Liz Truss, the Justice Secretary, is set to unveil plans for 5,000 new prisoner places and four new prisons in England and Wales in an effort to tackle overcrowding in Britain’s jails.
Ms Truss will outline plans to replace “old and overcrowded” establishments with “new, fit for purpose buildings”. They will include sites in Yorkshire, Wigan, Kent and South Wales – as part of the Government’s intention to create 10,000 “modern prison places” by the end of this Parliament.
It comes after the Council of Europe claimed Britain had the largest prison population in Western Europe at 95,248.
Ms Truss has previously rejected calls to cut prison numbers, suggesting it would be “reckless” to public safety to reduce the number of custodial sentences in an effort to meet targets.
In a statement she said: “We cannot hope to reduce re-offending until we build prisons that are places of reform where hard-work and self-improvement flourish.
“Outdates prisons, with dark corridors and cramped conditions, will not help offenders turn their back on crime – nor do they provide our professional and dedicate prison officers with the right tools or environment to do their job effectively.
She continued: “This significant building programme will not only help create a modern prison estate where whole scale reform can truly take root, but will also provide a thriving, economic lifeline for the local community – creating hundreds of jobs for local people and maximising opportunities for businesses.”
Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "This massive investment in new prisons is not matched by a credible plan to reduce our reckless overuse of prison in the first place.
"The prison estate certainly needs an overhaul, but reducing demand would mean closing prisons, not opening them."
Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon added: "We need modern prisons fit for the modern age. But simply replacing one prison with another prison doesn't deal with the overcrowding crisis."
Last year, in a effort to tackle the growing prison populations, senior cross-party politicians wrote to Ms Truss calling for the number of inmates to be reduced by 40,000 – almost a half to levels seen under Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.
But in February the Justice Secretary said: "I want to see the numbers of people in our prison go down but it has to be for the right reasons.
"The wrong approach would be reducing sentences for serious crimes or letting people out early.
“Reductions by cap or quota, or by sweeping sentencing cuts are not a magic bullet, they are a dangerous attempt at a quick fix. This would be reckless and endanger the public. And it would restrict the freedom of the independent judiciary to choose the most appropriate sentence for each offender.”
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies