Reid announces new prison to open

A new prison is to open in Merseyside, the Home Office has announced, providing 350 new places for a system that is creaking at the seams.

HMP Kennet will open in the spring and will focus on providing its category C male inmates with skills and qualifications, home secretary John Reid said.

The prison population currently stands at 79,157, close to its capacity of just over 80,000.

In July Mr Reid announced plans to build an extra 8,000 prison places by 2012, but just three months later he was forced to announce the introduction of operation safeguard, which authorises the holding of prisoners in police cells.

In a statement today, the home secretary said: “I am committed to protecting the public and ensuring that there are prison places for those who need to be in prison.

“This new prison to be called HMP Kennet is part of an ongoing expansion programme that will see the prison capacity in England and Wales rise to over 81,000 in 2007.

“Some of this capacity is in addition to the 8,000 extra prison places that I have pledged to deliver by 2012. The new 350-bed prison will also create jobs and business opportunities for the local community.”

The land and buildings at Maghull, Merseyside, are being leased from the Mersey NHS care trust, and will be converted for prison use for at least five years. Prison Service staff will be in control of its operation.

Mr Reid came under fire earlier this month after news that two convicted murders had escaped from Sudbury open prison. Opposition parties said the government was trying to deal with the overcrowding problem by placing inmates in inappropriate prisons.