A LAST-MINUTE decision to keep HMP The Verne open as a prison has been condemned.

Employees were reportedly told yesterday that due to ‘overcrowding in the prison service’ The Verne will not become an immigration removal centre as planned until later this year.

Prison Service bosses insist that it will still hold illegal immigrants and that the decision to revert to prison status was just a ‘temporary measure’.

But staff said they were ‘very unhappy’ at the late-notice announcement as the first immigration detainees are due to arrive on Monday.

The Ministry of Justice insisted there are ‘no current plans to review staff levels’.

But employees have said it is ‘just a matter of time’ before prisoners are re-allocated to Portland, wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

One source said: “I believe they are planning to have both immigration detainees and Category C prisoners at HMP The Verne.

“Apparently there could be detainees in part of the prison and inmates in another.

“It beggars belief. There is massive overcrowding in the prison service and over the last few weeks there have barely been 100 spaces in the system.

“They have closed all these prisons and now they have nowhere to put inmates.

“The prison service is in crisis. There is an increasing population of prisoners and they’ve got nowhere to put them.

“What they’re essentially saying by keeping HMP The Verne as a prison is ‘we will be putting immigration detainees here, but we may also fill it up with prisoners’.”

Another source described the inside of the prison as ‘a building site’.

He added: “There are only two units ready for work and still around 80 contractors on site.

“Our main concern is that we have got all the staff here ready for the immigration centre and the prison will not need as many people, so jobs are at risk.”

It is believed around £8m has been spent on the re-role of the prison.

The former Victorian barracks, transformed into a jail more than 60 years ago, is due to house 580 people waiting to be removed from the UK.

South Dorset MP Richard Drax, pictured left, has said he believes the move has been made to ‘give the justice department a bit more flexibility’.

He said he had been assured there would not be any job losses or changes for the future plans for HMP The Verne.

He added: “I was as surprised as everyone else to hear the news that The Verne would remain an HMP. This, I think, is giving the justice department a little bit more flexibility until September.

“Retaining the name is not going to affect the plans for the prison in the future.”

The situation will be reviewed by the Ministry of Justice in September.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “HMP The Verne will begin holding immigration detainees from Monday, March 24.

“Build-up to its total capacity will be completed by September.

“While build-up takes place and until refurbishment is completed, NOMS will retain The Verne as a prison, but it will hold exclusively detainees on behalf of the Home Office.

“This temporary arrangement does not affect the number of staff employed.

“There are no current plans to review staff levels.”