Prison staff stunned by closure news

Wellingborough Prison
Wellingborough Prison

Staff at Wellingborough Prison have been left stunned by today’s announcement that the facility is to close.

The staff are understood to have been informed by the prison’s governor at about 10am this morning, Tuesday, July 17.

Former senior management team member David Palethorpe, who worked at the prison for eight years until he retired at the end of October, told the Telegraph that staff were shocked and frustrated.

He said: “They are absolutely fuming, they feel really let down. They feel absolutely frustrated and powerless and angry.

“I understand they only found out at 10am today when they were told it would be closing in December.”

It is understood about 600 people work at the prison but Mr Palethorpe said the actual figure affected could reach 1,000 because of the numbers of staff from elsewhere who carry out work at the prison.

The announcement comes after several years of hard work at the prison.

In April 2009, the Telegraph reported that private companies would be able to run the failing prison after the then Justice secretary Jack Straw announced it would be put into a market testing process.

But last year Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke announced the prison would be permanently withdrawn from the market testing competition process.

Mr Palethorpe said: “When it was announced the prison was up for market testing everyone got together and did everything they could so it could remain with the prison service.

“We cut the costs by 20 per cent, including staff, and made it one of the most cost efficient prisons in the country.

“We got extremely good Ofsted reports and improving HMIC reports and were taken out of the bidding process and told that our future was secure.

“I feel so sorry for the people who are still there - they have been through so much already.”

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone has raised his concerns about today’s announcement in the House of Commons and has vowed to fight the decision.

It will see a reduction in 588 places in the prison estate and the work to implement this change will start immediately.

As of last Friday, the prison population was 86,562 and the prison estate had sufficient capacity for a further 3,500 prisoners. The Government says capacity continues to grow and the number of available prison places is estimated to reach 91,600 by the end of the year, following the addition of new accommodation including the opening of two modern prisons, HMP Oakwood and HMP Thameside earlier in the year. It says as a result the opportunity exists to further improve the estate by closing uneconomic prison places at HMP Wellingborough.

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clarke, said: “The public has the right to expect continuing improvement in the quality and efficiency of public services, without compromising public safety. Closing outdated and expensive prisons is an important step in our strategy to deliver a fit for purpose modern custodial estate that can provide high quality, cost effective and secure regimes that protect the public and reform prisoners. Closing this one prison alone will save millions of pounds for the taxpayer.

“The changes will reduce our current capacity by 588 places and I am confident that they can be safely managed within existing headroom, whilst maintaining our ability to cope with any potential increase in population.”

The closure of this prison will provide annual cost savings of over £10m per annum and avoid significant capital costs of up to £50m which would have been necessary to maintain the longer term viability of the prison. We expect to be able to absorb staff displaced by this process elsewhere in the system and to avoid the use of compulsory redundancies.

Decisions on the future size of the prison estate will be driven by population demand and prisons will only close when capacity allows. We will always ensure that there are sufficient places for those offenders sentenced to custody by the courts, including a margin to manage fluctuations in the prison population. Decisions to close future capacity will only be taken if they do not put this ability at risk.

The prison workers union POA has condemned the proposed closure.