Jack Straw debates prison in Dagenham

CONTROVERSIAL plans to build a prison in Dagenham were reason for an impromptu visit by justice secretary Jack Straw on Friday. The government s April announcement that a category B prison for 1,500 inmates would be built on a disused Ford factory site at

CONTROVERSIAL plans to build a prison in Dagenham were reason for an impromptu visit by justice secretary Jack Straw on Friday.

The government's April announcement that a category B prison for 1,500 inmates would be built on a disused Ford factory site at Beam Park West, Dagenham, caused an outcry among residents and local politicians.

Mr Straw spoke to the POST and listened to objections from council bosses.

He said: "I wanted to come down here at this stage and have a look because I know it has been controversial. I understand that people are apprehensive."

He explained that it was hard to find appropriate sites which are large and flat enough for prisons.

The proximity to London, with its high levels of crime, was also a factor for choosing the Dagenham site, he said.

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When asked if there was a possibility of dropping the plan, he replied: "I don't want to make any promises. We identified a list of sites and this site has been identified as a clear possibility.

"In the end, I have got to make a decision."

Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas, who is leading a campaign against the prison plans, said: "I'm really pleased he's here. It's a sign of good will.

"We have obviously been talking to Jack and his advisors about the whole prison issue. He is in listening mode. This is not a done deal."

He added that 9,000 people had already signed the petition.

The council's chief executive, Rob Whiteman, told Mr Straw that the council had planned to use the site for a sustainable industries quarter for years, while leader of the council, Cllr Liam Smith, said that there had also been plans to build a giant leisure complex at Beam Park West.

Cllr Smith said: "I am not against prisons, but I think London has enough prisons. Let's move it out of London.

"The prison would create jobs, which is, of course, welcome, but this is the last chance to leave a lasting legacy on one of the last unutilised spaces along the Thames.

"The people of this borough deserve better."

Mr Straw said he would have to "go away and digest" what he had heard and seen and enter some careful discussions with officials at the Ministry of Justice.

New prisons are needed to cope with the rising prison population in England and Wales.

Between 1995 and 2009, the number of convicts has risen by 66 per cent, or 33,500, and it is currently at over 84,500.

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