Many more criminal cases will be heard remotely instead of in court, the Ministry of Justice said following today’s spending review announcements.
The ministry, which expects to save £80m a year in prison running costs through prison estate reforms, said it will fund video conference centres allowing ‘up to 90,000 cases a year to be heard from prison’. In response to an enquiry by the Gazette, the ministry later clarified that the 90,000 figure referred to bail hearings.
Body scanners and mobile phone-blocking technology will also be introduced.
‘These reforms will reduce reoffending through more effective rehabilitation, and will reduce the cost of transporting prisoners between courts and prisons, stamp out the organisation of crime from within prisons, and stem the availability of drugs and other illicit substances,’ the ministry said.
The ministry said £1.3bn will be invested to ‘reform and modernise’ the prison estate ‘to make it even more efficient, safer and focused on supporting prisoner rehabilitation’.
Plans include building nine new ‘modern’ prisons – five will open this parliament and four ‘shortly after’.
‘Ageing, inefficient’ prisons on ‘prime’ real estate will be sold.
Among the closures will be Holloway prison (pictured), the biggest women’s jail in western Europe, chancellor George Osborne announced.
‘In the future, women prisoners will serve their sentences in more humane conditions better designed to keep them away from crime,’ he told the House of Commons.
In a written statement to parliament, justice secretary Michael Gove said women prisoners in London would in future be held ‘in the modern facilities’ at HMP Bronzefield near Ashford in Surrey.
The ministry will reopen newly refurbished facilities at HMP Downview, near Sutton in Surrey, as a women’s prison ‘later next year’.
‘This will allow sentenced women to be held in an environment that is more appropriate for many of those currently sent to Holloway,’ Gove said.
Both prisons provided a better setting for children visiting their mothers and were located with good transport links to London, he added.
Gove said he was mindful that Holloway held many vulnerable women. As a result, no one will be moved immediately, he said. The ministry expects to close the prison by summer next year.