PRISON overcrowding combined with a cut in officer numbers of up to 30 per cent is stretching the service to breaking point, according to a new report.
The Howard League for Penal Reform shows that in the last three years officer numbers in the North East dropped by 30 per cent from 2,062 in September 2010 to 1,450 by September 2013.
The figures in Yorkshire and Humber show a reduction of 28 per cent in the same period. Northallerton prison has been closed since the figures were compiled.
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The charity says the decline in officer numbers across the country has coincided with the loss of 6,500 prison places due to closures and readjustments, which has resulted in a growing number of inmates being forced into a diminishing number of prisons.
However, the charity’s figures have been branded ‘misleading’ by the government minister in charge of prisons.
Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said: “These are flawed and inaccurate figures from a left wing pressure group which can't see past its dislike of this Government. These figures present a misleading picture of the prison estate. 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.”
However, Frances Crook, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The prison system is at breaking point. Everyone should be concerned at the crisis in prisons as when people come out of jail they are more likely to inflict more crime on us.
“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.
“Violence and drug use is out of control and we will all suffer the consequences. This is the most irresponsible government penal policy in a generation.”
The findings, published in charity’s latest research briefing paper, Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons, warns that suicides, assaults and riots will become increasingly common unless urgent action is taken to increase officer numbers and reduce prisoner numbers.
A spokeswoman for the Prisoner Officers’ Association said: “The POA has raised concerns over the link between staff reductions and the increased level of violence, self-inflicted ?injuries, deaths, poor regimes and acts of indiscipline, in our prisons but saving money is the priority of the Ministry of Justice and Treasury.
“The POA welcome the report and findings and call on the Minister to act quickly to ensure prisons are safe secure and fit for purpose and not warehouses ?which is the reality under the current regime.”