PRISON officer numbers at HMP Thorn Cross and HMP Risley have dropped significantly, with union fears it will ‘put the community at risk’.

According to figures released by charity the Howard League for Penal Reform, officers at Thorn Cross open prison have dropped from 100 to 60, in the last three years.

At Risley, officer numbers have dropped from 283 to 220.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The prison system is at breaking point.

“Everyone should be concerned at the crisis in prisons as when people come out of jail they are more likely to inflict more crime on us.”

The ‘misleading’ figures have been disputed by the Ministry of Justice.

It said staffing levels have been agreed with unions to ensure prisons are ‘safe, efficient and decent’, and the quality of service has not been reduced.

The Prison Officers’ Association said frontline staff numbers are inadequate, jeopardising safety and preventing rehabilitation, making re-offending more likely.

A spokesman said: “We have warned the Moj the reduction of staff is resulting in more violence, more drugs, and more serious incidents of self-harm against prisoners.

“As a result, local communities will be put at risk, and the problems will continue as frontline staff are taken away from a service that operates 365 days a year.”

According to Moj figures, there are currently 325 prisoners at Thorn Cross, from a capacity of 331, compared to 322, three years ago.

There are 1,083 prisoners at Riley, from a capacity of 1,095, compared to 1,050, three years ago.

Warrington North MP Helen Jones said cuts were leaving prisons ‘overstretched’ in what is a ‘very difficult job’.

“(Cuts) are also leading to workshops being closed and wings being shut down,” she said.

“Prison officers need the right level of staff to do their job.

“The government is failing on all counts. It's making it much harder for prisoner officers.”

As revealed in the Warrington Guardian, the number of inmates absconding from Thorn Cross, in Appleton Thorn, has risen.

One has absconded every week in the last two years.

Warrington South MP David Mowat said he was monitoring the situation, in light of fewer frontline staff.

He said: “The level of absconding prisoners from Thorn Cross has remained broadly stable although it is still too high.

“I am continuing to work on this with prison governor and prisons minister and I will continue to keep local residents informed.”