Three sites to replace ‘unfit’ prison go before ExCo

Entrance to HMP Jamestown, stone building with blue-painted wooden balcony above barred door

HMP Jamestown dates back to the 1820s and cannot be brought up to modern standards. Picture: John Grimshaw

Three sites near Longwood are being considered for a new prison for St Helena, to replace the “totally unsatisfactory” one in Jamestown.

It comes after former governor Mark Capes was strongly condemned for trying to impose a new prison at Half Tree Hollow, disregarding protests about sex offenders being kept near young families.

The three sites are all at Bottom Woods and all within national conservation areas. The public will be consulted before any site is chosen.

One of the three, next to the meteorological station, is in part of the Millennium Forest where protected trees have been planted. A special licence would be needed to remove them.

Update: on 3 October 2017, executive councillors decided the Millennium Forest site was not suitable for the new prison because of its environmental importance. It agreed to put the two other proposed sites out to public consultation. 

Agricultural land further west of the met station offers more space for a level site, but water and sewage services would need improving. Part of the site is leased to a farmer.

The third site, at the goat pen area, is closer to homes but considered to be far enough away to be safe. Choosing this would mean building a road through precious farmland.

Legislative councillors visited the three sites in August and details were put before the prison project board and LegCo in mid-September.

Now the executive council is advised to approve all three for a public consultation at its meeting on Tuesday, 3 October. Both negative and positive views are expected, says the report to ExCo.

The new prison will need about three acres of land to meet international standards, including space for an outside recreation area. Other factors include security,  human rights, and providing for disable prisoners.

A prison farm could be established at a later stage.

All three sites are in the vicinity of the island’s new sport field, but “can be suitably far away.”

They are also all in the airport development area, but this should not be a problem if the building is no more than two storeys high.

The sites offer enough space to ensure Category B prisoners can be kept secure. A specialist from overseas would have to be brought in to install specialist security systems and doors.

They are close to wirebird and conservation sites, but this is not expected to present problems with planning approval.

The new prison would be close to the airport haul road, which would be used for the 35-minute drive from the police station and court house in Jamestown.

Three other possible prison sites have already been rejected, including one next to the batteries at Ladder Hill Fort, because there are still hopes of creating a five-star hotel there.

The island shooting range was dismissed because it is in a sensitive area for wirebirds, and another site at Bunker’s Hill, overlooking Rupert’s Valley, was ruled out because of cost.

The current building in Jamestown, dating from 1826, has repeatedly been declared unfit by visiting inspectors. Inmates’ human rights cannot be upheld in the cramped conditions.

Funding for a new prison at Sundale House, above Half Tree Hollow, was set aside in 2012. It was expected that inmates would move there by 2015.

When legislative councillors refused to endorse the plan in the face of vigorous public protests, Governor Capes disbanded the council and then waited the maximum three months to hold an election.

The reason for shutting down democracy was revealed in the 2015 Wass Report into governance on the island, which criticised him for disregarding concerns that convicted sex offenders would be allowed out of Sundale to exercise, close to homes.

But Mr Capes told Sasha Wass’s inquiry panel that he needed to address the human rights failings at HMP Jamestown.

He said councillors “had an attitude that prison is meant to be uncomfortable and unpleasant and there are other things to spend money on.”

In 2011, chief of police Peter Coll had repeated warnings about the “unsafe” pre-Victorian building. “Anyone who is under the impression that serving a prison sentence is a soft option is not aware of the conditions,” he said.

The prison had no fire exits, and arrested prisoners had to use toilets in full view of inmates and staff – male and female. Cells became very hot in summer, especially when there were three or four people in a cell – a regular problem.

The new proposals have been made public as part of St Helena Government’s new policy of openness. They are set out in the first set of Executive Council agenda reports ever to be made public, a major step in ending excessive secrecy.

However, the expected costs of the three sites have been blanked out. The report says the UK’s Department for Internation Development would be asked to pay for the new prison.

SEE ALSO: 
Democracy on St Helena: councillors opposed prison move – so ‘Enforcer’ Capes sacked them
Unfit prison ‘will move’ to Half Tree Hollow, says planning chief
‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

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