Prison staff put up in hotels to look after inmates they were responsible for in mothballed jail (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Prison staff put up in hotels to look after inmates they were responsible for in mothballed jail
TAXPAYERS are having to pay travel expenses and hotel bills for prison officers due to a staffing crisis caused by the decision to shut Northallerton Prison.
Although the closure was hailed as a money-saving measure, the Prison Service has been forced to call up Northallerton officers to guard former inmates who have been moved to jails 75 miles away.
The Northern Echo understands officers are being put up in hotels, given hire cars, expenses and overtime pay after officials at HMP Moorland and HMP Lindholme, near Doncaster, said they couldn’t cope with the sudden influx of new prisoners.
Last night, critics accused the Government of rushing through the closure of Northallerton – one of the country’s best performing jails.
Earlier this year, HMP Lindholme was lambasted by prison inspectors who described one wing as “the worst establishment seen for many years”. They also found a thriving black market in drugs and alcohol.
The last prisoners are due to leave the North Yorkshire jail on Friday, only eight weeks after the Ministry of Justice announced it was closing.
It was part of a package of measures the Government brought in to modernise prisons and bring down costs.
The Ministry of Justice said relocating prison officers – as inmates are transferred from closing prisons – was standard practice.
It is understood between eight and ten prison officers a week from Northallerton are being transferred to the South Yorkshire jails, along with officers from other facilities.
The closure of Northallerton and three other prisons means the loss of the 1,400 prison places in England and Wales, which will eventually be replaced with a new £250m prison in Wrexham for 2,000 inmates.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said building modern jails, including the superprison in North Wales, would help rehabilitate offenders and bring down reoffending rates.
A Northern Echo source said: “The prison at Northallerton is still functional and operational.
‘ ‘There’s no reason why it should be done in this way.
‘‘How can it be cost-effective to send staff to hotels and hire Enterprise cars to get them to look after prisoners that were already being looked after in Northallerton?
“Until they know for sure there is a capacity to deal with these prisoners, they shouldn’t be closing prisons prematurely. It’s a foolish, premature closure.”
Northallerton was recently given the highest performance rating by inspectors and judged to be cost-effective.
A Prison Service spokesman said: ’’A small number of prison officers, including those from HMP Northallerton, are being relocated temporarily to other establishments as the prison transfers inmates ahead of its closure. This is standard practice when an establishment has a surplus of staff who can be better deployed elsewhere.
“Costs are being kept to a minimum and coming from the existing budget.
‘‘The savings that we will make by closing Northallerton far outweigh the temporary costs of sending staff on detached duty.”
The Prison Reform Trust has expressed serious concerns over the Government’s programme of closing small prisons.
It says plans to transform the prison estate could see nearly half of all prisoners “warehoused” in supersized jails of more than 1,000 inmates.
Mark Day, head of policy at the Trust said: ‘‘Closing small local prisons and replacing them with supersized jails will not reduce crime or make communities safer. .”
Earlier this month, the Prisoner Officers Association warned of problems caused by the closure of prisons such as Northallerton.
"The POA believe the Prison Service is in crisis due to the Prison Closure programme and budget cuts along with an increase to the prison population," said Steve Gillan, POA General Secretary. "All the warning signs are there. Assaults on staff are on the increase and prisoner on prisoner assaults are at record levels.
"The cuts and closure programme is disastrous and Government need to act before there is a fatality. Two thousand officers have been made redundant nationwide yet there is a reliance on detached duty around the country because the service are so stretched.
"Prisoners are on the verge of being locked out because of a lack of space.
"Operational capacity has been increased at some establishments. The service in our view is at breaking point."
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