A year on from the announcement by the Ministry of Justice of their intention to build a new prison on land at Baglan Industrial Park the Welsh Government has issued a statement that has effectively put a block on that proposal progressing. On March 23rd 2017 the MOJ published notification of its intention to build a super prison housing up to 1600 Category C prisoners at a site on the Baglan Industrial Estate in Port Talbot.
Since then local people in Port Talbot have raised their objections to the proposal and submitted a petition with over 8500 signatures to the Welsh Assembly calling for the Welsh Government not to sell the land to the MOJ. Local politicians have also raised their concerns both at the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay and at Westminster. Calls from all parties have been made for the devolution of the criminal justice system to Wales, particularly as the support services that are required for prisoners during the sentence and following release are delivered by the Welsh Government. Today, the Welsh Government have acted upon those calls and stated that until the UK government engage in meaningful and detailed discussion on the future of the criminal justice system in Wales it would no longer facilitate any new prison developments in Wales.
David Rees AM, the local Assembly Member for Aberavon, said “Today’s announcement by the Welsh Government is a massive step forward in the rejection of the MOJ’s proposals for a new super prison in Baglan. Huge thanks must go to the campaign group that has worked hard to challenge this proposal and bring forward evidence that the chosen site is totally inappropriate. I am pleased that the Welsh Government has listened to the arguments put forward by myself and the campaign group regarding this proposal and is now acting to ensure that Wales has a criminal justice system that works for Wales.”
He added “However, this does not yet signal the end of the prison and we now must focus upon getting the MOJ to see the flaws that exist in their plan and withdraw their proposal. Instead, they now need to work with the Welsh Government to create a safe and effective criminal system for Wales.
Stephen Kinnock, Aberavon’s MP, stated “This is welcome news from Welsh Government, and builds on the constructive meeting I had with the Prisons Minster and Stop the NPT Prison group last week.
“We now have the Welsh Government putting a hold on selling any land and the UK Government with no immediate plans to progress the Baglan proposal.
“There are two important caveats in both cases, the Welsh Government decision is pending a strategic review of criminal justice in Wales, and the UK government may well re-consider the Baglan proposal if no alternative site is found.
“That being said this is still an excellent victory for the campaign and local community and a vital step in the right direction in putting a stop to the proposed prison on such an unsuitable site.
Commenting on the statement from the Ministry of Justice which said they ‘remain committed to building a prison in Port Talbot, Mr Kinnock said:
‘’I was surprised and a little baffled by the statement that was issued this afternoon by the Ministry of Justice. Last Tuesday two members of the Stop NPT Prison Campaign Committee and I met in Westminster with the Prisons Minister and his senior team, for what was a very constructive discussion. The Minister made it clear that he had listened carefully to the concerns and arguments that we had been making for some time, and had therefore decided to place further plans for the construction of a prison in Baglan on hold. He also made it clear that the MoJ remains committed to building a new prison in South Wales, and it was agreed that we would work with him and the Welsh Government to identify a viable alternative site or sites. The statement issued by the MoJ today therefore appears to contradict the key conclusions of our meeting with the Minister, but hopefully it’s just a case of crossed wires inside the department.’
The proposal to build a super prison has been challenged both on grounds that the site is inappropriate, failing to meet several criteria of the MOJ for a suitable site, and on the lack of evidence that super prison are effective in reducing reoffending rates and providing a strong rehabilitation system. In fact, over recent months the whole prison system has been chaotic, with many prisons being graded as poor and unsatisfactory by the HMP inspectorate and others seeing an increase in violent incidents. The prison system is currently failing.
There is a public meeting next Thursday, 12th April, at the Aberavon Beach hotel starting at 7:00 pm during which more details of the implications of the Welsh Government’s announcement and the outcome from Mr Kinnock’s meeting with the Minister for Prisons, Rory Stewart MP, will be provided. Local people are encouraged to come along to hear the latest news.