Warren Hill Prison's Christmas spend condemned by POA

Warren Hill young offenders prison, Suffolk
Image caption Warren Hill contains about 135 prisoners, the Ministry of Justice said

A Suffolk young offenders institute has been condemned for spending about six times as much money last year on Christmas as other prisons in the east of England.

Warren Hill in Hollesley spent about £9.50 per prisoner to celebrate Christmas in 2011, compared with an average of about £1.58 at 12 other jails, a Freedom of Information request by the BBC revealed.

Dean Acaster from the POA, formerly known as the Prison Officers' Association, questioned whether it was a good use of money while the prison service faced budget cuts and staff reductions to "dangerously low levels".

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said any expenditure came from existing budgets.

The figures were revealed by the MoJ after it responded to the Freedom of Information (FOI) request into 18 prisons in Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire.

The FOI document states Warren Hill, a young offenders institute that caters for 15 to 18-year-olds, spent £544.80 on Christmas decorations, including trees, for the chapel and residential wings of the prison last year.

'Classed as criminals'

The prison previously spent £336.48 and £70.49 on decorations in 2009 and 2010.

The cost of additional phone credit for prisoners during Christmas rose from £230 to £585 between 2010 and 2011 - the equivalent of £5 spent on each young person compared with £2 the previous year.

Christmas stationery cost for the chaplaincy, which included producing posters and paper folders for religious services, also increased from £35.50 in 2009 to £105.55 in 2011.

Mr Acaster from the POA said Warren Hill's Christmas expenditure "flies in the face of any degree of punishment issued".

"We should not be paying extra money to make prisoners feel more comfortable," he said.

"The question needs to be asked, when faced with budget cuts, is it a good use of money?

"Prison staff are being cut to dangerously low levels and we're seeing a slashing back of [prison] regimes.

"I don't know if victims of the crimes would be happy - children or not they're still classed as criminals."

An MoJ spokesperson said: "HMYOI Warren Hill used its existing prison budget to provide Christmas decorations, phone credit and religious and faith services.

"Each young offender received a £5 PIN phone credit to enable family contact to be maintained through the Christmas period."

Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, said: "We should remember that the prisoners in Warren Hill are still children.

"Yes, they are children who have committed serious offences, some of which are very serious indeed.

"I think it is right that each governor chooses how to use its budget according to the best running of their individual prison.

"I recently revisited the prison to see a new rugby scheme and met the governor who has been in place quite a short time.

"From what I observed, I was impressed by her professionalism and determination to keep good order and encourage these young people not to reoffend."

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