Reading Prison of Oscar Wilde fame closes early

image captionOscar Wilde was housed in Reading Gaol between 1895 and 1897

The last inmate has left Reading Prison as it closes a month early.

HMP Reading was to shut on 20 December under government plans to replace four prisons with a super-prison, but a spokesman said all 320 prisoners had now gone to other sites.

The Prison Service said it was aiming to avoid compulsory redundancies by redeploying staff or offering voluntary early departures.

The prison was the subject of the Oscar Wilde poem The Ballad Of Reading Gaol.

Marcus Piper, who was one of the last prisoners to be released, said: "I was in there for 19 months, it's quite upsetting. There's a good bunch of staff there,... they do a good job.

"I'm going to look for a job and sort my life out."

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said moving the inmates would cause more problems with new jails not ready for many years to come.

Tourist attraction

He added: "It's a recipe for disaster. These prisoners have been sent to already overcrowded jails.

"We are angry as it is a short-sighted approach to save money."

image captionFormer inmate Marcus Piper said staff at the prison had done a "good job"

He said about 160 peopled worked at Reading with the "vast majority" being redeployed.

The Prison Service said: "The closure of HMP Reading is part of a programme to replace old, inefficient places with newer, modern accommodation that provides better value for taxpayers while helping rehabilitate offenders and bring down our stubbornly high reoffending rates."

The Ministry of Justice said some prison officers would be left at the site to help with the "decommissioning process".

Acclaimed Irish writer Wilde was sentenced to two years' hard labour for gross indecency after his affair with Alfred Douglas was exposed in 1895.

The Oscar Wilde Society has called for the building to be preserved, possibly as a tourist attraction.

Since 1992 the Grade II-listed building has served as a remand centre and young offenders institution, holding prisoners between the ages of 18 and 21 years.

The government plans to replace 1,400 prison places in England and Wales with a £250m facility in Wrexham, which will hold more than 2,000 inmates.

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