Ministry of Justice unveils plan to build two prisons housing 3,430 inmates in Essex

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EDUCATION in prisons is in a “parlous state”, with teachers often left in empty classrooms because prisoners have not been escorted to their lessons, a head of Ofsted has warned. (PA)
EDUCATION in prisons is in a “parlous state”, with teachers often left in empty classrooms because prisoners have not been escorted to their lessons, a head of Ofsted has warned. (PA)

Two large prisons holding 3,430 inmates could be built on land around an RAF air base in Essex, according to Government plans.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published proposals for the new jails at Wethersfield air base in Braintree.

The site will hold category B and category C adult male prisoners in two prisons that each have a total capacity of 1,715, according to documents setting out the plans.

One will be a training prison, meaning it will hold “long-term and high-security prisoners”. The other is set to be a resettlement prison, which holds lower-risk prisoners and prepares them for release and could see some inmates released on temporary licence during their sentence.

In the consultation papers, newly appointed prisons minister Victoria Atkins said: “As part of our work to drive down crime, we have committed to creating 18,000 additional prison places by the mid-2020s’, through a combination of building new prisons, as well as extending, refurbishing and maintaining existing prisons.

“We believe that, following detailed feasibility work, land next to Wethersfield air base would be a good location for two new prisons as part of the prison estates strategy. Our plans, if successful, would bring many benefits to the local community, such as hundreds of jobs during construction, careers within the prison sector and an increased spend in local businesses.”

The Government expects there will be an “increase in demand for prison places as the activity of our courts system continues to ramp up to full operating capacity following the national restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic”, she said, adding: “The increasing numbers of police, in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment to recruit 20,000 additional officers, may contribute to a higher prison population, and we therefore believe that creating more safe, secure and decent prison places will help to mitigate pressure on prison places in England and Wales in the coming years.”

The MoJ said a public consultation - which closes on November 8 - is “seeking the views of residents and businesses” on the plans.

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