yorkshire and HMP Grendon in Buckinghamshire. Another new prison “is due to be announced, most likely in the South of England”.
Prison expansion is linked to government plans for increased social control
The government’s prison expansion plans look as if it’s part of a plan to increase repression and social control in the UK. The planned Police, Courts and Sentencing Bill will give police greater powers to arrest, and allow the courts to impose heavier sentences. Meanwhile, the government has already pledged to employ 20,000 more police officers. Basically these policies – combined with the massive new prison building programme – make it look as if the government is hoping to lock more of us up. This is illustrated nicely by this quote (pointed out by Corporate Watch) from Alex Chalk, the prisons and probation minister, which was included in documents related to the new prisons programme:
The increasing numbers of police, in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment to recruit 20,000 additional officers, is also likely to contribute to a higher prison population, and we therefore believe that creating 18,000 additional prison places will help to mitigate pressure on prison places in England and Wales in the coming years.
Expanding prisons will only bring more violence and suffering
The new mega-prison in Chorley is being built close to HMP Garth and HMP Wymott. According to Corporate Watch, this is because:
These locations have existing local prison economies; communities are already used to their presence and many people are employed by them. Chorley is no exception with HMP Garth and HMP Wymott next door to the proposed prison site. Are these local prisons good examples of what we may expect from a new mega-prison next door?
In fact, these two existing prisons are good examples of why prisons should be abolished, rather than expanded. Corporate Watch points out that 29 people died in HMP Garth between 1995 and 2019. Ten of those people killed themselves. A recent inspection report shows that:
In the six months preceding the inspection, there had been 119 violent incidents, with force used by officers more than 143 times. There was a massive 450 incidents of self-harm in the same period and 1406 complaints.
Neglect and abuse by the prison system has been shown to have contributed to at least some of the suicides at HMP Garth. According to Corporate Watch:
Andrew Jones took his own life after being illegally held in isolated custody without essential medication, access to showers, exercise, or telephone calls. An inquest showed the prison broke the rules at least 600 times. The jury found that “a failing by senior management to ensure understanding of, proper use of, and monitoring of” the segregation rules was the “greatest contribution” to Andrew’s death.
Another prisoner Imre Paul Thomas died aged 47 after taking lethal doses of the painkiller tramadol. A total of nine medical appointments were cancelled by the prison before he overdosed on drugs.
The story is similar at HMP Wymott, where 68 people lost their lives during the same period. According to Corporate Watch:
Once again, many have died unnecessarily [at HMP Wymott] due to failing to access treatment they needed. Ryan McGrath died in 2016 aged 46 from a heart attack. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman investigated and said the healthcare was not equal to that in the community. His ongoing complaints of chest pains were ignored.
Exploiting prison labour
Corporate Watch’s report highlights that prisoners in the UK are already working for between £7 and £25 a week for companies like “DHL, Interserve, Ink2Work, Emerald Trading, Census Data, City Windmills and LMB Textiles” as well as Speedy Hire. However, Corporate Watch argues that many current prisons do not have workshops to enable prison labour to take place.
Corporate Watch then points out that the consultation notes for the new prison at Chorley explicitly state that it will include workshops inside the prison. These workshops could enable private companies and the Ministry of Justice to exploit more prisoners for private profit.
We asked the Ministry of Justice if it would like to comment on Corporate Watch’s allegations. It hadn’t responded by the time of publication.
Making a fortune for private companies
The government’s massive prison building programme allows it to hand out billions of pounds’ worth of contracts to private companies.
There are huge amounts of money to be made locking people up. And there are huge government contracts available for the prison-builders, as well as the private companies running prisons or providing transport from prison to court; the high-tech companies providing surveillance equipment, and the private contractors working for the National Probation Service. All in all, the prison system is great for capitalism.
We need to abolish this system that causes so much suffering and violence
The prison system might be profitable for some, but it causes untold suffering for those behind prison walls. That suffering disproportionately affects working class people and People of Colour.
Calls are growing louder to abolish the punitive prison system. According to Empty Cages Collective:
It may seem difficult – almost impossible – to imagine a world without prisons. Despite their relatively short existence within human history, prisons have become ingrained in our understanding of justice. It is taken for granted by most that the response to crime is incarceration. Those who call for the end of prisons, the abolition of the prison-industrial-complex, are often called utopian, crazy or worse.
According to Abolitionist Futures:
More and more people are questioning whether prisons are the best response to harms in society and whether the police actually function to bring about a safer society. But how might we need to alter our thinking, practices and social institutions to build a world without prisons and policing?
Stop the mega-prisons
Since the US uprising against the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, many more people are being inspired by abolitionist ideas, and are collectively trying to answer that question of how we can build a world without the institutionalised violence of the police and prison system. But while we try to answer those big questions, we also need to resist the state’s immediate plans to lock more people up. The national Community Action on Prison Expansion (CAPE) is doing just that.
A CAPE spokesperson told The Canary:
The government may have big, well-funded and violent plans to expand the prison estate, but we must never underestimate how inefficient they are and how susceptible they have been to localised resistance. Communities in Port Talbot and Wigan defeated plans for mega prisons. Chorley and Buckinghamshire will be the same. Get involved! You don’t need any special skills, just dedication and a passion to stop state violence expanding.
If it’s built, the planned mega-prison at Chorley will be a place of violence and suffering – just like the UK’s existing prisons. There’s still time to stop it from being built.
Tom Anderson is part of the Shoal Collective, a cooperative producing writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism.
Featured image via Flickr – miss_millions
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