Britain plans to turn Victorian prisons into homes

2015-11-09 21:19
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London - Some of Britain's gloomy Victorian prisons, including the one where Oscar Wilde was held for homosexuality, could be turned into homes for thousands of people under plans announced by the government on Monday.

The looming 19th century red-brick buildings, which were built close to city centres and are now often in desirable locations, are to be broken up into 3 000 homes. New prisons will then be built to house the inmates.

"Many of our jails are relics from Victorian times on prime real estate in our inner cities," Finance Minister George Osborne said ahead of a visit to Brixton prison in south London.

"We will close old, outdated prisons in city centres, and sell the sites to build thousands of much-needed new homes," Osborne said.

The first to be sold will be Reading prison, which was built in 1844 and closed in 2013.

Wilde was imprisoned in Reading in 1895 and wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol after being released two years later.

The ministry declined to give details on exactly how many and which prisons would be on the list.

There is a housing shortage in Britain and the government is under pressure to build hundreds of thousands of homes for a fast growing population.

Osborne announced plans to build nine new prisons that would house around 10 000 prisoners.

"This investment will mean we can replace ageing and ineffective Victorian prisons with new facilities fit for the modern world," Justice Secretary Michael Gove said.

"We will be able to design out the dark corners which too often facilitate violence and drug-taking," he said.

But Frances Crook, head of the Howard League for Penal Reform campaign group, said the problem was "too many prisoners", not the buildings themselves.

In Oxford, a former castle turned into a prison in the 19th century was closed in 1996 and converted into a boutique hotel which opened in 2006.

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