UK & World News
Prisons Shake-Up Prompts Four More Closures
Four more prisons are due to close under a Government shake-up of jails in England and Wales.
Blundeston in Suffolk, Dorchester, in West Dorset, Northallerton in North Yorkshire and Reading prisons will all shut.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced the closures as it confirmed plans for two new "super" jails.
A 2,000-place prison is due to be built in Wrexham, North Wales, and feasibility work has started on a second site in the south east.
This is focused on the possibility of replacing Feltham Young Offenders Institution in west London with a large new adult prison and a new youth facility on adjoining sites.
The MoJ also confirmed opening dates for new "house blocks" - mini-prisons - being built to create 1,200 new places at four sites across England.
The jails, known as house blocks, at HMPs Parc, Peterborough, the Mount and Thameside will hold up to 1,260 prisoners and replace older, more expensive prison capacity.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "This is the latest part of our plan to modernise our prisons, bring down costs, but to make sure that by the next election we still have access to more prison places than we inherited in 2010.
"The Feltham site in West London is a very large one, and is an obvious option for a major new project to help meet the challenges we face in London and the South East.
"I'm also really pleased that we have reached agreement on the new prison in Wrexham. It will provide a real boost to the local economy in North Wales over the next few years, which is one key reason why the Chancellor has made sure we have the money for the project.
"Of course the reorganisation of our prison estate which we are undertaking means some difficult decisions - but we have to make sure that we have modern, affordable prisons that give the best opportunity for us to work with offenders to stop them committing more crimes when they leave."
The four prisons earmarked for closure are either too expensive to run or need substantial investment in the next few years, the MoD said.
Officials said they had slashed 2,800 "unstrategic and economic" prison places since January and the closures will remove another 1,400 from the estate.
The move should also cut the overall prison budget by another £30m-a-year.
Under the changes, three more prisons will change their roles.
HMP The Verne in South Dorset is to become an immigration removal centre; HMP Downview in Surrey will switch to take male offenders and HMYOI Warren Hill in Suffolk will hold adults men instead of young offenders.
Discussions are also due to start about ending the lease on HMP Dartmoor, although any final decision is a long way off because the contract has a 10-year notice period.
Secretary of State for Wales David Jones said he was "delighted" at the plans for Wrexham, arguing the jail will boost local businesses and create up to 1,000 jobs in the region.
The Prison Officers Association warned job cuts in jails and overcrowding carried major risks.
General secretary Steve Gillan said: "The Prison Service has lost some 1,800 staff over the last eight months. This could exacerbate the problem even further.
"With the assaults going on and the violence going on, we are extremely concerned by the powder keg situation now in prisons and the severe overcrowding."
And the Prison Reform Trust attacked the idea of "super" jails and condemned the plans as a waste of money, insisting it would be better spent on helping offenders.
Director Juliet Lyon said: "Closing small local prisons and replacing them with super-sized jails will not reduce crime or make communities safer.
"You can and should modernise the prison system without throwing taxpayers' money down the prison-building drain.
"The millions secured for new-build prisons could be more effectively spent on robust community service, treatment for addicts and care for people who are mentally ill."
She added: "Prison ought to be an important place of last resort in our justice system, not a giant economic regeneration or job creation scheme."
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: "The Tory-led Government have already closed twelve prisons since 2010 with the loss of over 4,000 prison places.
"Yet just this week, we've been reminded of the growing scale of overcrowding in our prisons, showing how all the promises of rehabilitation revolution by the Government have come to nothing.
"Promised new capacity won't start coming on board before 2017 at the earliest. The public will want reassurance from this out of touch Government that there's enough prison places until then to keep safely behind bars those found guilty of serious crimes."