Confidence plea made for prison

A leading councillor has called on the company in charge of HMP Northumberland to improve confidence, after a disturbance at the prison led to heightened safety fears.

In last week’s Gazette, we reported that workers at the Acklington site, as well as politicians and union bosses, had expressed grave misgivings about employee levels .

It came on the back of a reported stand-off at the unit on Friday, March 28, when around 50 prisoners refused to return to their cells in one wing of the Category C prison.

The incident has increased concerns about security at the site, following an announcement that up to 200 jobs could go once Sodexo Justice Services took control in December .

And at Monday night’s East Chevington Parish Council meeting, chairman Coun Scott Dickinson urged Sodexo to give reassurances about the current situation at the site.

He said: “Northumberland County Council has launched a scrutiny group to go in, look at what happened and see why it happened and investigate whether it was related to staffing numbers.

“We have council staff that work there, running the library and such like, and we need to make sure that they are safe as well as the other people in there.

“We are requesting that the private company that runs the prison to improve confidence in the current situation.”

The prison is in the Druridge Bay ward of Coun Dickinson, and he added: “We have been concerned about staffing reductions in terms of what that impact on any kind of safety and increase the threat of escape.”

In last week’s paper, one prison officer, who did not want to be named, told the Gazette that there have been a number of incidents recently, including rooftop protests and attempted escapes.

He described the current situation as a ‘powder keg waiting for the spark’.

Another employee, who also wanted to remain anonymous, believed that the reason the incident happened was because of staffing levels and said it was getting dangerous.

A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said that it was carrying out an investigation into the disturbance and that safety and security of prisoners, staff and visitors was a priority.

He added that staffing levels are being monitored at HMP Northumberland.