In her annual report published yesterday Ms Owers criticises plans to build three "super-prisons".
Not only does she paint a grim portrait of conditions behind bars (A 40 per cent increase in suicides last year, continuing overcrowding and the plight of mentally ill inmates) she blames government policies for last year's record prison population, which forced ministers to order the use of police cells to hold detainees and to approve the early release of non-dangerous inmates. "That crisis was predicted and predictable, fuelled by legislation and policies which ignored consequences, cost or effectiveness, together with an absence of coherent strategic direction." She says
She warns that the plans that government proposals for a vast expansion in jail places, mainly by building "Titan jails", would be counterproductive. "On the horizon loom the Titans – 2,500-strong prison complexes, flying in the face of our, and others' evidence, that smaller prisons work better than larger ones," she says. "They may be more efficient, but at the cost of being less effective."
Although a Labour blogger I rarely discuss politics these days. There are plenty of other people left and right who do a far better job of political blogging it than I ever could. However, the “Titan” jail plans are of particular local interest, Rainham being a prime candidate for the one sited in London. The plans caused a furore locally last year. Doomed Tory MP for Hornchurch, James Brokenshire (the constituency is being broken up and Rainham will move to Dagenham) was highly outspoken in his opposition. Although protests have subsided, Rainham remains a prime site. Ms Owers’s report may have come as some relief to protestors.
The relief was short-lived, however. Although Justice minister Jack Straw appeared to indicate that the government was having second thoughts about “Titan” jails, Gordon Brown confirmed that the government would go ahead with them "We will go ahead with these prisons following the consultation that [Straw] said would take place," he told MPs.
I will be interested to see what John Cruddas has to say about this subject as he is most likely to be Rainham’s MP after the next election.