PRISON officers have expressed concerns amid uncertainty over what an imminent major shake-up in the North-East prison system will mean for inmates and staff.

Changes are being made to operations at Durham Prison and Holme House, in Stockton, which are understood to have been put together in a cluster.

Durham is due to become a reception prison, dealing with prisoners on remand and at the start of their sentences, while Holme House is being downgraded from a category B to category C training prison, mainly catering for men serving sentences over four years and some sex offenders. It is part of changes announced last year to make Holme House semi-autonomous and give executive governor Ian Blakeman greater powers over key areas of management.

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The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) was unable to confirm when changes would be made, what impact it would have on staffing levels or the number of inmates at the prisons.

The Northern Echo understands changes will start coming in from April.

Glyn Travis, from the Prison Officers Association, said: “This is imminent. Changes will be starting to come in from April time. There are lots of things we are still looking at. The devil is in the detail. We are sitting on the edge of our seats waiting to see what it will bring.”

The Government announced its Prison Safety and Reform White Paper in November, including plans for a network of reception prisons, to provide an efficient service to courts and manage remand prisoners.

An MOJ spokesman said: “We are clear that prisons must become places of discipline, hard work and self-improvement. Our reforms will help deliver a system that is focused on getting prisoners the education they need to live law-abiding lives when they are released.

“We are empowering our governors, who will take control of budgets for education, employment and health and they will be held to account for getting people off drugs, into jobs and learning English and maths. This will help reduce the £15bn annual cost of reoffending and create safer communities.”

Mr Travis added: “There are a lot of words and positive spin from the government, but the outcome won’t be known for several years. Our view is this is too little too late and sound bites won’t deliver the change that’s necessary if we want a prison service that’s fit for purpose.”

Durham Prison has a “high churn” of prisoners, with most sentences under nine weeks. It will see video conferencing technology investment, so more court hearings can be held virtually.