Prison Warders Face Cuts As Jails Struggle To Cope

A dramatic plan to slash the number of prison officers and streamline courts in England and Wales is being drawn up by the government in an attempt to deliver £1bn in savings.

{mosimage}A leaked internal document from the Ministry of Justice, obtained by The Observer, warns that jobs across the criminal justice system will be lost as it complies with Treasury-imposed ‘efficiency savings’ of 3 per cent a year.

‘The efficiency challenge for [the Ministry of Justice] is substantial,’ the document says. ‘Identifying and delivering 3 per cent value-for-money savings will be a big challenge for us.’

Prison managers believe that jail wings will have to close to cope with an estimated £180m in cuts imposed in last month’s spending review. Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the probation union, Napo, said: ‘Cutting probation and prison budgets can only be achieved through cutting staff. This will lead to more crime, more victims and public protection being compromised.’

The government declined to comment last night. Senior ministry officials are to hold a seminar on imposing the savings. A similar meeting last month produced the document leaked to The Observer. The savings will bite across the criminal justice system:

· The courts service will lose £102m. This is likely to lead to the merging of some magistrates, civil, county and crown courts into the same buildings.

· The legal aid fund will lose £193m.

· The tribunal service will suffer savings of £39m. Many benefit and employment tribunals will merge.

· The National Offender Management Service, intended to cut re-offending rates, is likely to be dismantled.

The document makes clear that jobs will be at risk across the criminal justice system. ‘It is likely that the improvements will result in a need for fewer staff. Each business will be asked to look at ways in which they can make processes more effective and develop a workforce plan for this.’

Cuts to the prison service will be particularly sensitive for the government as it copes with overcrowding. With prison numbers reaching record level – the total population reached a high of 81,553 on Friday – the government has promised a further 1,500 prison places on top of the existing building programme of 8,000.

But unions estimate the £180m saving in the Prison Service budget will lead to a hiring freeze at best, and to redundancies at worst.

Edward Garnier, the shadow Prisons Minister, said: ‘Labour has decided to send more people to prison…They have created 3,000 more criminal offences but then failed to build more prisons.’