Justice expert blasts huge expansion plans for Wigan's prison

A justice expert has branded plans to turn Wigan’s jail into a mega-prison “totally unsuitable” saying the Government would be better off closing it.

By Holly Pritchard
Friday, 22nd April 2022, 1:14 pm
Updated Monday, 25th April 2022, 7:40 am

The Ministry of Justice submitted the proposal to Wigan Council for permission to go ahead with the building works at Hindley Prison and a determination deadline has been set for May 17.

At present the prison can hold a maximum of 640 male inmates, with approximately less than five per cent of them being from the Wigan area, but the extension would see it almost double itself in size adding 494 new bed spaces, taking it up to a capacity of well over 1,000 potential prisoners.

But the scheme has come under fierce criticism from Dr David Scott, researcher, author and senior lecturer in criminology at the Open University, who says that there is no need to build extra cells because previous predictions of rises in the size of the prison population have failed to materialise, Hindley has suffered from bad inspection reports in the past and the extension would impinge on greenbelt land.

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The expansion would also see extra kitchens, workshops and a building with staff welfare facilities.

Wigan Council has pointed out that there need to be “special circumstances demonstrated” in order for the expansion to be approved as it would use up greenbelt land.

If given the go ahead, the move could potentially destroy natural habitats and impact local wildlife, as well as bringing a greater flow of traffic to the area.

Proposed plan for two new cell blocks at Hindley Prsion and Young Offender Institution. Image: Mott MacDonald/MoJ/Wigan Council planning documents.

However the goverment believes that there is a “need for prison expansions.”

HMYOI Hindley is a catergory C male prison and young offenders institution, in Bickershaw, where offenders usually serve sentences of four years or less.

Currently, the majority of the prison’s inmates are from the cities of Manchester and Liverpool with only a small number actually from the Wigan borough area.

In 2016, Hindley came under criticism in an Ofsted report which said it had one of the “worst regimes ever seen”, with poor food quality, mouldy bread, filthy cells and high levels of violence and drug-taking.

Dr David Scott

Concerns were also perviously raised that the “prisoners regularly experienced being locked in their cells for more than 24 hours” and that there was a “lack of meaningful activities”, with high rates of self-harm.

In a 2019/20 Annual Prison Performance Report it was given a rating of “two”, meaning its performance was “of concern”.

Dr Scott said: “Catergorically, I would say that Hindley is completely unsuitable and inapproppriate for expansion.

"In fact, I would say there is a stronger case for Hindley to be closed than actually for it to be expanded.

Dr David Scott

“In 2011 and 2012, when the prison population in England and Wales reached its record high, government statistics indicated that there would be over 100,000 within next two years.

“This didn’t happen. Instead the prison population stabilised at around 82,000 and recently declined to around 75,000 during the height of the covid pandemic.

“It has marginally increased since then.

“It would be a terrible mistake to almost double the size of the prison based on government data alone, especially as this new build will be on greenbelt.”

He added: “According to the British Crime Survey, there’s no direct crime rate evidence therefore no direct push or indicator that there will be a massive rise in crime or increase in demand to imprison more and more people.

"The push is coming from the government itself, it is not responding to crime rates but it is responding to its own fears and concerns.

"It believes that the crime rate is going to escalate over this coming decade and they’re mighting up for increased social unrest because they’re anticipating that there is going to be a deterioration in the standard of living.”

In the 1990s the prison population had more than doubled from around 40,000 to in December 2011, when it reached 88,000 over the two decades.

Since then, the prison population has more or less stabilised.

Government predictions were that prison population will likely exceed 100,000 within the next couple of years in 2013, but this did not happen.

Dr Scott said: “Prisons aren’t a deterrent for desperate individuals with nothing to lose, like if they’re homeless and in dire straits.

"When we think about objectifying serious crime, the more serious crimes are actually perpertrated by corporations and by states.

"Prison distracts attention away from the harms of the powerful.

“One much better and cheaper solution would be to invest in greater social care for young people for a start.”

On why people should care about the issue of expanding prisons, Dr Scott said: "If you build it, they will fill it.

“It’s a warning to all of us of where goverment policy lies.

"A government concerned in the needs, welfare and voice of the people will be looking to deal with root causes such as austerity and the current cost of living crisis, and not simply build bigger prisons to cater to its fears.”

A spokesperson for Wigan Council said: “An application has been received and is being considered in line with national and local planning policy.

"People are able to comment on the application, as part of the application consultation process, as per standard procedure.

"All views will be taken into account when the planning committee consider the decision.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The plans for HMP Hindley are part of our £4bn investment to create 20,000 modern prison places to help better rehabilitate offenders and cut crime.

“They will not encroach on greenbelt land and are within the prison’s existing perimeter.

“In its most recent report, inspectors praised the prison for creating a safe environment and reducing self-harm and violence significantly."

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has spoken of spending £3.75bn over the next three years on the prison-building strategy.