Report highlights ‘an improving prison’ at Blundeston

Inspectors at Blundeston Prison have expressed serious concerns over further budget cuts – questioning the safety of prisoners and staff in the midst of any potential changes.

The fears have been raised in the Suffolk prison's Independent Monitoring Board's (IMB) annual report, which is published today (November 1).

The report for the category C jail near Lowestoft, which caters for 520 male inmates, has highlighted six key concerns for the Prison's Minister Crispin Blunt and five concerns to the Prison Service.

Chairman Michael Cadman said: 'Of particular and continuing concern are the funding reductions which continue into this year and next. There is a proposed cut of 4pc, the IMB is informed, this year with a likely similar cut in the following year.

'In quantitative terms that means a minimum of �500,000 being taken from the budget in the year 2012/13 but with other knock-on effects it is more likely to be �800,000 or even higher. The IMB is informed that should the proposed cuts in staffing levels for next year go ahead this will mean the loss of 35 officers in the past 18 months and 35pc of all operational grades,' Mr Cadman said.

'The questions have to be asked about the wisdom of such cuts, not only from the internal security aspects of the prison with regards to the safety of prisoners and staff, but also how such cuts are compatible with the government's green paper 'Breaking the cycle' and the much heralded 'Rehabilitation Revolution.'

The annual IMB report, which runs from July 2010 to June 2011, for the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice speaks of an improving prison - particularly since the critical Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's of Prison's (HMCIP) report that was published earlier this year.

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Mr Cadman said: 'It is fair to say that the IMB did not accept some of the report and raised some issues with the HMCIP, however the Blundeston Prison Governor (David Bamford) and his management team have wisely used the report as a springboard to improve the regime and prisoner care at the prison.

'In spite of all the concerns, HMP Blundeston still provides a good regime and standard of care for the prisoners, which is a remarkable achievement for staff at all levels against the background of public sector funding cuts. 'It would be fair to say that when the HMCIP first visited the prison it was still in the throes of settling down after the previous budget cuts and staff reductions which would explain the poor prisoner survey, that survey forming the starting point for HMCIP report.

'Prisons cannot be expected to adjust to such large changes in staffing levels overnight,' Mr Cadman added.

The report calls on the Prison Minister to review the proposed budget cuts, to look into building contracts and their poor procurement to ensure better value for money and greater efficiency, to improve the recruitment procedure and prevent holes in the prison regime, to realise that the delays with UKBA and the Probation Service, outside the prison, has a knock-on effect with prisoners and prison numbers, to look further into HMPS's continued requirement of all the statistics, and also improve the recruitment procedures for IMB members, realising that there are not queues of people wanting to do the work.

The concerns to the Prison Service centre around finding funding to provide integral sanitation for four wings, to improve the design and planning for building contracts, to resolve the issue of prisoners' property, reduce the amount of management information and to provide funding for a new gymnasium - a request that has been made for the past 16 years.

The report adds that 'there has been an extensive programme of works' within the prison over the past few months, and this year the prison achieved a 92pc accommodation rate and 35pc in finding employment for leaving prisoners, which they describe as an 'excellent achievement.'

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