GOVERNMENT cuts have led to fresh concerns being voiced over staffing levels at Ford Open Prison.
A year after the prison’s Independent Monitoring Board warned that reductions in the number of officers were ‘likely to have a serious effect on the efficient running of the prison’, the board’s latest annual report states that almost one in eight posts at Ford are vacant.
Board chairman Andrew Isaac, presenting his report to Justice Secretary Christopher Grayling, said: “As a result of MoJ (Ministry of Justice) cost-cutting in recent years, levels of staffing have been reduced. There are now staff shortages right across this establishment, as well as others.
“At the end of the reporting period, HMP Ford was still obliged to send staff to cover in other prisons while having to cope with 20 vacancies of its own in a total establishment workforce of 152. Efforts are being made to recruit, but this level of shortage had a significant impact on existing members of staff.”
However, Mr Isaac added that, despite the current staff shortages and the ‘relentless’ changes imposed on all prisons during the past year, the board felt that Ford had had a ‘satisfactory’ year.
These changes included revised rules for Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL), tightened up after ‘a small number of high-profile absconds from open prisons early in the reporting period’.
“Unfortunately this was done in a rush, before a new Prison Service Instruction had been fully evolved. As a consequence, the interpretation of the new rules was modified repeatedly, causing confusion and real difficulty for both offenders and staff.
“The board takes the view that ROTL is an integral part of the resettlement process and the intention behind the new rules, making temporary release more closely related to a prisoner’s resettlement plan, is sensible. Our concerns were about the way the changes were implemented,” Mr Isaac told the minister.
He welcomed the prospect of steps finally being taken to carry out some of the necessary work to improve prisoners’ accommodation in Ford’s B wing, part of the old Fleet Air Arm buildings dating back decades.
“The Works Department continued to battle with plumbing problems in the winter of 2013/14, when a few offenders were left with no heating or hot water, sometimes for 2-3 days at a time,” said the report.