— Updated at 3.25pm
The Ministry of Justice is looking to restructure prisons across the UK, which could lead to Lincoln Prison being turned into an immigration centre.
The category B prison houses around 740 adult male inmates, and Lincolnshire County Council fears the changes could lead to job losses and impact local inmates well-being.
Councillor Martin Hill, Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, said: “The prison has spent £26 million on improvements over the last three years.
“Given that investment it makes sense to continue using it as a prison. It wasn’t designed to be an immigration centre, and isn’t suited for that purpose.
“At the same time, there’s absolutely no need for a second immigration centre in the county [after Morton Hall, near Lincoln]. Lincolnshire’s immigrant population is small.
“This means people would be brought in from other parts of the country, most probably followed by their families. These families are likely to need a lot of support, putting further pressure on local services.
“So while the change might represent a saving to the prison service, it will certainly mean additional costs for everybody else,” Councillor Hill explained.
The council leader will be writing a letter to minister Chris Grayling opposing the change, and request that his input is taken in the decision-making process.
He added: “There’s a real need for a prison in Lincoln. It’s essential for driving down re-offending rates and making sure justice is delivered locally.
“If we lost the prison, there would also be a significant impact on the county economy. Not only does the prison employ hundreds of people, it also contributes more than £11 million to the local economy each year.”
No decisions made yet
Lincoln MP Karl McCartney said he discussed this with ministers and the Secretary of State for Justice, and assured no decisions have been made yet without local consultation.
He said: “Currently the Ministry of Justice is in the early stages of a limited restructuring process for the country’s prisons and I have been reassured that no hard-and-fast decisions whatsoever have been made as yet, especially in relation to our prison in Lincoln.
“The Department are considering a number of changes across the whole prison system, right across the country, and if the MoJ do propose any changes to the role that Lincoln Prison currently provides, then they will consult with both me, and interested parties locally.
“I have already spoken to representatives at the County Council and the new Prison Governor, Mr Peter Wright, earlier this week and I will be meeting with the new Governor personally when I am back in the constituency early on Friday.”
The Ministry of Justice also confirmed the plans are not final: “No decisions have been made, and there are currently no plans to close the prison,” a spokesperson said.
Concerns over prison downgrade
Councillor Ric Metcalfe, Leader of the City of Lincoln Council, said: “The closure or downgrading of Lincoln Prison would have wide reaching implications for the city.
“It is a major employer and consumer of locally provided services and one we can ill afford to lose in the current economic climate.
“I am extremely concerned that the council has not been asked for any input in this process and believe it is essential that a full assessment of the consequences of closure or downgrading is carried out before any decision is taken.
“As the local authority it is essential that we are involved in that process with the Ministry of Justice, alongside other authorities, business organisations and community representatives.”
Councillor Metcalfe also expressed concerns over the building’s suitability to become an immigration detention centre which, it is believed, is one alternative being considered.
“The Victorian building is completely unsuitable for use as an immigration centre and using it in such a way would likely mean increased pressure on local services and infrastructure.”