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Historic Prison HMP Lancaster Castle closes this week.

Chris Satori
After 56 years as a category C prison, accommodating between 200-300 prisoners, depending on the policies of the day, HMP Lancaster Castle is closing this week. Conservative Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has plans to reduce the prison population by 3000 over the next 4 years. Clarke's view that 'prison isn't working' has angered Tory rightwingers but tallies with the views of reformers that locking up increasing numbers of people, US-style, is not the solution.

The current UK prison poulation numbers around 83,000, with a full prison capacity of around 88,000. Labour had plans to build enough prisons to house 96,000 prisoner by 2014 and the Conservative manifesto carried the same pledge. The Lib Dems planned to stop the building programme and place a greater emphasis on community sentencing.

Clarke backs them on this with an additional option for some foreign nationals to escape jail if they leave the country forever, and for judges to have more latitude in sentencing murderers.

Castle Prison officers have been promised redeployment or voluntary redundancy.

Clarke's plans to privatise the prison system are likely to result in numerous job losses, however, and are currently being hotly debated, as the running of Birmingham Prison has today been awarded to a private contractor, making it the first UK prison to be privatised. Strike action is illegal for Prison Officers but the Prison Officers Association has a two-year-old mandate to take industrial action, up to and including strike action, in the event of any prison being privatised. Up to 3,000 troops have been put on standby to run any prison hit by industrial action.

See full report on HMP Lancaster Castle closure: Castle prison to close in March, says Clarke