Page last updated at 23:44 GMT, Wednesday, 6 May 2009 00:44 UK

Alcohol smuggling at open jail

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Ford Prison's sign by an ordinary fence
Open prison: Limited security

An official watchdog has criticised Ford Open Prison after finding inmates left the site to smuggle in alcohol during the night.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Dame Anne Owers said inmates could leave or re-enter Ford in West Sussex with ease.

She said that the jail was under-performing on its key task of resettling its 550 offenders.

Open prisons like Ford have low-level security because their inmates are thought least likely to re-offend.

In her report, Dame Anne said that inspectors found that during their October 2008 visit that none of the concerns raised in her previous 2005 report had been addressed.

Previous inspections had criticised the jail's physical environment, poor relationships between staff and inmates and an "inadequate" focus on resettlement.

These weaknesses remained, she said, and none of the main recommendations on resettlement had been met.

557 capacity
Category D male prison
Focuses on resettlement
Former Fleet Air Arm station
Converted 1960
Mixture of huts and landings

Dame Anne said that at night there were only two officers and four support staff to monitor Ford's 100 acre site and perimeter.

"The prison's extensive perimeter made night supervision extremely difficult, without additional staffing," said Dame Anne.

"This contributed to the smuggling in of alcohol, especially at night, which had become a significant problem and contributed to some prisoners' feelings of insecurity.

"Nevertheless, most prisoners reported feeling safe, and both anti-bullying and suicide prevention procedures were good."

After the 2008 Easter weekend, staff found 30 bottles of vodka.

Inspectors said that "large amounts" of alcohol were not uncommon.

In the week before the inspection, Dame Anne said five unidentified masked prisoners had attacked another inmate. On another occasion, two prisoners were so drunk they became violent and officers had to move them forcibly to segregation cells.

The report said that inmates were also leaving the compound to bring in drugs and mobile phones.

The prison system is battling against mobiles in higher security jails because of their role in organising crime or drug shipments.

Better management

"It is disappointing that none of our main concerns had been properly addressed at the time of this follow-up inspection," said Dame Anne.

"Some of the areas of continuing weakness 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."

Prisons chief Phil Wheatley said the report had praised caring and committed staff - but he also recognised the concerns.

"It is for the new Governor and her staff at Ford to drive forward change at the prison," he said. "This will ensure that Ford continues its role of protecting the public and ensuring that prisoners do not re-offend on release."

But Geoff Dobson of the Prison Reform Trust said: "It is very disappointing that Ford has again been found wanting in its principal task, that of resettlement. There is an urgent need for a step change in performance at Ford."

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