The Ministry of Justice is pleading for prison officers who have recently been made redundant to come back to work.
Ministers have been forced into the humiliating reverse after being caught out by an unexpectedly large increase in the prison population.
Up to 100 redundant officers are to be asked to come back on short-term contracts and hundreds more are being transferred from their usual posts to beef up staff numbers in prisons where there are shortages.
The need to increase prison officer numbers, in contrast to the reductions driven by austerity measures over the last two years, has been exacerbated by fears riots and other disturbances will erupt during the summer because of overcrowding.
Prisons have just been told that, having until now been instructed to close down as many areas as possible, they must prepare to take in an extra 440 prisoners. Cutbacks have also meant the closure of 16 prisons.
The announcement was met with a scathing response from Peter McParlin, the National Chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), and Steve Gillan, the General Secretary, who said in a joint statement: “The prison system is truly in crisis.
“The POA take no pleasure in saying that we told you so. It appears that only NOMS [the National Offender Management Service ] and the Coalition Government were unaware or chose to ignore the perfect storm of a rising population, a lack of staff and too few prison cells.
“This is tantamount to an abrogation of responsibility by those tasked with the essential protection of the public. Once again prison staff will have to deal with the consequences of the fiasco in the management of the Criminal Justice System.”
The prison population has risen over the last year by 1,749 to 85,410 prisoners and is putting increasing strain on the system. In the last two years the Prison Service’s Gold Command, the officials who co-ordinate the emergency response to serious outbreaks of violence, has experienced a 153 per cent increase in the number of call-outs.
Room for the additional 440 inmates is expected to be created by squeezing two prisoners into single cells and three into double cells.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling played down the significance of having to ask redundant prison officers to return.
“I’m just taking sensible steps to make sure we can accommodate everyone the court sends to us,” he told The Times.
Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Justice Secretary, said the u-turn was humiliating to the government and expensive to the taxpayer.