Prisons hit by 'staffing crisis'
More than 230 prison officers are being asked to work in other prisons in the run-up to Christmas as governors across England and Wales face a major staffing crisis, penal reform campaigners have claimed.
Official documents that outline measures to tackle staff shortages in prisons during November and December have been seen by the Howard League for Penal Rerform.
More than 50 prisons are to be asked to provide officers to plug gaps elsewhere in the system, the charity says.
A specific document about staffing on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day indicates that about 56 officers will be asked to work in other prisons, including some who will have to work in jails more than 60 miles away.
Ministers said the Howard League was "twisting the facts" in a bid to paint a picture of a prison system in disarray when detached duty is a long-held practice.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "This provides evidence for a system under extreme stress. Taxpayers' money is being squandered on shoring up a failing system.
"We know that each week a prison officer works in another prison can cost the taxpayer up to an additional £500, which adds up to hundreds of thousands over the months the emergency use of 'detached duty' has been operating.
"Prisons holding children are being asked to release staff and drive them up and down motorways to help out at adult jails facing an emergency over the holidays.
"Politicians must accept responsibility for the chaos their policies are inflicting on the prison service, on staff and on the public."
Prisons due to receive additional officers under the plans include Elmley, on the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent, where nine prisoners have died so far this year, as well as High Down, in Surrey, Feltham and Wormwood Scrubs, in London, Nottingham and Woodhill, in Milton Keynes.
The plans require 239 officers to be moved to other prisons on detached duty during November and December.
Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, earlier this year said a mix of resource, population and Government policy pressures was a significant factor in the ''rapid deterioration'' in safety and increase in violence at prisons in the last year.
Mr Hardwick said the decline was against a backdrop of £84 million cuts to public sector prison running costs and £ 88 million saved as a result of the closure of older prisons.
In addition, planned staffing reductions involved in these changes resulted in a significant loss of more experienced staff as old jails closed.
Mr Hardwick is to step down next year after being faced with the prospect of applying for his own job.
Justice Minister Andrew Selous said: " This is another example of the Howard League twisting the facts to try and paint a picture of disarray in the prison system.
"Sending prison officers on detached duty is a sensible and proportionate way of managing temporary staffing shortfalls and is something the Service has used for over 20 years.
"Prison staff have done a fantastic job maintaining safe and decent prison regimes during a period of significant change and I would like to thank them all for their dedication."
Sadiq Khan, shadow justice secretary, said: " This prison crisis is a direct result of David Cameron's government's policies. The Chief Inspector warned about the crisis in our prisons and he was effectively sacked for daring to tell the truth.
"Sensible planning in case of disturbances is an important part of managing the prison system.
"But what this revelation shows is that the number of prison officers is at dangerously low levels and Chris Grayling is having to take drastic measures to prevent a Christmas meltdown."