Demand for action following claims that teenagers are passing drugs into Ford Prison
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has written to Gerry Sutcliffe, the Minister for Prisons, demanding an investigation into claims that teenagers are being used to traffic drugs into Ford Prison.
Mr Herbert was alerted to the issue at a meeting organised by the Prison Officers Association in the House of Commons last month, at which officers from Ford reported that children as young as 15 were being used to pass drugs into the prison.
The officers claimed that the police and the CPS were unsupportive when prison staff apprehended traffickers, who often only received a caution for the offence. They also raised concerns about the transfer of unsuitable offenders to the open prison and the inadequacy of the prison's regime to deal with them.
In his letter, which he sent ahead of the Minister's forthcoming visit to the prison, Mr Herbert makes clear that he has no means to judge the accuracy of the claims, but asks that they should be investigated. He said: "The allegation that children are being used to traffic drugs into the prison is of particular concern and, if true, demands action."
Sussex Police have since admitted that a 15-year old was arrested, but said that the suspect was bailed, not cautioned. A spokesman denied that the Force was unsupportive of prison officers, saying that "Sussex Police do work closely with staff at Ford Open Prison and have assisted with suspects taking drugs into the prison."
Mr Herbert also repeats his concern that he was misled by Fiona Radford, the Prison Governor, over the escape of foreign national prisoners from the prison last May and calls on the Minister "to look into the matter again". He asked the Minister to "consider meeting prison officers separately so that they can set out their concerns directly to you, without the restraint of their managers being present", adding: "I regret that my experience is that a pleasant tour and conversation with the Governor will not permit real scrutiny of the prison regime which the situation demands."
The MP criticises the Minister for the "evasive response" to his request for information on those prisoners who have escaped from Ford in the past 12 months and for details of the crimes they had committed and the sentences they were serving. The Minister refused to confirm whether the prisoners were still at large, despite having previously provided such information in the past. At the Commons meeting, prison officers claimed that 52 prisoners had so far absconded from Ford in 2006/07, but 14 had failed to return.
Nick Herbert concludes: "Public confidence in the prison will not be re-built unless accurate and full information is provided about what is happening in it; nor will there be any real incentive to improve matters if managers believe that these matters can be swept under the carpet or requests for information about the performance of the prison can be refused."
The MP and Arun councillors have been asked to join the Minister on his visit to the prison later this month.
Notes for Editors
1. A report in today's Argus confirming the arrest of a 15-year old outside Ford Prison, which includes a response from the Governor, Sussex Police and the Chairman of Ford Prison's Independent Monitoring Board, can be found at http://www.theargus.co.uk/display.var.1254101.0.boy_15_suspected_of_drug_smuggling_attempt_at_open_prison.php