When it comes to criminal justice, I’ve often been dismissed by friends as a bit of a ‘leftie’ or even a ‘pinko’. I don’t accept this as fair. I simply want a criminal justice system that works best and reduces the overall level of crime. My usual approach Is not to adopt a ‘kneejerk’ instinctive response to any problem or challenge, but to try to study the available evidence first. As a general rule, this seems a good course to follow before settling on an opinion. This may seem obvious, but my experience is that it’s most certainly not.
First time I encountered my supposed ‘leftiness’’ was when considering the death penalty when I was a teenager. I was fundamentally opposed - barbaric and ineffective. The state doing what it condemned in its citizens. Today it may be the majority view. Certainly wasn’t then.
Anyway, on to today. The Welsh Affairs Committee is looking at aspects of incarceration in Wales, including implications access for prisoners to use the Welsh Language. Today we spent most of the day at Berwyn, the new prison being built at Wrexham. Not spent much time in prisons but I’d visited the old victorian prison at Shrewsbury a couple of times when Gerry Hendry was the Governor a few years back. Always remember the trap door through which the condemned prisoner was ‘dropped’ after being condemned to death. The prison is closed now. The reason I was interested was because Governor Hendry was committed to rehabilitation. I agreed with him that the route to reducing crime was reducing reoffending. He explained how it worked successfully. I thought he was a very good man.
Today, at Berwyn, I learned about how the new prison is being built around the concept of rehabilitation. The staff, from the Governor down, treat the prisoners as equals (in the sense of all being human beings). There’s a big effort to make it seem unlike a prison, with interaction across the entire estate based on normality - as near to live outside as possible within a prison. (You might say the opposite of the shameful behaviour of MPs at PMQs!) And there’s a successful strategy of not making it seem as if there are 2100 prisoners there. The prison is split into 3 blocks of 700, and each of those blocks split up into 11 of what are termed ‘communities’.
Sadly, there remains antipathy towards the prison by some in the Wrexham area, I’m told local media coverage is negative. Despite the massive boost to economic activity in the area. Very strangely, the N Wales Police and Crime Commissioner is anti. No idea why.
I was seriously impressed by most aspects of Berwyn. The one aspect I’m not convinced about is shared cells. The Governor told us this presents no problems at all. In fact he said he thought it was a positive. I’m just not convinced about that. But then I’ve always been a ‘loner’. Personally, I would hate it. Berwyn is a major benefit to North Wales, and to the British prison estate. Have to fix the shortage of space to park cars though.