This article was originally written for the website of the Socialist Party Wales website, here http://www.socialistpartywales.org.uk/anal6.htm
The current prisons crisis has forced the present New Labour government into a new programme of prison building, the first new prisons are due to open over the next few years in Liverpool and London. At the same time, however, it is also considering building a prison in North Wales, which currently has no prisons.
As the five prisons currently existing in Wales are all in the south, the present the situation for remandees and prisoners from North Wales is that they will be held in either Merseyside or Cheshire up to 90 miles away from where they live. Clearly this is a big problem for families wishing to visit prisoners, which is reflected in the support for building a new prison from local politicians.
However, is this move diverting from the need to reduce the prison population generally as senior probation officers in North Wales have argued? The prison population has been at record levels for the last year, prompting the emergency use of police and court cells to hold prisoners. Furthermore, the huge overcrowding in some prisons has meant that prisons are spending much longer periods locked up in cells, time that would have previously be spent learning or training.
Socialists argue for a minimal use of imprisonment where it is necessary, as the net effect of imprisonment is usually to drive people further into a criminal lifestyle. We support the right to a decent standard of living for all prisoners including the right to regular visits with the minimum invasion of privacy only needed for security. A new prison in North Wales should be built as part of a plan to reduce the prison population across the UK, including closing older prison units and removing the need for filling prisons over capacity. Socialists would also call for remand facilities to be provided at such a prison, which are not part of the options being currently considered. But we demand that any new prison should be built and run by the Prisons Service, not by private contractors such as Securicor who run Parc Prison, Bridgend with its poor record of combatting racism and drug abuse. Any private firm is bound to put profits before the care and rehabilitation of prisoners.
Ultimately, we can only reduce the amount of crime in society, and thus the numbers of prisoners by creating a society based on need rather than the brutalisation of market competition. For this, a socialist transformation of society is necessary.