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Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006, 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
Open jail moving foreign inmates
Ford open prison
More than 700 prisoners absconded from open jails in 2005
Foreign inmates at Ford open prison in Sussex are being returned to closed prisons after 11 absconded this month.

The Prison Service said the men's cases were being reviewed due to the "current high abscond level amongst this group".

It said no foreigners had absconded from other open prisons this month, and 257 foreign prisoners would remain in "open conditions" at other jails.

The 11 absconders are still at large and being searched for by police, the Home Office said.

Dozens of officers from Sussex Police were involved in the operation at the prison early on Friday morning.

Risk assessments

Nick Herbert, shadow minister for police reform and MP for Arundel and South Downs, where Ford Prison is located, said: "Public confidence in the penal system is severely undermined by this kind of mismanagement."

He also said: "It seems extraordinary that prisoners awaiting deportation, or who are likely to be deported, should be held in an open prison at all when they have little incentive to remain in custody.

They should have been moved to more secure surroundings far earlier
Nick Clegg, Lib Dem

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: "Foreign prisoners, who we had been assured were under lock and key, have simply taken matters into their own hands and walked off.

"Given the government's well-publicised drive to deport foreign prisoners, this state of affairs could surely have been predicted.

"They should have been moved to more secure surroundings far earlier."

A Prison Service spokesman said: "The operation follows a review carried out by senior Prison Service managers who have been carefully monitoring the situation at Ford for the past week.

"The prisoners are all being returned to closed conditions where they will be fully and rigorously risk-assessed before any decision is made on the level of security that they require."

The service added that the operation was not being repeated in any other open prison and there were no plans to do so.

"There has been no indication of a higher rate of absconds by foreign national prisoners at any other open prison," it said.

The situation was "under constant review," it added.

The announcement comes after the head of the Prison Service revealed earlier this week that about 700 prisoners in total - both foreign and UK citizens - absconded from open prisons last year.

Jamaican drug dealer Ransford James Baker, who was facing deportation, is among those who went missing from Ford.

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