Confidential document reveals plans to build Category C Prison at Ford

9 October 2006

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has expressed concern after a leaked confidential document revealed that the Governor of Ford Prison, Fiona Radford, has offered Ford Prison as the possible location for a Category C prison.

The plans, which were outlined in a memo from the Governor to prison staff on 3 August, come at a time when the prison population has reached record levels, with less than 200 spaces left across the whole of the prison estate.

Ford, which is a Category D or "open" prison, currently houses around 500 prisoners who are deemed to be low risk.  In contrast, the leaked plans could see the prison holding Category C prisoners "who cannot be trusted in open conditions" and who can include prisoners sentenced to up to 7 years for a violent or sex offence.

The Governor's plans follow repeated security lapses at the prison.  On Friday 26 May, after a string of escapes, 141 foreign national prisoners at the prison were transferred from Ford to closed institutions. It is now clear that such prisoners are being returned to Ford

Under questioning by Nick Herbert in the House of Commons in June, the Government was forced to admit that 61 prisoners had escaped from the prison since the beginning of the year alone.  More recent statistics have revealed the true extent of prisoner escapes, with 496 prisoners - or nearly 100 a year - having escaped from Ford since 2001.

Nick Herbert and local councillors have also expressed concern that plans to give part of the Ford site over to a Category C prison go against a formal agreement between the Governor of Ford Prison and Arun District Council.

The agreement, signed in December 2003, and due to expire in January 2007, states that there should be no more than 200 prisoners serving life sentences for violence, or any serving sentences for sex or arson offences at Ford.

Mr Herbert is particularly concerned that the Governor made no mention of her plan when she met Arun District Council on 20 September, even though one of the specific purposes of the meeting was to discuss the arrangement.

The document also concedes that the Government's decision to transfer Category C prisoners to open prisons such as Ford to alleviate prison overcrowding "will mean almost inevitably that the abscond rate will go up in Category D [open] prisons".  The document adds that "Ministers have apparently been briefed to this effect and are taking this risk".

Commenting on the leaked document, Nick Herbert MP said: "Local people will be alarmed to learn of these plans.  It is worrying enough that the Governor has admitted that unsuitable prisoners are being transferred back to prison and that this will mean more escapes.  It will add to concern that the Governor is actually volunteering to build more prison places at Ford when it has such a dreadful record of security.

"We do need more prisons in the country, as the current crisis shows, but it is quite wrong to propose building one on a site where there is a long-standing formal agreement with the local community not to do so.  It is also appalling that the Governor did not mention the plans when she met the Council last month.  Just like the plans for local hospital closures, they are being hatched behind the backs of the public and away from public scrutiny."

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