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Full report: Changes to West Country prisons

It's been confirmed that Dorchester Prison is to close and discussions are underway to end the lease at Dartmoor Prison.

Elsewhere, Portland's Verne Prison will be turned into an immigration detention centre.

The former Victorian military barracks, transformed into a jail more than 60 years ago, will become a Home Office immigration unit housing people waiting to be removed from the UK.

Duncan Sleightholme reports:

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Response from Prisons Minister:

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 meeting the needs of the prison population, as well as wider Government needs, in the most efficient way so as to maximise value for the taxpayer.

We will do all we can to offer support and ensure the prison continues to operate safely and securely in the run-up to the change in role.”

– Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright.

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HMP The Verne to become immigration removal ctr

HMP The Verne on Portland. Credit: Chris Ison/PA

HMP The Verne on Portland is to close as a prison and be converted into an immigration removal centre.

It will provide around 600 additional places to hold immigration detainees awaiting removal from the country.

Earlier this year, a think-tank recommended five prisons close, including Verne, should close.

Prisons shake-up: Justice Secretary

Rehabilitation in the community must begin behind the prison walls and follow offenders out through the gates if we are to stand a chance of freeing them from a life of crime.

Currently a local area could expect to receive offenders from dozens of prisons across the country - this is hopeless.

It is little wonder we have such high reoffending rates when you have a prisoner leaving HMP Liverpool, given a travel permit to get them home to the south coast, and then expected to simply get on with it.

This approach is a significant step forwards in our reforms to tackle reoffending and lays the groundwork for building a genuine nationwide network of 'through the gate' supervision and support for all offenders."

– CHRIS GRAYLING MP, JUSTICE SECRETARY

Prisons shake-up plans are 'political'

While the Ministry of Justice focus on rehabilitation is welcome, today's announcement reflects the fact that these reforms are designed to meet political and ideological goals - not to improve public safety or deliver better value for the taxpayer.

The Government's efforts to ensure the vast majority of prisoners are released into their local area seem rooted in good intentions.

But attempting to shoehorn overcrowded jails into arbitrarily-drawn and oversized contract areas, simply to ease the privatisation process, will create serious problems unless we reduce the number of people our prisons are holding."

– Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns, Howard League for Penal Reform.

Prisons shake-up: Prison Reform Trust

Resettlement and rehabilitation do matter but until and unless you reserve prison for serious and violent offenders, you cannot hope to cut sky-high re-offending rates or maintain safe and decent regimes.

Given the pace and scale of change, ministers focused on developing the justice market could easily lose sight of the solutions that lie outside of prison bars in health, housing and employment."

– Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust.
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