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Gavin Haynes Sleepless Nights

Let's Lock All of Britain Up in a Spaceship-Sized Super-Prison

Alternatively, you could just keep a criminal in a cage in your house.

Photo by Tony Hisgett

It must be a source of eternal regret to Tony Blair that he never built the Millennium Dome of prisons. Blair, with an eye for legacy that began even in his earliest days in office, loved to build big, clean, modern: his New Britain rising away from the crumbling smokestacks in a blaze of Richard Rogers-sanctified steel girders. Blair, the guy who coined the phrase “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, tougher still on the causes of the causes of crime,” adored banging people up. So much so that when, in 2010, Ken Clarke returned to the post of Justice Secretary some 20 years after he'd last held it, he discovered that the prison population had literally doubled.


Yet through all those flush years, Britain made do and mended crumbling shit-tips like Pentonville, Brixton, Reading, Manchester. Places that had housed Crippen, Christie, Oscar Wilde, now welcomed George Michael, Jeffrey Archer, Pete Doherty. Only in the Gordon Brown era was the idea floated of building spaceship-sized super-prisons. Jack Straw put his weight behind a proposal to create four Titan-class buildings – each housing 2,500 prisoners, in iris-recognition, biometrically-encoded CCTV wonderworlds where if you were misbehaving one guy with a joystick sat in a control booth would probably pick you up with a mechanical grabbing hand suspended from the ceiling and toss you against the wall, like one of those arcade amusements with the stuffed toys. These earthly paradises would allow the government to roll back the prison budget, which had ballooned to a staggering sum. In most of our older prisons, it currently costs £50,000 per place, per year to house someone at Her Maj's Plesh. More, as some have pointed out, than it would cost to send them to Eton. Though no one ever made the link and decided to send the entire criminal population to Eton, perhaps because bringing Britain's future LIBOR-riggers into contact with the sort of lags who can hotwire a car with a Twix wrapper is a recipe for financial armageddon. Instead, they decided they could save money by going for Titans and their groovy futuristic name. But the plan got nixed. Unhappy prison guards revolted. Social psychologists came forward to say that the ideal size for a prison was probably 500 – any more than that and you were basically warehousing. And besides, the in-prison waterskiing club probably would be stretched beyond capacity. And so, it is oddly heartening for lovers of futuristic dystopia to learn that something Titan-sized is finally back on the cards this week.


When Ken Clarke did return to the Justice portfolio, he decided that he'd like to be the first guy in two decades to reduce the prison population. And indeed, he managed to shave some 6,000 off in the space of two years, even allowing for a bulge of 4,000 around the London Riots. By contrast, his successor, Chris "What Gays Do In The Privacy Of Their Own Christian B&B Is Fine With Me" Grayling, a thumb posing as a politician, has decided that he can only sleep at night if the scum are behind bars. So he has announced in the last week that we are to build a new, 2,000-capacity superjail.

This is going to be a massive cost saving. In the only other prison of this type now in existence, HMP Oakwood, you can stack crims for a much more modest £13,000 per head per year. Oakwood, opened mid-last year and located just outside Birmingham, sounds lush. What, for instance, is this? “The fitness studio is equipped with Technogym cardiovascular and resistance equipment as well as a full set of free weights, Swiss Balls, a Bosu Ball and various Medicine Balls. Personal training is available by appointment.” Yes, that's The Dorchester Hotel. Obviously. But what's this? “There are two rooms dedicated to cardiovascular fitness housing approximately 40 pieces of equipment, including treadmills, upright cycles, recumbent cycles… Concept II rowing machines, X Trainers… Olympic standard free weights [and] state of the art resistance machines."


What about the sports hall? It must have a sports hall. "We boast an impressive outdoor facility which is comprised of six five-a-side all weather pitches and one full-size all-weather pitch. These are all state of the art 3G artificial sports surfaces.”

Yes, That's HMP Oakwood. As described on the website G4S have made for it: naturally, these are to be privatised prisons, where the hippies who run PFI deals can spraff on about their doughy-soft goals and objectives. “Oakwood will be a place of healthy rivalry and competition where winning and losing happens regularly and is an accepted part of life,” says Director Steve Holland. “Staff and prisoners will be encouraged and expected to strive together towards reaching each person’s full potential.” Which sounds a bit like that Louis Theroux episode where a choir of imprisoned paedophiles in Halloween fancy-dress sing The Addams Family theme tune. These gorgeous, tomorrow-shaped holodecks of justice are all very well and good, but if Grayling wants to really shave his budget while increasing numbers, he could just ditch his PFI buddies. I'm sure for much less than £20K a year, loads of ordinary Brits would be prepared to welcome a couple of hardened crims into a specially-designed cage in their living rooms. I certainly would. I'd feed them. I'd water them. I'd muck out. I'd even be prepared to let them watch whatever I was watching on telly from across the room, unless they kept trying to get me to switch over to ITV. I'd take them for walkies down the park once a day on an electric collar. I'd make sure they always had enough shanks. I can honestly say I'd offer a prisoner a better life than Belmarsh ever could, even if it does have “A partnership with Charlton Athletic FC to deliver FA accredited coaching courses for prisoners.” Except I wouldn't want anyone who'd done mucky stuff to children. That's just sick, and I have a horrible feeling that if I hung around there too l'd long with someone like that I might end up doing them in with a housebrick one day when I thought too long and hard about what they did to them kids. Then, when it came time for their sentence to end, I'd start gently rehabilitating them. My philosophy would be that as soon as they realised that middle class stuff is better, they'd probably be cured of their criminal tendencies anyway, and I could just let them go. I'd teach them about middle-class life: “Here's a meal by Nigel Slater,” I'd say, offering them something poached in fennel. “Do you like Stewart Lee?” I'd add. “Have you read this Adam Curtis blog?” I'd query, as they desperately tried to get me to change the channel to Mrs Brown's Boys.
That way, I could double my income with a second pay-off: Grayling's other master-stroke is that criminals will now be met near the end of their sentence by a privatised probation service, via Serco, Sodexo, or various other FTSE-listed alphabet-soups. These companies will be remunerated on their results: if their charges don't commit crime, they get their bonuses. Which, again, seems like a simple missed opportunity on behalf of the boy Grayling. Without wishing to talk myself out of a job, surely, Chris, you could cut out the middleman and just pay criminals not to do crime?


Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes

Previous Sleepless Nights:

Depardieu and Putin, Sitting in a Tree

The Demise of the Zany Jedi Wankers

Is It Time for Britain to Turn into a Dictatorship?