Concerns have been raised that Wellingborough Prison could be shut as early as the autumn.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke revealed on Tuesday, July 17, the day before Parliament went into recess until September, that he intends to close the “outdated” prison by the end of the year to save more than £10m a year and avoid capital costs of up to £50m.
The Ministry of Justice said the work to implement the change would start immediately and the prison workers union POA said it looked as though the prison could shut a lot sooner than the end of the year.
POA national executive committee member Glen Birchall said: “We understand it’ll close by Christmas but they’re letting staff go as soon as possible so it could be earlier. They’re going to start decamping prisoners to other establishments. I think it’ll be gone within two months.”
Wellingborough MP Peter Bone estimates 600 people are employed by the prison either directly or indirectly by local businesses and is fighting to keep it open.
He said: “I’ve written to the Prisons Minister to ask for this decision to be put back until September. I’m hopeful I’ll be granted a debate in September when we’ll drag the minister to the despatch box to answer questions. This has been done by the back door without proper discussion.”
Wellingborough Council shares Mr Bone’s concerns about the impact the move would have on the economy.
Council leader Cllr Paul Bell said: “You can’t lose such a major employer and expect there to be no knock-on effect.”
Former senior management team member David Palethorpe, who worked at the prison for eight years until he retired in October said: “The staff feel really let down. They feel frustrated, powerless and angry.”
The category C prison is described on the Ministry of Justice’s website as “a dynamic prison that has a clear focus on reducing re-offending”.
Its closure will see 588 places lost from the prison’s estate but the Government said as of Friday, July 13, there were spaces for a further 3,500 prisoners across the country. The POA says the country has high levels of prison population and, while there is capacity now, the levels fluctuate.
According to Ministry of Justice figures it has about 257 staff working at the prison.
It says it expects to be able to absorb its prison staff elsewhere in the system and avoid compulsory redundancies.
Its spokesman added: “The land is owned by the Ministry of Justice and we’re considering options for its future use.”