A leading prisons expert has suggested the borough’s jail set for a massive refurbishment and likely expansion could be shut completely.
Open University academic Dr David Scott told a public meeting on the planned transformation of Hindley Prison that if Greater Manchester’s rate of putting people behind bars was brought down to the national average there would be no need for the jail at all.
Dr Scott has outspokenly criticised the Government’s £1.3bn plan to create thousands more prison places and completely overhaul four jails including Hindley.
He said the proposal will create a “mega-prison” at Bickershaw which will do little to boost the local economy, create jobs or cut re-offending rates.
He also told the meeting at Wallgate pub Little Fifteen that some number-crunching revealed that the need for Hindley prison could possibly be eliminated altogether.
A sentencing approach in line with the national average in Greater Manchester would allow for the complete closure of HMP HindleyDr David Scott
Dr Scott said: “The expectation is the proposed redevelopment of HMP Hindley will result in a much larger prison and that the costs will be well in excess of £100 million.
“However, we need to look very closely at the case for a new prison. A sentencing approach in line with the national average in Greater Manchester would allow for the complete closure of HMP Hindley.
“Quite simply there are too many prison sentences for people who live in Greater Manchester. The answer is not to build a new prison but to look more closely at sentencing practices in Greater Manchester and reduce the number and length of prison sentences.”
Dr Scott says the Greater Manchester rate of imprisonment, according to figures from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is 190 per 100,000 people compared to the average of 146 for England and Wales.
If the region were brought in line with the rest of the country, he claims, that would mean a reduction of 1,287 prisoners, far more than the 568 inmates currently detained at Hindley.
Dr Scott also questioned whether the borough could afford the new prison at a time of austerity.
He said: “The new prison will cost millions of pounds at the same time as severe cuts are being made to welfare services in Wigan, especially around education and healthcare.
“There is a major shortfall in funding for local health services and a crisis of funding for schools in Wigan. Surely the wellbeing of local people should be the priority.”
The meeting was organised by the borough’s branch of Momentum.