HMP Berwyn could be the most disgusting prison in Europe within a decade.

That was the stinging forecast of Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League of Penal Reform, during the first session of a Welsh Affairs Select Committee inquiry.

"Our prisons are shameful and Berwyn is going to be shameful very soon. It was built in a way that even Victorians would not build," she said

"These are small cells that people have to share. There are two sorts of plinths that they sleep on. There's a toilet at the end of it, so you have to defecate in front of someone.


"There is a shower but it's not even hidden. Apparently they're going to have curtains. They weren't when I saw them.

"It was built for 2,100 men but it's only got activity spaces for 1,000, so more than 1,000 men are going to be stuck in those cells probably 23 hours a day when it's full.

"It's is going to be the most disgusting prison in Europe within 10 years."

She added the windows had no ventilation.

Clwyd South MP Susan Elan Jones questioned Ms Crook on previous comments that the prison was going be a disaster for Wrexham and that the money could have better spent elsewhere.

She also referred to a newspaper report where Ms Crook was said to have criticised Wrexham Council for backing the prison.

Ms Elan Jones said: "Surely the local council was making a choice based on economic reality." And she gave examples of people finding jobs at the prison or through linked organisations.

Ms Crook said she has been talking about an American idea called justice reinvestment, where prison building was cancelled and justice system funds were reinvested into the community.

She added there could have been investment in industry, sports facilities, schools.

"You could have had a capital spend of £250 million, given to the local authority and say 'Here, what would you like to do? Talk to local people. Invest in all sorts of different things'.

"And then you could have another £20m or £30m every year on top of that in order to prevent crime, to make the local area safer.

"That's what the local authority should have done. I think they were wrong in supporting it."

Ms Elan Jones said that would be a lovely choice, but it was not the choice given to the council.

The committee also considered the case for placing prisoners closer to their homes and the impact of doing so on rehabilitation and reoffending.

It also expected to examine facilities for female prisoners from Wales, as well as the provision of health, education and rehabilitation services.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “HMP Berwyn is performing well since it opened and represents a key part of our £1.3 billion investment to reform and modernise the prison estate.

“There has been a phased introduction of prisoners since it opened and there is no evidence to suggest larger prisons perform worse than smaller establishments.

“Across the estate, we are investing £100m to bring in an additional 2,500 frontline prison officers to improve safety and make our prisons places of hard work and decency.”