People divided over the transformation of the Consett building into a prison reform center

PROPOSALS to bring a new prisoner reform center to County Durham have divided opinion in the area after a request from the Department of Justice was put to Durham County Council.

Plans for a 16-bedroom block were sent to the local authority at the end of March which would see Highfield House on Parliament Street, Consett, become part of the department’s ‘prisoner reform’ programme.

As part of this scheme, the former Probation Contact Center will also have associated support spaces including common areas, laundry, kitchen and storage facilities.

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In plans submitted to Durham County Council, a two-storey extension to the south of the building would accommodate the en-suite bathrooms and various common areas.

Next to the hall of those whom the Ministry of Justice helps to reform, there will be offices for staff members and reserves.

To allow maximum use of the site, the existing outbuildings will be demolished. Parts of the existing perimeter wall will also be removed to create a new gate of sufficient width to allow access for large vehicles in an emergency.

The facility was used as a probation center, but could now be turned into a reformation space. Photo: DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is seeking to increase the capacity of nationally licensed premises to support the prison reform agenda and respond to parole board policy which is leading to increased reliance on approved premises.

The ministry said it needed more than 230 beds to handle the planned increase over the next four-year period.

If approved, the proposed facility will be operated by the Probation Service and is the first approved facility in County Durham’s jurisdiction.

The Echo of the North: An indicative drawing of the reform center.  Photo: DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL.An indicative drawing of the reform center. Photo: DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL.

As part of the proposal, the Justice Department stressed that the building will be a community facility, rather than being designed to be a place where people serve a custodial sentence.

A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesperson said: “These premises provide enhanced supervision through 24-hour staffing, nightly curfews, consistently enforced rules and a program of “ supervision, support and surveillance, which addresses behavioral offenses and risk reduction”.

“Approved Premises work with the most-at-risk offenders and are an essential part of public protection arrangements. Effective security is essential for the protection of the public, for the management of offenders and for the safety of staff and residents. Approved premises provide a level of contact, support and supervision that is unavailable anywhere else in the probation service.

The Northern Echo: The facility will include 16 rooms and other common areas, as well as offices and warehouses.  Photo: DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL.The facility will include 16 bedrooms and other common areas, as well as offices and warehouses. Photo: DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL.

Despite ongoing plans for the proposed reform centre, residents of Consett and the wider County Durham area are divided on the subject.

Taking to social media, several users disagreed with the location of the building, saying: ‘It would be better on an island in the middle of the sea’ and ‘It’s not the best – there There are quite a few halfway houses in Consett anyway.”

However, others mentioned the benefits of having facilities like these, with one person commenting: “We need more rehabilitation places. Offenders are often released onto the streets and reoffend. It was already a probation center in our city center where ex-offenders went – what’s the problem? »

This project in Consett is part of a larger program to bring reform centers to Aberdeen, Newcastle, Manchester, London and Edinburgh.

A decision on the request is expected by Tuesday, May 17.

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