Fears follow prison officer numbers fall

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THE NUMBER of prison officers at a Wigan jail has plunged by more than a third adding to the deepening crisis in the service .

Research published today by a charity shows that HMP Hindley had 170 officers managing 276 prisoners in June...down from 260 (35 per cent) from August 2010.

In the North West region (including Hindley), officer numbers have been cut from 3,182 to 1,930.

Nationwide there were 14,170 officer grade staff working in prisons run by the state at the same cut off, down from more than 24,000.

The drop, claims the Howard League for Penal Reform, has coincided with a “deepening prison overcrowding crisis” and an alarming rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths in custody.

Chief Executive of the charity Frances Crook said that the figures explain why the service was struggling to cope with an increasing prison population managed by plunging officer numbers “without any thought” for the consequences.

She said: “A shortage of governors makes matters even worse, because officers are being taken off the wings and asked to ‘act up’ to fill vacancies.

“Having made prison officers redundant, the Ministry of Justice is now apparently struggling to recruit. These are desperate times, and ministers are resorting to desperate measures.”

In July 2014, the Howard League warned that prisons were at breaking point as it revealed figures showing officer numbers had been cut in all prisons – public and private – by 30 per cent in three years.

The charity’s findings were supported by the Prison Governors’ Association and the prison officers’ union, the POA, who urged the government to act.

Since then, the damaging impact of staff cuts has been highlighted in a series of inspection reports published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons.

Today’s figures show how staffing levels are getting worse, not better – and how public-sector prisons have borne the brunt of the cuts.

Ms Crook said: “Last week, the outgoing president of the Prison Governors’ Association revealed that officers were being shipped from the north to plug gaps in the south, and being put up in hotels at a cost of £500 per week each.

“I understand that this arrangement is being built into long-term planning.

“Nobody knows how much it will cost, so the government is writing itself a blank cheque.

“As well as being a shameful waste of taxpayers’ money, this approach will only create more disruption in jails. Good relationships between prisoners and staff are key to a well-run prison, and such relationships will be harder to achieve.”