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Prison latest: Millions wasted and 157 jobs lost
Mike Sear, Dorchester chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said: "This prison will now stand as a monument of wasted resources."
THE Echo can reveal that more than £7.3million has been wasted on refurbishing Dorchester prison which is being closed to save money.
The shock announcement came yesterday that the prison would close by the end of the year.
At least 157 jobs will go but staff will be offered redeployment or voluntary redundancy.
The move by the Ministry of Justice was made as a cost saving measure as part of the Government’s ongoing plans to ‘modernise the prison estate which is fairer on the hardworking taxpayer.’ In total four prisons are to close, three will change function – including HMP Verne - which will bring a saving of £30million to the overall prison budget.
However, the Dorset Echo can reveal that at least £7.3m of the tax-payer’s money has been spent on refurbishing HMP Dorchester in the last three years.
This includes a medical suite costing £1.360,161 and only just opened earlier this year, a new roof, new windows and a visitor centre which cost £1.5m.
On top of this the Prison Officers’ Association estimate the local economy will lose £4million as a result of the closure.
A prison source said he was outraged that so much money had been wasted at a time when staff hours were being cut and cuts were made elsewhere.
He said: “I just think what on earth have they spent all that money on when the senior staff were penny pinching in all areas.
“In the last few years staff levels went to an unprecedented level and during all this time millions of pounds were being wasted.”
He said that the refurbishing plan was put in place to keep the prison open and make it more cost effective.
He added: “Just a few months ago more than a million was spent on a new medical centre when these closure plans were in the pipeline – it is like one hand isn’t talking to the other.”
Dorchester Prison, built in 1880, is a Category B prison which had 291 male inmates. All of whom will be relocated to other prisons before the closure of the prison at the end of the year.
In the last MOJ unannounced inspection in July 2012 the prison was reported as being ‘very overcrowded’ but that it remained a ‘safe prison’.
The announcements made yesterday by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is part of a programme to replace old, inefficient places with newer, modern accommodation to help rehabilitate offenders and bring down the high reoffending rates.
Speaking about the decision, Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said 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.
He 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.”
Regarding the millions spent since 2010 a Prison Service spokesperson added:“The decision to close HMP Dorchester has only just been taken and it is important to ensure that the estate is maintained so that it meets the needs of the population.
“Due to the modular-design of the new healthcare centre, it can be relocated to another part of the prison estate."
The MOJ will start work straight away to close the prison and pledge that ‘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.’ However staff yesterday said they were ‘gutted’ and ‘deeply saddened’ by the shock announcement.
One prison worker said: “As a serving officer at HMP Dorchester I am absolutely gutted it’s to close.
“I learnt of the news via a friend this morning before being contacted by the prison. It’s a Complete & utter shock.”
Alongside Dorchester, HMPs Blundeston, Northallerton and Reading are also due to close by the end of the year. HMPs Downview, The Verne and Warren Hill are due to change function.
In a move to replace older accommodation with new, cheaper purpose-built prisons, the Government has revealed that its planned new 2,000 place prison will be in Wrexham in North Wales.
In addition, feasibility work is underway into a second large prison to be constructed on the current Feltham site in West London.
Money spent at HMP Dorchester in the last three years
- New medical suite(finished in 2013) £1,360,161
- Total Refurbishment(from2010-2012): £6million – including new windows, roofing and visitor centre costing £1.5million
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.”
West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin, whose constituency 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."
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.”
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.”
What do you think?
Jobs to stay at Verne Prison
PORTLAND prison HMP Verne will be changed to an immigration removal centre under new plans by the Ministry of Justice.
It came as part of the announcement by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling yesterday who said the prison will provide around 600 additional places to hold immigration detainees awaiting removal from the country.
The Echo exclusively broke the plans to convert the prison back in May but no final decision had been made.
The former Victorian military barracks, transformed into a jail more than 60 years ago, will begin a new lease of life as a Home Office immigration unit housing people waiting to be removed from the UK.
Speaking about today's decision, Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said work to change the function of HMP Verne will begin immediately.
Existing staff will continue to run the site but the Home Office will meet the costs of its operation.
Offenders housed at The Verne will be moved to other suitable prison accommodation.
The announcement has been welcomed by South Dorset MP Richard Drax.
He told the Dorset Echo: "With Dorchester prison closing and other prisons being targeted it is a relief I am sure to the staff at HMP Verne that the prison officers there will have a new role.
"As I understand it, the prison officer's jobs will be secure and they will be retrained.
"There could also be more jobs there after the prison has taken on its new role later this year.
"There is quite a significant investment in the prison as it gets equipped for its new role."
However before the announcement, The Detention Forum, an NGO network critical of immigration detention, wrote an open letter to the Justice Minister, stating that it is “alarmed to learn that the Ministry of Justice is considering a proposal to convert the prison into a new immigration removal centre”.
It is also signed by 19 member organisations all against the change of use of HMP Verne into an immigration removal centre.
Ali McGinley, one of the signatories to the letter and is Director of Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees said; 'This proposal marks another major expansion in the UK's use of immigration detention, yet again without any considered analysis or scrutiny of the detention system.”
The planned re-role comes as part of a wider programme to modernise the prison estate, which will also see HMPs Downview and Warren Hill change function by the start of next year.
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