Police commissioner fumes over prison closure decision

Western Gazette

Dorset's police and crime commissioner has blasted the decision to close a west Dorset prison.


The Ministry of Justice has announced HMP Dorchester will close by December, affecting 157 employees.


The process to close the Victorian jail started on Wednesday, following the announcement by the Ministry of Justice.


This week PCC Martyn Underhill said he was "disappointed and dismayed" at the decision.


He said: "Only six weeks ago, we welcomed the decision to designate HMP Dorchester as a resettlement prison for the county's offenders. It would have allowed us to support the rehabilitation of offenders back into the local community and to reduce incidents of reoffending. I am concerned that this decision will have a negative impact on the county's ability to proactively work with partners to rehabilitate offenders. It will also impact on future opportunities in restorative justice."


Mr Underhill added that he will write to Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and is set to lobby the government for clarity around future resettlement arrangements for Dorset.


Oliver Letwin, MP for West Dorset, said: "There is clearly a need to think very carefully about the future configuration of prisons in the South West, but it is good news that crime is falling and that - as a result - the prison population is not rising in the way that was once feared. Inevitably, this means that very old prisons, like Dorchester, were bound to face closure as the prison building programme proceeds. "However, I have spoken to the Justice Secretary and obtained an assurance that compulsory redundancies will be avoided and that there will be jobs in the Prison Service elsewhere for those that wish to take them."


The prison is one of four in the country being closed.


The Ministry of Justice statement said that everything would be done to avoid compulsory redundancies and the intention was for all staff to be redeployed to alternative roles in the prison estate or, if necessary, offered the opportunity to leave on voluntary terms. Offenders housed at Dorchester will be moved to other suitable prison accommodation.