Senedd spurns chance to oppose Port Talbot “Super-Prison”



(Title Image: Birmingham Mail)

It’s worth briefly outlining how I cover plenary debates (for future reference): I only include contributions that don’t repeat what somebody else has already said (whoever says it first “wins”) and are directly relevant to the discussion. If that means I have to leave out some AMs’ contributions, so be it.

The Issue

The UK Ministry of Justice has shortlisted a site in Port Talbot for a new Category C “super-prison” with a capacity for as many as 1,600 prisoners. The plans have been opposed locally (not exactly a shock) and there’s been pressure on the Welsh Government to oppose the development as the land is owned by them (for economic development purposes).

The Motion

Calls on the Welsh Government to:

  • Oppose the construction of a “super-prison” in Port Talbot.
  • Not to sell or release any Welsh Government land for the proposed prison.
  • To develop the local economy through supporting businesses in the industrial park.
  • To make representations to the UK Government to support alternatives to large prisons.

Key Points

Bethan Jenkins AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
For (the motion): The land could be put to better use.

  • The land is flood-prone, has been earmarked for an enterprise zone and goes against the principles of the Future Well-being of Generations Act.
  • Super-prisons create a financial incentive for companies to work against reducing the prison population.
  • “It’s easier and cheaper to warehouse everyone in Wales” while prisons are closed in England.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West)
Against: Modern prisons are better for rehabilitation.

  • Some of the rhetoric around the proposal has been “unpleasant”; she’s a trustee of the Families & Friends of Prisoners group in Swansea. Prisoners are being discussed as though they are a “toxic English commodity”, which is “disgraceful”.
  • Victorian prisons dehumanise people and don’t lend themselves to rehabilitation. A modern environment provides better opportunities for education and training.

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr)
For: Not in Wales’ economic interest.

  • The prison would be an “industrial-sized penal colony”.
  • It’s not humane to “dragoon prisoners and move them hundreds of miles from their families”.
  • The motivation behind super-prisons is cost-cutting/austerity.
  • It could lead to a net loss of jobs if Cardiff & Swansea prisons closed; a Basque aluminium plant has expressed interest in the land.

 

David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon)
For: Unsuitable location.

  • Can’t find any evidence that super-prisons reduce re-offending rates.
  • Local businesses have already threatened to move.
  • No local businesses have been approached to take on newly-released prisoners.
  • Would the Welsh Government build this prison if the powers were devolved? Probably not.
  • Two major prisons could be located within 10 miles of each other which would ill-serve prisoners’ families.
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    Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
    For: Criminal justice powers should be devolved.

  • Wales is responsible for many of the social and health needs of prisoners after they are released but isn’t trusted with the powers over prisons themselves.
  • There’s no local clamour for the prison in the same way as the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon.
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    Caroline Jones AM (UKIP, South Wales West)
    Mixed Views

  • Public safety and rehabilitation are important and can be best delivered in modern prisons, but there needs to be proper consultation about the Port Talbot site and proper addressing of the problems with the land itself.
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    Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli)
    Mixed Views

  • The land has better potential and the evidence on economic benefits and the benefits to prisoners of large prisons is “mixed”.
  • Couldn’t support the motion until there’s a vision for what a Welsh criminal justice system should look like.
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    Welsh Government Response

    Communities Secretary, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside)

  • The Welsh Government wasn’t part of the decision process that led to Port Talbot being chosen but did provide the Ministry of Justice with potential sites in south Wales.
  • Two licenses have been granted to carry out preparatory work on the land, including flood prevention, but the land itself hasn’t been sold, is still in Welsh Government ownership and still open to offers from businesses.
  • Urged local residents to take part in consultation events to be held by the Ministry of Justice as well as any future planning application.
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