4,000 prison jobs must go in Treasury cuts

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Four thousand jobs in Britain's jails - a tenth of the Prison Service - will have to be cut to meet Treasury demands for savings, trade union leaders were told by the Home Office last week.

Prison and probation leaders warned yesterday the cuts would lead to a collapse in education in the jails, overcrowding and riots as officers struggled to cope with an explosion in inmate numbers - by last week there was a record 54,000 prisoners.

In January the Prison Service predicted that 2,800 posts would have to be lost to meet Treasury demands for a 13 per cent reduction in the pounds 1.5bn jail budget over three years.By last week the figure had been revised upwards. The 4,000 jobs that will have to go include 400 in the service's London headquarters.

Prison governors have said that they cannot see how the cuts can be made without endangering security. To date they have identified just 1,300 posts which can be safely lost.

Alex Carlile, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, said last night that the sums did not add up.

"There are more prisoners, less money, and increasing stress on the service," he said. "Michael Howard's new sentencing policy will lead to at least 20,000 new prisoners in a service that is barely able to cope as it is. Measures to help reduce reoffending and ensure security are being sacrificed."

Parliamentary written answers to Mr Carlile have revealed the scale of the coming cuts.

Richard Tilt, the Prison Service's director general, reported that 57 per cent of prisons and young-offender institutions were planning to reduce education for inmates and 44 per cent wanted to cut probation services.

The reductions are coming despite signs of breakdown in the jails. Last year, according to Prison Service figures, a record 900 inmates were found to be drug users.

Harry Fletcher, spokesman for the probation officers' union, NAPO, said the Treasury had forced a reduction that was far larger than anyone had expected.

"The Prison Service has finally realised that huge numbers are going to have to be made redundant," he said. There will be no shortage of volunteers. The Prison Officers Association said yesterday that 3,600 members had contacted the union about redundancy terms.

"It's a sign of how low morale is," said David Evans, POA general secretary. "The worst part is that it is the most experienced officers who are most likely to leave. Young, inexperienced officers are going to be left to deal with a very tense situation."

Generous redundancy packages will probably not be on offer after March next year, the Prison Service has said, making a rush to leave more likely.

Among the economies will be a reduction in the service's building budget from pounds 300m to pounds 100m. This has already led to 400 cells without lavatories being brought into use.