Gloucester Prison – Why I think it should close

Gloucester Prison has recently been selected as one of the prisons to close under a “reform” by Chris Grayling, the Tory Justice Minister.  While I have concerns about where the staff will go, as well as how those Adult Men will be housed if there is not suitable cell space found, I do think that the closure of Gloucester Prison is long overdue.

Gloucester Prison is a category B local Prison and Youth Remand Prison.  What this means in english is that its primary purpose isn’t to hold “Criminals”, its main purpose is to hold people who are remanded to prison awaiting a court appearance (IE someone who the court feels a risk to the public, but until proven guilty, are still innocent).  It holds 323 prisoners and while it is a remand prison, there will be a number of these that are criminal prisoners (IE convicted ones).  For some, it’s a stop-gap before moving to a proper prison, but some do stay for longer periods.

The prison has a very long history, built in 1782, and has gone through development and additions through to the present day.  It saw a number of executions there (by Hanging) and has had notable residents including of course Fred West.   Having been a Magistrate in Gloucester, I came to know the workings of the prison, and the prison system in general, as well as influencing its population somewhat.

It is much down to this history that I think the problem lies.  The prison in more recent times has come under heavy and sustained criticism.  The cells are very small, and has been very overcrowded.  In 2003 it was in the top 20 overcrowded prisons, and because of the location, and issues around the listed nature of some of the buildings, there is limited scope to make it any better.  This was recognised again in 2007, where over crowding was still an issue, but also the floods highlighted the precarious position it held on the banks of the Severn, and emergency moving of prisoners was required.  Even as recently as last November, it was assessed as Poor, having poor infrastructure and badly cramped accommodation.  No matter how much money is poured into it, it is the physical building that is the problem and little that can be done about it.

We also have to recognise how it fits in with the local justice system.  Historically, having the prison there did make some sense because of the location of the crown, and more notably the Magistrates court.  I say the Magistrates court because they do see much more “business” than the Crown Court, we just hear more of the crown court proceedings.  It made sense that if you were remanded to prison, or jailed to transport them down the 500 metres and job done.  However for a number of years now, Gloucester Magistrates Court has not had functioning cells of their own and the police would not let them use theirs, so any cases that were likely to end in a prison outcome, are now sent to Stroud or Cheltenham as they have the facilities.  So that location advantage has also gone.

What should not be lost though, is the initiatives that Gloucester Prison has employed and made a success, such as the bike repair centre which looks at meaningful employment.  The GDAS (as it was called when I last visited) worked really hard to combat the ever-present drugs problem (again an issue not helped by the location).

I have fielded criticism around where I have said that I am pleased that Gloucester Prison is closing.  This has been twisted to mean that I am glad to see 200 jobs under threat and I can emphatically say that this is definatly not the case, and I believe the MoJ really needs to ensure that as much expertise is retained as possible.  We are now at the stage (you could argue we have been there for at least 10 years) where Gloucester Prison has not fulfilled its remit (humanitarian or otherwise) properly.  Most of this is down to the physical nature of the building and not being able to do much with it.  This is bad enough when you consider that it is the living conditions of prisoners that we are talking about, but you could say it is even worse when we are talking about people who have not actually been found guilty of a crime.  That is why I think it is right that it should be closed and more appropriate solutions sought.

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2 Comments so far:

  1. Without says:

    A) Gloucester Prison is a category B local Prison and Youth Remand Prison. Originally it’s soul purpose was that, but it holds more prisoners than those on remand.

    B) thanks for the history lesson we can all use Wikipedia to flesh out things.

    C) It’s over crowded well this point is quite funny, 6 prisons with over crowding are going to be shut where are all the prisoners going to go?

    D) Oh by the way those walls are pretty strong, I promise no prisoners were drowned in the making of the floods in 2007.

    E) It’s OK they’re moving the Crown Court in Gloucester to Bristol, more jobs going.

    F) If you think a drugs problem is only present in prisons in inner-city locations such as Glos Prison you really need to wake up that’s a rubbish argument.

    Stop being so darn closed minded about how old the building is and the conditions and start to think about the people, you still missed the complete point from every single person who made a comment, prison will shut, prisoners have nowhere to go, 200 people lose jobs. You obviously didn’t keep your ear close to the floor either Gloucester Prison was going to shut it was the worse kept secret in Gloucester, the Governments snap decision was terrible they never gave any prior waning to staff, nor prisoners, prisoners family and even worse they haven’t even got planning permission to build the super prison.

    To make this easy Barry here you go:

    Has the “super prison” got planning permission and has it started to be built?

    Where will the Prisoners go?

    Do you think the prisoners families, which visitation has proven to help rehabilitation of prisoners should have to travel miles to see their partners, dads etc?

    One Idea is to stick some of the adult offenders in a young offenders prison. do you think that is right?

    The heads of the prison were not consulted in how to move forward not told until after the announcements and press releases they were going to be shut down. If you were in an important position do you feel that was the best way to go about things?

    Should the staff have got maybe more that 2 months notice, and should plans have been put in place so they can find suitable employment especially as some of their careers are pretty specialist?

    Considering the prison is 231 years old could the decision have waited a few more months to ensure that this shambles could go a little more smoother?

  2. Barry says:

    Interesting comments, showing the art of not actually addressing the points. Good work.

    If I were you, to fully appreciate how the justice and prison system works, do a bit of research and not just assume you know how it all works. Your comments do show a huge naivety over the subject, which does your comments a huge injustice.

    Your Point A – I addressed that, its main purpose is a remand prison, that convicted prisoners stay there too is to solve the bigger population issue.

    B – Actually that was from my notes from the first time when I went there. However the dates are important becuase they highlight the historic and planning issues around the building itself.

    C – My points are around this prison, not the system in general – I do say that the MoJ needs to address the wider issue.

    D – A number of prisoners were moved out becuase of cell flooding in 2007

    E – The number coming in from Crown Court is not as big as JP courts. Many come up from Bristol already.

    F – I never said anything about Drugs being only in inner city prisons – its the issue in Gloucester Prison being where it is that has led to vast nets being put over the top of it, and they have to be constantly improved – Just one real specific example.

    Again, regarding planning the Super Prison, my comments are around my experiences of this Prison – its inhumanity for prisoners, and impracticality and constantly not able to meet the grade. The wider MoJ issue is a real problem and their plan needs to be robust.

    If you think that the Prisoners in Gloucester are actually all from Gloucester, then again, please do some research about how prison places are allocated, what happens when someone has a court appearance, and how often male prisoners get moved around. You might learn something. The stark reality is that prisoners do move around, hence why much investment has gone into video link and the like. Also this only applies to Male prisoners, you seem to be happy for Women, particularly young mothers to go elsewhere. (The nearest we have for them is Eastwood Park by the way, jump on wikipedia and see what you think of that one – from my own visits, its the worst place I have ever seen a nursery, or so many young women in one place).

    While I feel greatly for the Jobs involved – they have been put at risk, not made jobless outright and the MoJ has a responsibility to redeploy where possible and assist. I think anyone who is put at risk of redundancy would love more than 2 months notice. The Tories have proved incompetence over and over again, and their handeling of this is right in line with their past record and no doubt we will see a U Turn in the near future. However when we talk about Basic Principles of Human Rights, Gloucester has not been able to provide for many years and when considering it, the first question must be is it fit for purpose and the answer is (and has been for a while) a resounding no.

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