The Daily Telegraph
Crisis-hit jail could transfer worst inmates
Understaffing is leading to violence at high-security prison that houses Manchester bomb plotter
DANGEROUS prisoners could be transferred from a crisis-hit jail over fears of unrest amid staffing shortages.
Prison chiefs will this week consider the move at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes, a high-security jail that has specialist units to house inmates including the Manchester Arena bomb plotter Hashem Abedi. Prison sources told The Daily Telegraph that the lack of experienced staff on the main wings had led to high levels of violence and disorder.
Moving all category A offenders and those held in close supervision centres to other prisons would enable the jail to switch experienced staff onto the main wings to maintain control.
Last December a report by Charlie Taylor, HM chief inspector of prisons, found the young staff – 40 per cent of whom had less than two years experience – struggling to contain violence, with two-thirds of assaults directed at officers. In a further report in April on the separation centre at Woodhill – a jail within a jail where Abedi is held – Mr Taylor further warned that “severe” staff shortages meant the prison regime was “curtailed” on a daily basis and some officers had “no experience” of dealing with such offenders.
It is understood that Abedi and other prisoners in the separation centre for terrorists will not be moved, but a source said: “All Cat A prisoners and all CSC [close supervision centre] prisoners are being removed from Woodhill.
“It has been blighted by severe staff shortages. Their inability to regularly staff the terrorist separation centre was recently highlighted in an HMIP report.
Staff are barely in control of the main wings – hence the redeployment of experienced staff from the special units. Staff who try to enforce rules are targeted and go off sick. A culture of impunity threatens security.”
Last month the independent prison pay review body said there was a “crisis” in the recruitment and retention of staff affecting the “stability” of jails.
Figures showed the number of officers in the main bands three to five down 300 in a year, to 21,725, with one in seven quitting in the year to June. At the same time, the prison population rose by 2,364 to 80,726.
A prison union source said the staffing problems were particularly acute at Woodhill because of its location in Milton Keynes, an “employment rich” area.
“The prison is having to compete against police and local factories and employers for staff. Any of the recruits can get a better wage elsewhere.
“How can they compete when the alternative is being spat at by prisoners and working weekends,” said the source.
A prison service spokesman said: “We are boosting staff at HMP Woodhill and have just increased pay with an extra £3,000 for some of the lowest paid, helping us reward and retain hardworking prison officers.”