Plans to build Britain’s biggest prison while closing five older ones will be unveiled today.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – who has adopted a tough stance on law and order – will insist that, overall, not a single jail place will be lost.
Mr Grayling recently made clear his intention to replace older prisons, which are expensive to run and maintain, with modern ones in a bid to save millions of pounds in the long-run.
In addition to the new prison, which will hold 2,000 inmates, it is understood that four so-called mini-jails will be opened, holding 250 inmates each.
A number of older jails have long been considered under threat, but officials are acutely aware that prison closures are controversial.
Mr Grayling’s predecessor, Kenneth Clarke, never recovered from allegations he was ‘soft on crime’ after closing prisons and reforming sentencing guidelines to reduce the number of people jailed.
During his two years at the Ministry of Justice, Mr Clarke closed six prisons in order to save money.
They included Latchmere House in London, Brockhill in the West Midlands, Ashwell in Rutland, Lancaster Castle and Wellingborough, while Morton Hall women’s prison, in Lincolnshire, was turned into an immigration detention centre.
MoJ officials insist there is no danger of being left short of prison places because of the proposed closures. Figures show there are 90,451 spaces in adult jails in England and Wales while the prison population is currently 83,600.
The vast new prison, which will be built in London, the North West or Wales, is likely to prove contentious. The previous Labour government was forced to scrap £1billion plans for three so-called Titan jails, holding 2,500 inmates each, amid claims that ‘warehousing’ so many criminals would make rioting more likely and rehabilitation much more difficult.
While less ambitious, Mr Grayling’s proposed prison is still significantly bigger than the country’s current largest prison, HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton, which opened last year and has a capacity of around 1,600 prisoners.
The news about the prison programme came amid a row over plans unveiled by Mr Grayling yesterday to allow private firms and charities to supervise low-risk offenders on probation on a ‘payment by results’ basis.