Governor pledges more information on Ford Prison following Minister's visit

26 March 2007

Prisons Minister Gerry Sutcliffe visited Ford Prison last week, prompting the Governor to promise that more information would be provided on prisoner escapes in future.

Ahead of the meeting, the Minister had written to Nick Herbert to say that information on prisoner escapes could not be provided because it was held in a number of different places and was too costly to prepare.

But during their visit, both the Minister and Nick Herbert saw for themselves that the information on absconds was collated and readily available in the Prison's security office.

While the Governor claimed that absconds were falling, a blackboard on the office wall recorded the fact that there had already been 12 absconds in March alone.

At a meeting at the Prison, Mr Herbert told the Prison Governor and the Minister that transparency was essential and that proper information had to be provided.  He repeated his view that public confidence in the Prison would not be re-built until this happened.

The Governor, Fiona Radford, offered to produce a quarterly report for the MP and the Council.  This was welcomed and it was agreed that Mr Herbert and the Council would discuss what information they thought was necessary.

Arun District councillors also met with the Minister and set out their concerns about the lack of information on the proposed siting of a category C prison at Ford.

Councillor Roger Elkins, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, was joined by Cllr Paul Dendle (Arundel), Cllr Richard Taft (Yapton) and Colin Rogers, Arun Council's Services Director.

The Minister repeated that were no current plans to build a Category C Prison at Ford, and pledged that the Council and Nick Herbert would be the first to know if this changed.

The Minister arrived by train with three officials and stayed for two hours at the Prison.  During their tour, both he and Nick Herbert met prison officers and prisoners themselves to find out what was happening.

Prisoners told the Minister that there had been a significant change within the last two years, with overcrowding in closed prisons leading to more short-term "unsuitable" offenders being moved to the prison who were disruptive, brought in drugs problems and were at higher risk of absconding.

This information tallied with the Governor's own warning, in a leaked memo last year, that unsuitable prisoners, "some who should really be in Category C conditions", could be moved to Ford who would be at greater risk of absconding.

However, it appears that officials may have taken heed, with the prison operating at around 100 places below capacity.

The Minister and Mr Herbert had a private meeting with Ford's representative of the Prison Officers Association to hear more about their concerns, particularly on the issue of drugs trafficking.

Afterwards, Nick Herbert commented: "I was extremely disappointed by the Minister's letter and his refusal to provide the information I requested.  He has now seen for himself that the information is available.  There is no longer any excuse for not publishing it.

"I was grateful to the Minister for coming to visit the prison.  I hope that he is beginning to realise that there is a problem, particularly having heard it from the prisoners themselves."

Ends

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