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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Barracks will become open prison
Connaught Barracks
The military moved out of Connaught Barracks in April
A disused army barracks in Dover is to be converted into an open prison, the Home Office has confirmed.

Inmates sent to Connaught Barracks will be risk assessed to ensure they are suitable for an open prison while no sex offenders will be sent there.

Dover District Council was told on Wednesday by Prison Service officials that the proposal was being considered.

It reacted with fury and said it would consider legal action. Residents are holding a public meeting in protest.

The Kent barracks has been largely empty since the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment pulled out of the town in April.

It is really not sensible to put it on the edge of the country geographically in an area where there are already open prisons
Howard League for Penal Reform

The Home Office said in a statement that the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) was in talks with the council to use the premises following agreement in principle by the Ministry of Defence.

"The new open prison will house around 200 prisoners initially," said a spokesman.

"It is anticipated that prisoners will be arriving towards the end of the year."

The spokesman said the open prison would be in use for about five years and would be run by prison staff, some of whom would have to be specially recruited.

"The accommodation at Connaught has been identified as suitable for conversion to prison use," said the spokesman.

"The premises are already secure and a planning application for change of use is not required."

Councillor Paul Watkins
Councillor Paul Watkins said the council would oppose the plans

Inmates are sent to open prisons to help their resettlement into the community. They are not locked up during the day and are allowed into the local community on temporary licence.

Kent already has two of the 15 open prisons in England and Wales - Standford Hill, in Sheerness, and Blantyre House, in Goudhurst.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said it did not believe Dover was the right location.

"It is really not sensible to put it on the edge of the country geographically in an area where there are already open prisons," said Kent-based chairman Dick Whitfield.

The leader of Dover District Council, Paul Watkins, said on Wednesday he was "outraged" that the Home Office had not consulted local people.

The council has called for a meeting with Home Secretary Dr Reid and said it believed the Home Office should have declared its intention within 40 days of the site becoming available.

Mr Watkins said the barracks, near local schools and housing, was unsuitable.

It was a site of national importance opposite Dover Castle and important for the regeneration and housing needs of the district, he added.

The Home Office said the extra prison spaces provided by the barracks would relieve pressure on jails while it looked at other options to expand the prison estate.


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