So Canterbury prison is to going to be closed, we learned last week – an announcement which I heard with mixed emotions.
On the one hand, the news has come as a sad shock for staff at the prison, who have done sterling work there – some of them for many years – and I have already had a discussion with the Minister about their future. The main priority is to ensure that they are offered wherever possible, alternative employment in one of the other prisons in Kent or, if no suitable job can be found, that they are given terms which properly reflect the long service they have given.
It is the end of a long and rather impressive history for the building which first started out as a county gaol way back in 1808. It served as a Home Office archive during the First World War and then became a Naval Detention Centre, before finally being converted into a Category C prison for men, now for foreigners only.
On the other hand, I am delighted that the closure of the prison is a sign that levels of offending are beginning to fall nationwide and there is consequently less pressure on prison places – one in twelve prison places is currently empty and this has led to some of the smallest and oldest prisons, such as Canterbury, being closed, because they are the least economical to run.
It has taken a long time coming, but finally the stricter sentencing regime first introduced by Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary, is having the desired result. The courts have got tougher with those convicted and at last, criminals seem to be getting the message that crime no longer pays. I do hope that this is a trend that will continue.
Published in the Whitstable Times on 24th January 2013.