Failures at Ford prison cause for real concern

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has commented on another damning report on Ford Prison, saying that it is failing to provide adequate security and is not preparing prisoners for the outside world.

The report, published today (7 May) by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons, follows an unannounced inspection of the prison in October.  It found that none of the concerns at the previous inspection in 2005 had been properly addressed and the prison was under-performing in its key resettlement role. 

Inspectors found that:

  • The accommodation was neither suitable nor always clean.
  • The extensive perimeter was not well supervised, particularly at night, and alcohol was being smuggled in.
  • Most prisoners nevertheless reported feeling safe and anti-bullying and suicide prevention procedures were good.
  • Most staff were caring and committed, but their efforts were undermined by those who remained negative and obstructive. Personal officer work was virtually non-existent. This required much more active management.
  • All prisoners could be engaged in activity, but the range of educational provision, and the amount of vocational training, needed to increase.
  • Resettlement remained weak. The resettlement strategy was not aligned to the needs of prisoners and was not fully implemented. Offender management was not effective and links were only beginning to be made with outside employers.

Nick Herbert commented: "Ford is failing in the prime purpose of open prisons, to prepare offenders for the outside world.  Less than half of inmates are in some form of education and resettlement programmes are weak.

"Security which was poor before has got even worse, with a huge rise in recorded breaches that will be a real concern to local residents.  Perimeter security appears so lax that inmates can come and go at night as they please and have the ability to smuggle alcohol and drugs into the prison at will."

Mr Herbert added: "Ford's problems are made worse by the Government's policy to transfer unsuitable offenders from overcrowded jails to open prisons.  Nevertheless, the new prison management needs to make big improvements on security and resettlement.

"In the four years that I have been an MP I have continually sought to draw attention to these problems which I regret the Government and others have either ignored or apologised for.  Such a damning report from the independent inspector cannot be dismissed or overlooked once again.  It is time for all concerned to recognise that this prison is not performing adequately, there is no excuse for it, and a concerted effort to secure improvements is long overdue."

Mr Herbert added that he would be writing to the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, to ask what action the Government intended to take to improve Ford's performance.

HMP Ford is a category ‘D' training establishment with an emphasis on resettlement.  A former Fleet Air Arm Station, it converted to an open prison in 1960 and currently houses more than 500 prisoners. 



Notes for Editors

1. The full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) website from 7 May 2009 at

2. On resettlement, Dame Anne Owers, HMIP Chief Inspector in her introduction to the report said: "It was particularly disappointing that resettlement, Ford's principal role, remained a weakness. None of the main recommendations in the previous report had been met. The resettlement strategy was not aligned to the assessed needs of prisoners, and not yet fully implemented" (p.5).

3. On education, the report confirms that only 204 prisoners were in some form of education (p.34) out of 541 inmates held at the time of the inspection.

4. On security, the report records that the number of identified breaches - known as security information reports (SIRs) - had increased from around 200 in 2007, to 1,079 since January 2008 (p.36).

5. The report also found that the lax perimeter security had allowed routine smuggling into the prison of contraband items: "As an open prison, Ford's perimeter security was not designed or intended to make it impossible for prisoners to abscond. However, the ease with which prisoners were able to leave and return undetected during the night was a significant concern .... the size of the site and low staffing level at night meant that it was relatively easy for prisoners to leave residential areas at night and return with alcohol and other contraband purchased locally or left on the edge of the perimeter by accomplices. After the Easter weekend in 2008, staff had found 30 bottles of vodka, and finds of large amounts of alcohol were not uncommon" (p.36).

6. The Inspector calls for better management to improve the regime at Ford and enhance security: "Some of the areas of continuing weakness identified in this report require an investment of resources or support from outside the prison. However, in most cases, what is needed is better management oversight and drive, and the engagement of all residential staff in the task of preparing prisoners for release" (p.5).

7. When compiling its reports, HMIP collects information from many sources, including prison staff, inmates, and visitors or others with an interest in the prison. Inspection findings are reported back to the prison's managers. Reports are published within 16 weeks of an inspection and the establishment is then expected to produce an action plan, based on the recommendations made within the report, within a short period following publication.