Dorchester prison to close at end of the year
DORCHESTER Prison is closing at the end of the year.
The process to close the Victorian jail is starting immediately following the announcement by the government on Wednesday.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it was aiming to avoid compulsory redundancies at HMP Dorchester, which currently employs 157 people.
The prison is one of four being closed as part of the government's plan to modernise the prison service. The others are HMP Blundeston in Suffolk, HMP Northallerton in North Yorkshire and HMP Reading.
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Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the closures were part of a programme to replace old, inefficient places with newer, modern accommodation to help rehabilitate offenders and bring down stubbornly high reoffending rates.
He said the decision to close Dorchester followed concerns about the size of the site which had little scope for development and did not provide a suitable environment in which to deliver modern prison services.
Prisons minister Jeremy Wright said: "This decision was not taken lightly and is in no way a reflection of the hard work and commitment of staff, nor of the prison's performance.
"However, we cannot shy away from the fact that funds are limited and we need to make sure we are running prisons as efficiently as we can to maximise value for the taxpayer.
"This will clearly be a difficult time for everyone involved and we will do all we can to offer support and ensure the prison continues to operate safely and securely in the run-up to closure."
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.
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said he was disappointed and dismayed by the announcement.
He said: "I will be writing to the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to express my dismay at his decision and will be lobbying the government for clarity around future resettlement arrangements for Dorset in light of this decision."
He added: "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 which provides insight to offenders on the impact of their crime whilst giving control back to victims."
The Ministry of Justice stated that the closure of the four prisons and changes at three others including The Verne at Portland would save £30million from the overall prison budget.
New purpose-built prisons would be built including a 2,000 place jail in north Wales.
Dorchester's current capacity was set at 291 in May. In 2008, when it was awarded the Most Improved Prison award, its capacity was 252.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "We will always have enough prison places for those sent to us by the courts but at much lower cost and in the right places to help us cut reoffending rates."
Dorchester is a local men's prison serving Crown and magistrates' court in Dorset.