Prison Closures: A First-hand Account

Posted: 14 April 2013 in Prisons, Understanding Others

Closed“Old and uneconomic” Government ministers confirmed in January that seven prisons would close this year.  The MoJ said it also planned to build a new super (‘titan’) prison with 2,000 places in London, north-west England or north Wales. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says the move will make the prison system more cost-effective.

But beyond the debate about how to best run prisons, these closures will an immediate impact on the lives of many prisoners, prison staff, their families and volunteers. To get a first-hand account of this my colleague, Jon Rickard, spoke to Ty Schlechter, who for seven years has been prayer group leader for PF Shepton Mallet, about the imminent closure of HMP Shepton Mallet.

How do you feel about the closure?

I will be sad to see HMP Shepton Mallet close. The prison is the oldest in the country (it is still sometimes called by its original name, Cornhill) and houses some 180 men, most of these men are seeing out the end of life sentences and are looking forward to release.

How do you think the closure will impact prisoners, staff and the community?

A lot of people don’t realise that there are a lot of underlying costs to closing a prison. Many local people and businesses have their livelihoods tied up in the prison. From prison officers to food suppliers, their lives will be greatly affected by the closure and I think we may sadly see many job losses. The men in the prison, many of whom have settled into life there, will face major disruption too as they are moved to other locations, possibly setting them back in their path to rehabilitation.

And your local Prison Fellowship group?

From the perspective of a group leader, the PF group here will no longer have a prison to visit or be involved with in a physical sense after 25 years of being active. I am exploring options for the group at the moment.

Finally, do you think the government proposed ‘titan’ prison will contribute to the reduction of re offending or exacerbate it?

I believe that a ‘titan’ prison could work in helping prisoners rehabilitate if it combines a modern building with modern approaches to restorative justice. Programmes like Sycamore Tree could be used effectively in an environment that encourages development and change. Without encouragement and such integrated programmes, the chances of failure to rehabilitate on a large scale with a large prisoner population is a real possibility.

         As Ty has illustrated in his comments, many lives will be impacted, not just the prisoners themselves. It is not just Shepton Mallet being closed, but also: Bullwood Hall, Canterbury, Cowplain, and Shrewsbury.

  1. warmginger says:

    This is a big issue isn’t it? I’m curious to know how much coverage this is getting in the UK media.

    • Bill says:

      No coverage whatsoever.The political times here are really quite interesting. But prison issues as a prism for defracting society gets no interest. Mrs thatcher’s funeral however, is doing just that – for this week at least.

      • warmginger says:

        Ooh, that makes my blood boil. Think about all the countries in the world where journalists take their life in their hands in order to inform people about their justice systems. I guess Maggie’s death is an easy subject compared to the complicated subject of rehabilitation for offenders – the hysterical sectors of the media do like to pretend that once someone is locked up that’s the end of the story.
        Oh, a little snippet about prisons here. Apparently they are very westernised, modern cells and units withTVs etc…not what I was imagining somehow!

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