THE PRIME Minister has renewed his commitment to bulldozing Victorian jails after a prison worker claimed he wouldn't 'keep a dog' in the cells offenders were living in.
While a decision on the future of HMP Leeds is still several years away, the ageing building fits the criteria David Cameron has outlined as no longer being fit for his plan of reforming prisons.
In a speech in Central London this lunch, Mr Cameron unveiled a raft of proposals to the prison system and said his aim is to turn around offenders life chances and cut re-offending levels.
Describing it as the biggest shake-up of prison services in 150 years, he said: "If we get it right, we can change lives. Turning waste and idleness into prisons with purpose.
"Turning remorse and regret into lives with new meaning. Finding diamonds in the rough and helping them shine."
His reforms include;
- prison governors will be handed a powers over budgeting and services
- prisons will be rated in league tables on their ability to get offenders into employment and basic qualifications
- a Teach First style programme will financially reward graduates for teaching in jails
It is the first time a British Prime Minister has given a speech personally on prison reform in 20 years while Justice Secretary Michael Gove sat in the front row.
HMP Leeds, better known as Armley Jail, is a Category B men's prison built in 1847 and Mr Cameron said he wants the new buildings to be designed without dark corners and blocked lines and sight that lead to bullying and violence.
Mr Cameron said: "This is a golden opportunity to correct some earlier often catastrophic state failings. I want prisons to be places of care, not just punishment where the environment is one conducive to rehabilitation and mending lives. That's why I'm so passionate about building these new prisons.
"It's frankly a disgrace that for so long we have been cramming people in ageing, ineffective prisons, that are creaking, leaking and falling apart at the seams.
"These are the places that were barely fit for human habitation when they were built are are much, much worse today.
"They design in bullying, intimidation and violence.
"One staff member told the chief inspector of prisons last year, 'I wouldn't keep a dog in there'.
"I'm proud this Government has a £1.3bn to knock many of these prisons down and build nine prisons, including five during this Parliament."
In November the Government Chancellor George Osborne said the Reading prison site will be the first one sold off for housing.
It's understood the Ministry of Justice has not yet decided which of the other inner city prisons will be closed and land sold, and it could take a couple of years to draw up a plan, and then a further two to build the jails.
Six existing prisons will have powers transferred to governers in the Government's 'reform prison' agenda in the Spring.