The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is trying to build two new mega prisons in Wethersfield, in the Braintree District of Essex – each would incarcerate 1715 people, totalling new spaces for 3430 people to be locked up at a time by the British state. These two proposed prisons are part of what the MOJ is now calling the “New Prisons Programme”, vowing to build an additional 18,000 prison places by the mid 2020s. This is the new version of what was previously called the “Prison Estate Transformation Programme”, a programme the MOJ was unable to successfully complete. Instead of admitting defeat, the state changed the name and increased the timeline of the mass incarceration expansion project.
There is still time to stop these prisons! The two prisons proposed for Essex are undergoing an online public consultation that closes 8 November 2021. Anyone can fill out the consultation as many times as they want. You do not need to include your name or any identifying information to participate. Here is the link to complete the consultation: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/proposed-new-prisons-in-wethersfield-consultation/consultation/intro/
There are many moral reasons to oppose any prisons, that you can read about here.
Here is some information on other prisons in Essex that may be worth highlighting in a consultation response:
- A prison in Essex, HMP Bullwood Hall, closed in 2013 and was replaced with a new development that included 60 new homes. This prison was highlighted as a site contributing to the 60% increase in suicide rates (https://www.gazette-news.co.uk/news/5443937.hockley-prisoners-suicides-up/?ref=arc) for incarcerated people in the early 2000s. HMP Bullwood Hall also used the practice of “slopping out”, which deprives incarcerated people of flush toilets overnight, and forces them to empty their excrement out of buckets each morning, well past when the practice was ruled illegal in the UK in 2005.
- The other prison in Essex, HMP Chelmsford, has seen record high rates of suicide, self-harm and violence (https://www.inquest.org.uk/dean-saunders-inquest-closing). Although HMP Bullwood Hal has since closed, HMP Chelmsford remains operational. These same patterns of dehumanization and violence will continue with these proposed new prisons for Essex.
Here are some ideas for arguments to use when opposing these Essex prisons:
Other uses for the land, such as badly needed housing
- The site for the proposed prisons is at the Wethersfield Air Base site, 6 miles north of Braintree. It has a long history of military use (including nuclear weapons), and as a result of the Ministry of Defence’s land disposal program, the land is now available for other uses. This has been a point of contestation.
- Recently, plans for up to 5,000 homes have been replaced to make way for the prisons.
- The Local Government Authority recognizes that social housing is badly needed across the Braintree district, seeing as the number of people at risk of homelessness rose 10% during the Covid-19 pandemic. Black residents of Braintree are disproporionately represented in these numbers.
- Despite the MOJ posturing that these proposed prisons are “the greenest prisons ever”, the 1200 to 1600 staff members commuting into the prison will significantly increase air pollution.
- It was acknowledged at the MOJ-led webinar about the proposed prisons that public transit access to the prison is difficult, meaning there will be more cars on the roads leading to more air pollution.
- Moreover, there will be significant air pollution during the entirety of the construction phase due to all the heavy machinery they will use.
Impact on the local landscape
- The proposed site is near the Woodland Trust Jubilee Plantation, home to many crab apple trees. Although the MOJ states this woodland will be protected during construction, there is no guarantee as mass construction projects almost always have negative impacts on local flora and fauna. Furthermore, the “security” fence around the prison will impact local animal migration, hunting and gathering patterns.
- At the MOJ webinar about these proposed prisons it was acknowledged that it is impossible to have no impact on the local landscape. The four story high blocks where the cells will be will be at one of the highest points in Essex. The MOJ plans to plant trees to try to hide the impact these towers will have, but these trees will take many years to grow until they reach the 17 metre height of the towers.
- During the construction phase, and if the prisons are built during their operation, there will be bright lights each night that will cause light pollution. Although the lights will be pointed downwards, there still will be resulting light pollution.
- The MOJ is celebrating that there will be 1200-1400 permanent jobs created by these prisons, but fails to acknowledge that most of these staff members will be commuting into Wethersfield, a tiny and rural village.
- There will be a parking lot holding up to 1100 cars built at the site of the two proposed prisons as well.
- With public transit access limited to the site, there will be a massive increase of traffic.
- Currently many of the surrounding villages have no mains drainage, and the sewage system does not currently have capacity for 3400 prisoners and 1200-1400 staff.
Rural area/difficulty for prisoners to access visits
- Family and friend visits are one of the key things that can help incarcerated people survive.
- The MOJ acknowledged at their webinars that with more rural prisons, there will be less visits due to it being more difficult to get to the prison on public transit.
- Oppose this prison as it will be harder for incarcerated people to see their families due the rural nature of the proposed site.
Point out MOJ lies and misinformation
- After their failure trying to push through HMP Port Talbot, the MOJ is very careful with using language to celebrate the “benefits to the local community and local economy”, often focusing on “local jobs”.
- The MOJ contradicted itself, as during the webinar a presenter stated there would be 1000 construction jobs per each prison, but the actual consultation document the MOJ has released says there will only be 100s of construction jobs created. Moreoever, they only aim to have a quarter of these jobs going towards local people.