Four prisons in England are to close as the government announced the site for a new super-prison in north Wales.

The jails in Reading, Dorchester, Blundeston and Northallerton will be shut down by March next year, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said.

Feltham Young Offender Institution will also be replaced.

A £250m prison which will hold more than 2,000 inmates is to be built in Wrexham creating 1,000 jobs, according to the government.

In the four prisons that are due to close, 685 staff could lose their jobs.

Dartmoor prison, in Devon, is also likely to shut, although not for some time.

Work will start on the new Welsh prison next summer and it is due to be open by late 2017.

Officials are also investigating the possibility of building another large prison in south-east England – possibly on the existing Feltham site in west London – with a youth facility attached.

‘Overcrowded and violent’

Mr Grayling said the plans would “modernise” the prison system and bring down costs. He pledged there would be more prison places than when the coalition was elected in 2010.

“Of course the reorganisation of our prison estate which we are undertaking means some difficult decisions,” he added.

Prisons to close

  • Blundeston, a male category C prison
  • Dorchester, a male category B local prison which holds young adults
  • Northallerton, a male category C prison
  • Reading, a male prison holding young adults and remanded prisoners

Prisoners are given categories of A (most dangerous) to D, depending on how much of a threat and how likely to escape they are

“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.”

But the Prison Officers Association accused ministers of paying “lip service” to prison workers who it said have to work in “overcrowded and violent” institutions.

Chairman Peter McParlin said the closure programme was “cuts-driven and does nothing for the rehabilitation revolution”.

Last year around 19,140 inmates on average were made to share a cell designed for one person, according to MoJ figures.

The MoJ said that since January, 2,800 “unstrategic and uneconomic” prison places have been cut from the estate.

The four new closures would remove a further 1,400 “uneconomic” places and reduce the prison budget by £30m a year, it added.

‘Too large’

Prison reform campaigners gave a qualified welcome to the announcement.

“Closing failing prisons is the right move to make, but without a coherent strategy to reduce prison numbers it will make the problem of overcrowding worse,” said Frances Crook from the Howard League for Penal Reform, adding the new super-size prisons would be “too large to manage effectively”.

The closure plans follow an announcement in January that six entire prisons are to shut plus one of the three amalgamated jails on the Isle of Wight.

Meanwhile, the MoJ also announced The Verne in south Dorset will become an immigration removal centre, with capacity for around 600 detainees awaiting deportation.

Downview prison, in Surrey, is to hold male rather than female prisoners and Warren Hill, in Suffolk, will stop holding young offenders and will instead hold adult males, it added.

Figures published by the Ministry of Justice show that jails held an average of just over 85,000 prisoners between April 2012 and March this year.

BBC

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