The influential Policy Exchange think tank has proposed closing 30 ‘run down and poorly located’ prisons – revealing that running costs at some are more than four times those at HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton.
The 1,600-place Oakwood, in Featherstone, was built in 2011 as part of previous Government plans to overhaul the prison system to cut costs.
But it ended up being the only prison of its kind to be built as part of the scheme – and is now being held up as a model for how sites in the future should be run.
The report by ex-prison governor and deputy director at the Ministry of Justice Kevin Lockyer argues that larger prisons reduce overheads, allowing management, back office and support functions to be combined.
He reveals Oakwood costs £13,200 per prisoner per year to run, compared to an average of £31,339 for all category C prisons in England.
The most expensive is Kennet Prison in Liverpool, which costs £108,277 per prisoner.
Mr Lockyer says: “How can one prison cost £108,000 per place to run, when another establishment, performing exactly the same functions, costs just £26,000 per place?
“Why do some prisoners serve their sentence in damp Victorian dungeons hundreds of miles from their homes, when others can take advantage of modern facilities properly geared towards reducing reoffending?
“These kinds of variations are widespread across the prison estate – driven by structural deficiencies in a system that is skewed towards older, inefficient and hard-to-maintain establishments that are often in the wrong places. We argue that, as a result, the current prison estate is unjustifiably expensive and not fit for purpose in the 21st century.”
The 136-year-old Shrewsbury Prison, which closed in March, cost £60,477 per place. It was one of six shut by the Government to save £63 million a year, along with Bullwood Hall, Canterbury, Gloucester, Kingston and Shepton Mallet. Chelmsford, Hull and Isle of Wight saw some accommodation reduced.
Stafford Prison, built in 1794, costs £27,109 per prisoner, while costs at HMP Birmingham in Winson Green, built in 1849, have been reduced from £29,103 to £25,686 since security firm G4S took it over.
In London, the think tank is recommending the closure of HMP Brixton, HMP Feltham, HMP Holloway, HMP Pentonville, HMP Wandsworth and HMP Wormwood Scrubs.
It then proposes the construction of three 2,500 place prisons within the M25, on brownfield sites. Exact locations for other jails outside of the South East have not yet been drawn up but Mr Lockyer claims it is proven that newer, larger prisons are more cost effective.
He adds: “We do not want large, monolithic penal warehouses.
“Our vision is for new modern prisons containing a range of flexible accommodation settings, with shared facilities located in a central hub. Prison design has moved on from the architectural norms established during the Victorian era.
“Today, prison design can be predicated on a more modern approach, with relatively small, self-contained, housing units and plenty of open spaces.
“Such a hub-based, campus-style approach has been considered expensive in terms of the staff required for it run securely and safely.
“But our proposal, with its use of innovative technology, makes a Hub Prison approach affordable.
“So we envisage a prison with a range of accommodation types, with more traditional radial style houseblocks for remand prisons and assessment and induction purposes, but with smaller living units for longer sentenced prisoners.”