Jails at ‘breaking point’

By Tristan Harris Friday 25 July 2014 Updated: 25/07 09:11

A CHARITY which campaigns for prison reform claims the number of prison officers at West Midlands has been cut by 23 per cent in the last three years, leading to jails being at 'breaking point'.

The charity says there were now 2,143 officer grade staff working in the region's prisons in September 2013, compared with 2,786 in September 2010.

And the figures - published by The Howard League of Penal Reform - state that at HMP Hewell in September 2010 there were 330 prison officers, but now there are just 220 - a drop of 33 per cent.

It claims the drop in officer numbers nationwide has coincided with a prison overcrowding crisis and a rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths.

Frances Crook, the Howard League for Penal Reform's chief executive, said the prison system was at breaking point and everyone should be concerned at the crisis in prisons.

“Ministers and various MPs have used different figures to try to minimise the impact of prison closures, but the statistics in this report show the true picture.

“Governors, inspectors and prison officers are joining the Howard League in warning the government that prisons are not just failing, they are dangerous.

She also claimed violence and drug use behind bars was out of control.

"This is the most irresponsible government penal policy in a generation,” she said.

But the charity's figures were dismissed by the Ministry of Justice as 'presenting a misleading picture of the prison estate'.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "Our approach to staffing levels has been agreed with the unions to ensure we run safe, efficient and decent prisons with prison officers back in frontline roles where they are most needed.

"Where there are local staffing issues we are taking action to resolve this, including a widespread recruitment campaign and the creation of a reserve force of officers who can be used nationally when required.

"We are modernising the prison estate to ensure best value for the taxpayer — not by cutting services or reducing quality but by fundamentally changing the way we operate with greater levels of education and purposeful activity as part of our commitment to rehabilitation."

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