Former prison staff will be drafted in as reserve workers to cover staff shortages in jails partly caused by improvements in the job market, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said amid warnings of overcrowding.
Mr Grayling denied there was an “overcrowding crisis” but admitted some prisons are experiencing staff shortages, partly blaming the shortfall on an increase in the number of other jobs available.
He was responding to an urgent question from shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan who warned that jails have “unsafe warehouses” where prisoners are not working or going on courses due to staff shortages.
The Justice Secretary announced the creation of a reserve pool of staff made up of ex-prison workers.
He said: “I am also taking steps to address what I believe is a weakness in our prison system – that we have no access to the kind of temporary or agency staff that you find as a matter of routine in our health and education systems.
“So I am establishing a reserve capability among former staff to give us the flexibility to adapt to short-term changes of population by bringing reserve capacity into operation.
He said the Government has closed 18 prisons and cut 6,000 staff since coming into power in 2010 but the prison population has stayed at roughly the same level.
But Mr Khan derided the Justice Secretary for his “complacency” and accused him of keeping MPs in the dark about the costs rehiring prison staff who were previously made redundant.
He added: “Over the last five months, 600 emergency places have been bought from G4S, Serco and Sodexo, at what cost we don’t know. Prison staff who were made redundant and paid off are now being paid to return to work due to the chronic shortage of staff, at what cost we don’t know.”