So Wales is going to get a new prison. The Ministry of Justice have shortlisted four sites, two up north and two in the south. The original plan was for two new jails, one for the Hwntws and one for the Gogs but it seems that we are now down to one.
There's an estimated 1300 shortfall in Welsh jail spaces and we do not have any jails which hold women, young offenders or Category A prisoners. There is currently 5 prisons in South Wales and none up north. All women, youths, Category A and North Walian prisoners are shipped to over 25 different jails in England.
When you consider those facts it's understandable why the Ministry is considering a new jail here. The question now of course is where.
The four contenders are Merthyr and Cwmbran in the South and Caernarfon and Wrexham up North. It's very interesting to see the different reactions such a proposal gets. While some desperately want the 1000 jobs and annual £17m boost to the economy others are scared that a jail will drive down house prices and deter other investments while pushing up crime.
Cwmbran residents have set up the Oppose the Prison Action Group and protests have been held at the site. In Wrexham the local MP and AM are opposing the plan while the Community Council of the area which includes the jail site says that local residents are "100% opposed to it".
There's been no visible uproar in Caernarfon and Merthyr (although Valleys Mam has posted against it) which may well make them more attractive to the Ministry of Justice, who are accepting opinions until October 31st. Personally however I don't think Valleys Mam needs to worry too much, I can't see this jail going anywhere but Caernarfon. Both their Plaid Cymru MP and Council have not only declared themselves as supporting the plan but revealed that they pressed hard for Caernarfon to be included in the short list. Unlike Cwmbran there's been no organised resistance there yet and with the MP's opponent also supporting the plan there's unlikely to be a big political fight over the issue.
But it's not just the support/lack of opposition in Caernarfon that makes me feel the prison will go there, it also makes sense. North Wales clearly need a jail more than the South does and Caernarfon makes much more sense than Wrexham for a few reasons. Firstly Wrexham is that step closer to the English border and Altcourse prison (the current location for Gog troublemakers). Since one of the reasons for building a jail in North Wales is to house criminals closer to their homes then a Western site would do the job better. Secondly Caernarfon seems to be the "legal centre" of North Wales, or at least it will be. At the moment there are two Crown Courts in North Wales - Caernarfon and Mold. With Caernarfon already building a brand new "Criminal Justice Centre" which includes a Crown Court it will cut transport costs considerably to have a jail nearby.
Finally there's the Welsh language issue. There's always been complaints (usually by Plaid Cymru politicians) that Gog prisoners are being disadvantaged by being placed in an English jail where they can't get education in Welsh. Apparently being physically and emotionally close to your community reduces re-offending - maintaining such closeness is hard when you're a 100 miles away where no-one speaks your language and your family can;t make regular visits.
The new prison is not due to be up and running until 2012 but I'd put good money on it ending up on the banks of the Menai Straight. Anyone living in one of the 4 areas care to put me right?