Former prison inmate opens up about time at Hollesley Bay

Jason Shifrin outside Wormwood Scrubs

Jason Shifrin outside Wormwood Scrubs, where he served eight months before being transferred to Hollesley Bay in June 2019 - Credit: Jason Shifrin

A former Hollesley Bay inmate has opened up about the two years he spent at the Suffolk jail – and accused the government of putting public perception before the interests of justice.

Jason Shifrin spoke out after figures revealed the rate of inmates absconding from the open prison more than doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 51-year-old, now living in Hertfordshire, served eight months at Wormwood Scrubs and two years at Hollesley Bay – from June 2019 to June 2021 – for a jewellery investment scam.

Mr Shifrin argued that open prisons like Hollesley Bay had become "filtering prisons" to help reduce the population in closed conditions.

The government responded by denying the accusation and saying it was committed to helping prisoners gain skills vital to their rehabilitation.

Mr Shifrin worked as a peer-support 'listener' at the prison and said many inmates arriving from higher security jails were daunted by the freedom of open conditions, which he believes should be reserved for long term-prisoners and 'lifers'.

Jason Shifrin outside Wormwood Scrubs

Jason Shifrin was sentenced to five years and four months for a jewellery investment scam in 2018 - Credit: Jason Shifrin

 "If I was running one, I'd want to see that inmates had been rehabilitated for the offence they committed," he added. 

"In my two years there, my case was never discussed.

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"Long-term prisoners need the chance to get to open conditions, so they can learn to reintegrate. 

"They should be given an opportunity to earn money so they have something to come out with – and the job should be something with long term plan."

A former inmate has spoken out over security and drugs issues at Hollesley Bay, Suffolk Picture: SAR

The Prison Service said Hollesley Bay had been recognised for its commitment to prisoner employability and had dedicated staff to establish links with local employers - Credit: Archant

During his time at Hollesley Bay, Mr Shifrin managed to secure work as front of house manager at a local venue.

He believes the Prison Service should work closer with the community on ensuring inmates find appropriate employment ahead of release.

His comments followed a Guardian article last month, in which the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers said it had contacted the prison in an effort to try to stem a recruitment crisis.

However, it was told there was such a big demand for inmates that “we’ve reached our quota and we are not allowed to let any more out to go to work”.

No cases of coronavirus have been recorded at Hollesley Bay prison, near Woodbridge. Picture: ARCHAN

The Prison Service said new arrivals can express preferences for gaining employment or undertaking vocational training or educational courses

Mr Shifrin said: "Rewarding good behaviour is so important. There are so many ways to do this.

"The Prison Service is so concerned about public perception that it's having a detrimental effect.

"For example, why not allow inmates to have mobile phones? It's 2021.

"They are so important to keep family ties and the police have the capability to listen to calls, so they can’t use that as a reason not to allow them.

"And once you get released from prison, there is no help from anyone. 

"Getting work is very hard. I had a fantastic job while I was in Hollesley Bay. However, the prison never gave me any back-up.

"I was shown zero respect for what I achieved, but, more importantly, the prison never went and engaged with my place of work to ask if they needed help or guidance with having me working there. 

"If the prison service really wants to help inmates then they need to work with the local community. 

"I'm not looking to slag off the prison system. I'm looking to change the mentality. I know there are officers who also want to see change."

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “We are committed to helping prisoners gain valuable skills and experience, which is vital to their rehabilitation and cutting crime.

“HMP Hollesley Bay has been recognised for its commitment to prisoner employability and has dedicated staff to establish links with local employers and increase job opportunities.”

The Independent Monitoring Board praised HMP Hollesley Bay in a 2020 report for an increased emphasis placed on prisoner employability.

The Prison Service said new arrivals undertake an assessment, during which they can express preferences for gaining employment or undertaking vocational training or educational courses. 

When a prisoner has 12 weeks remaining on their sentence, their offender supervisor holds multi-agency meetings to ensure support upon release, the Prison Service said.

The government has said its Sentencing White Paper sets out an ambition to increase employment opportunities for people leaving prison. 

It said open prisons were not used to reduce numbers in closed conditions.

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