GLOUCESTER Prison will close its doors for the final time at the end of March – with its 200 staff now facing redundancy.
After 222 years serving the city, the Ministry of Justice said it costs too much to run and hasn't ruled out compulsory redundancies among the 200 staff.
It is one of six jails which will close, along with parts of three others, to save £63million a year.
Instead, a new prison for more 2,000 inmates is planned for London, the north west or north Wales. Another four new mini-prisons will hold 1,260.
By the end of the financial year – March 2013 – all staff and up to 321 inmates will be gone. The sudden announcement did not surprise many in the city, after a series of critical inspection reports.
"Change sooner or later was inevitable," said Gloucester MP Richard Graham. "This gives us clarity. We can now get on with considering how the site can be best used to provide jobs and benefit the regeneration of the city centre."
Already it's been suggested the property, part of which is Grade II Listed, could be converted for use as flats or offices, but there is more immediate concern for jobs. An MoJ spokesman could not rule out compulsory redundancies.
"We do everything we possibly can to avoid compulsory redundancies by redeploying staff and using the voluntary early departure scheme," he said.
Mr Graham said he will work with Governor Chantel King, who was not available to comment yesterday, to meet staff next week.
Prisoners will be sent to other jails.
Gloucestershire Probation Trust boss John Bensted was surprised at the speed of the closure and said: "This is sad news for all staff at HMP Gloucester and for the city and county as a whole. We have a very strong team of probation staff in HMP Gloucester and have established very close working relationships with the governor and many of her staff. It is also disappointing as we were looking forward to working with the Governor to develop it as a community prison."
An ex-con, who did not wish to be identified, said he was glad it would close.
"We need prisons," said the man, who spent eight months on remand. "But when they are in that state, they are not doing anyone a favour, prisoners nor staff."
Retired Citizen crime reporter Dennis Apperly, who visited it many times during his career, welcomed the news too.
"It is well past its sell-by-date. It has a grim history of overcrowding and quite unacceptable living conditions. The place for a prison is not in a city centre."
The Government said the cost of holding a prisoner in an older prison is often more than double than in a new one.