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Challenges to mega-prisions

Location and planning will be major challenges facing the government in its plans to build 'Titan' prisons capable of holding 2,500 inmates, according to prison construction experts this week.

"Getting sites is going to be problematic and given that these prisons will require between 16 and 24 hectares, getting planning permission is going to be a big issue even in light of the extended powers that government would receive under the provisions of any new planning legislation," said the source.

"A number of companies have conceptual plans for super prisons but as yet, no technical plans have been drawn up," he added.

The prisons are likely to be staged developments, based on a traditional Victorian radial design.

The industry source said that the aside from planning and location, design and construction would be informed by staffing and supervisory requirements.

According to Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform has, the government's plans are flawed. "You cannot build your way out of the failing behemoth that is our prison system. The proposal to build new Titan prisons will not solve the problem of spiralling prison numbers."

A spokesperson for the Howard League doubted the government's ability to complete the prison-building programme by 2014, due to objections from local residents.

However Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, who has visited prisons of similar size in South Africa, said planning would not be an issue but warned against building big as a way to save money.

"The engineering of these vast prisons in South Africa is beyond reproach," he said. "But the day-to-day reality is that in a system like this, the electronics do fail and prisoners will spend much of their time trying to bypass or evade the security systems, it's human nature."

"This is a human business at the end of the day and the danger with these large prisons is that we are merely warehousing prisoners until they can be unleashed once again on society with a higher likelihood of re-offending."

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