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Ministry of Justice announces closure of Dorchester Prison
THIS morning the Ministry of Justice has announced that HMP Dorchester will close.
It is reported that more than 150 prison jobs will be lost - not including contractors and local support staff.
It will be one of four prisons to close including Reading in Berkshire, Blundeston in Suffolk and Northallerton in North Yorkshire.
The closure of four prisons follows an announcement in January that six entire prisons were to shut plus one of the three amalgamated jails on the Isle of Wight. These changes are anticipated to shave a further £30m from the overall prison budget.
Instead of these four prisons, a new super prison, which will hold 2,000 inmates will be built in North Wales by 2017.
It was also announced that all adult male prisoners will be moved out of HMP The Verne and will instead house immigration detainees.
The Ministry Of Justice say the decision to close HMP Dorchester follows concerns around the limited size of the site, which leaves little scope for development and does not provide a suitable environment in which to deliver modern prison services.
Speaking about today’s decision, Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said:
“This decision was not taken lightly and is in no way a reflection of the hard work and commitment of staff, nor of the prison’s performance.
“However, we cannot shy away from the fact that funds are limited and we need to make sure we are running prisons as efficiently as we can to maximise value for the taxpayer.
“This will clearly be a difficult time for everyone involved and we will do all we can to offer support and ensure the prison continues to operate safely and securely in the run-up to closure.”
Work to close HMP Dorchester will begin immediately and it is expected to shut close at the end of the year.
Everything will be done to avoid compulsory redundancies and our intention is for all staff to be redeployed to alternative roles in the prison estate or, if necessary, offered the opportunity to leave on voluntary terms.
Offenders housed at Dorchester will be moved to other suitable prison accommodation.
Staff at HMP Dorchester Prison have been briefed about the closure.
PRISON OFFICERS' ASSOCIATION
Speaking outside the prison yesterday Mike Sear, Dorchester chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association(POA), said: “All staff at the prison are very disappointed at the announcement of the closure.
“There has been a prison in Dorchester since the 1300's, and recently 12 million pounds of tax payer's money has been invested in the prison to modernise it.
“This prison will now stand as a monument of wasted resources.
“The closure announced today will simply make an overcrowded prison system even more overcrowded.
“The only light at the end of the tunnel is that there are unlikely to be any compulsory redundancies, and the POA is grateful for that.
“The prison closure will see approximately four million pounds taken out of the local economy.”
John Hancock, south Wales and south west England representative on the Prison Officers’ Association, said: “The fact that Dorchester is closing is a big blow.
“Around 80 per cent of the inmates there are local lads who have great relationships with the hardworking staff.
“Millions of pounds have been spent on the prison over the last few years and it is a real shame.”
He added: “Luckily, due to HMP Verne becoming an Immigration detention centre more jobs will be created so the staff who lose their jobs at Dorchester will be able to go there.”
WEST DORSET MP
West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin, whose constituancy includes Dorchester, said: "This is obviously worrying for the staff involved.
"However, I have talked to the Justice Secretary about this, and I am glad that he expects to be able to find jobs elsewhere in the prison service for all of the staff involved.
"I am also, of course, delighted that crime is falling -- and this inevitably means that we now need fewer prison places than expected."
An anonymous former employee said: "It is sad news for the town and those local employees who will lose their jobs.
"Although people were bracing themselves for this announcement it will still be a shock."
Another local man, who was contracted by the prison, said: "You always hear about prison overcrowding so we never dreamt the prison here would close and so suddenly."
A serving officer at HMP Dorchester said: " I am absolutely gutted its to close.
"I learnt of the news via a friend this morning before being contacted by the prison. Complete & utter shock."
COMMUNITY leaders say the loss of Dorchester prison will be a ‘blow’ to the whole town.
Mayor of Dorchester Stella Jones said she was shocked by the news of the prison closure.
She said: “It is certainly a blow to the town because it has had a prison for years and years.
“It means a lot of jobs will be lost.”
Councillor Jones added: “The prison is involved with the community and a lot of people in the community are involved in the prison.
“It’s always fitted in well in the town and being a county town it should have a prison.
“Obviously it is an old building and needs modernising but I think they could still use it as part of the prison service.”
Dorchester Town Crier Alistair Chisholm said he was surprised at the speed that everything was happening.
He said: “I can only say I feel extraordinarily sorry for the staff who are working there and who are established in this area and I can only hope they find redeployment within travelling distance.
“The speed at which it’s happening doesn’t give people much of an opportunity.”
Mr Chisholm also question how so much public money had been allowed to be spent on the prison if it was then going to close.
He said: “Somebody somewhere ought to have a more strategic approach to this sort of thing.”
President of the Dorchester and District Chamber of Commerce Alison Moore said: “We are very concerned for the members of staff who work there because it’s a horrible situation to be in.
“From a Chamber member perspective it’s kind of a second blow to businesses in that part of town with the West Dorset District Council offices also shutting only relatively recently.”
Mrs Moore said the priority short term would be to support the staff who have lost their jobs but longer term local organisations and councils needed to work together to support any prospective purchasers of the site to bring it back into use and restore jobs to the area.
Christian Lohez, manager of Number 6 Brasserie outside HMP Dorchester, said: “The prison has just spent an incredible amount of money on development and refurbishments - for it to then suddenly close.
“You wouldn't believe the amount of traffic coming in and out of the prison but it's a safe prison and one of the most secure I know.
“It would be good for Dorchester if this building now turned into a tourist attraction or a museum because it is in brilliant location.”
DORSET Police and Crime Commisioner
Dorset PCC Martyn Underhill said: "I am disappointed and dismayed with the Justice Secretary’s decision to close HMP Dorchester. Only six weeks ago, we welcomed the decision to designate HMP Dorchester as a resettlement prison for the county’s offenders. It would have allowed us to support the rehabilitation of offenders back into the local community and to reduce incidents of reoffending.
"I am concerned that this decision will have a negative impact on the county’s ability to proactively work with partners to rehabilitate offenders. It will also impact on future opportunities in restorative justice which provides insight to offenders on the impact of their crime whilst giving control back to victims.
"I will be writing to the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to express my dismay at his decision and will be lobbying the government for clarity around future resettlement arrangements for Dorset in light of this decision."
What do you think?
Do you work at the prison or have a family member that does? Or do you visit an inmate there and are concerned about the closure? If so contact Miriam Phillips in confidence on 01305 263465 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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