December 12 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
A decision to close a north Suffolk prison has been heavily criticised by an independent body which inspects the facility and sends reports to the government every year.
The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), which helps to safeguard the welfare of prisoners, has written an open letter setting out its strong arguments against the closure of Blundeston prison, near Lowestoft, as part of cost-cutting measures.
Its letter says the closure should be scrapped as the category C prison, which has space for 526 prisoners and employs 230 staff, plays a pivotal role in rehabilitating inmates, through training workshops and courses to address offending.
And the open letter points out how the Ministry of Justice has invested at the prison recently by installing a new electronic key-issuing system and heating system and improving workshop facilities – money that will just now be “thrown away” when the site closes, says the IMB.
The letter from the IMB says: “We would like to say that Blundeston prison has many qualities which make its closure ill-conceived, premature and rushed.
“Report after report, over many years, has highlighted the excellent and unique staff/prisoner relationship which above any other thing works towards the rehabilitation of prisoners, an expressed government policy and intention.
“However marvellous electronically any new super prison is, we doubt it would be able to produce such a relationship as the one Blundeston has built up over many years. Prisoners who appreciate the support they get at the prison are unhappy at the closure which de-stabilises their rehabilitation, moves them to another prison and means in some ways they will start all over again.
“The IMP at Blundeston would be delighted if the policy were to be reversed but are realistic enough to realise that such an event is highly unlikely.
“We, however, fulfil our statutory duty to identify a decision which we believe works against the welfare and rehabilitation of many prisoners and in the end does a dis-service to the whole of society. The need for cuts and the deficit are always used to justify such decisions. Although it may sound good in the short term, it has consequences for the county which will cost more in the long term.”
The IMB letter also says the closure will “cause huge disruption and upheaval” to the staff when they re-locate to other prison facilities – a move which the monitoring body also says will move money out of the local economy.
The Ministry of Justice announced at the beginning of the month that Blundeston prison and three other prisons are to close to help shave £30m off the prison budget every year. The prisons at Blundeston, Dorchester, Reading and Northallerton are all said to be either too expensive to run or need substantial capital investment.
The closures form part of a government prison modernisation programme, which will see a new 2,000-place prison built in Wrexham and a feasibility study for another large prison in England.
It is believed many prisoners from Blundeston will be transferred to Warren Hill, near Ipswich, a young offenders’ institute set to become an adult prison.
A prison service spokesman said: “The decision to close HMP Blundeston was made following a thorough assessment by senior managers in the National Offender Management Service.
“It was based on a range of factors, including the suitability of the accommodation, and was not a reflection of the current performance of the prison or its staff.
“Our aim will be to avoid compulsory redundancies by firstly redeploying staff and, if necessary, offering voluntary early departures to staff in affected sites and neighbouring establishments.”
As part of a campaign to save Blundeston prison the Labour opposition group is to table a motion at a full meeting of Waveney District Council on Monday calling for it to remain open.
Bob Blizzard, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Waveney, has also sent a letter, which has been signed by more than 700 people, to David Cameron demanding action.