Jail riots fear over 3,000 job cuts

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The Independent Online
HEATHER MILLS

Home Affairs Correspondent

Ministers are set on a collision course with prison staff over plans to axe 3,000 jobs. With jails already bursting at the seams with record numbers of inmates - expected to top 54,000 by April - many inside the Prison Service are now warning of riot and unrest as conditions deteriorate.

The scale of the job losses sparked an immediate political furore, with the opposition claiming that Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, was embarking on a "suicide mission".

Alan Beith, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said it was ludicrous to have fewer staff controlling more and more prisoners. Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said: "It is an absurd way to go and will only add to the crisis in the Prison Service."

Existing staff shortages are already being blamed for the squalid conditions at Holloway Women's Prison, in north London, which prompted the walkout by inspectors last month. And in other jails inmates are being locked in their cells for longer periods and denied access to education and work programmes.

But the reduction in prison activities has only saved a small part of the pounds 65m in cuts demanded by the Treasury this year.

Redundancy will be offered first to prison officers and governors aged over 55, with pensions boosted by payoffs of between pounds 5,000 and pounds 10,000.

Yesterday Richard Tilt, the acting director-general of the Prison Service, admitted that although the losses would cause some difficulty, the service would cope.

But prison staff warned of the effect of cuts on a service where morale is already low.

Ben Coffman, spokesman for the Prison Officers Association, said: "The loss of the most experienced staff will decimate the Prison Service and seriously threaten control in many establishments. The role of prison officers will be reduced to that of turnkey and rehabilitation will be forgotten."

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