New boss defends prison's record

THE new governor of a Suffolk prison yesterday stressed that it was still rare for an inmate to abscond.This week 60-year-old James Yardley, serving six-and-a-half years for false imprisonment, left Hollesley Bay open prison, near Woodbridge.

THE new governor of a Suffolk prison yesterday stressed that it was still rare for an inmate to abscond.

This week 60-year-old James Yardley, serving six-and-a-half years for false imprisonment, left Hollesley Bay open prison, near Woodbridge.

Michael Wood, the governor, revealed in the last 12 months there had only been 11 absconds from the open prison and this was better than forecast.

There have been more than 7,000 occasions when inmates aged 18 and upwards have left the prison on temporary release to undertake a variety of jobs in the community.

Mr Wood said 99.9% of the time the prisoners had returned to the jail without any problems. ''I think that is an excellent rate and I am incredibly proud of it. I have looked at the quality of risk assessments and they are of excellent quality. When you look at the throughput of prisoners, the number of absconds is quite low and this is because we have a robust risk assessment process.

''That risk assessment is continual. While they are with us they become eligible for community visits and paid work and we continually monitor the risk assessment,'' said Mr Wood.

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Mr Wood, 50, has spent 29 years in the Prison Service and he has served mainly at prisons in East Anglia. This is his first job as governor – he was deputy governor at Norwich Prison – and he said he had inherited a well-run prison. The previous governor, Mel Jones, left to become manager at the Haslar immigration detention centre at Gosport, Hampshire.

Last month the national prison dog unit visited Hollesley and found a ''very minimal'' amount of drugs. The prison also shares drugs dogs with neighbouring Warren Hill closed prison for juveniles, and operates a mandatory drug testing programme.

Every month at least 10% of the population of the Category D open prison are randomly tested for drugs. About 11% of those test positive for drugs. There is also a drugs counselling service and some prisoners go on a voluntary testing scheme.

Hollesley now has a capacity of 329 prisoners after units for 80 more inmates were opened last year. The unit for prisoners on life sentences nearing the end of their sentences has had the capacity increased by four.

Mr Wood is awaiting the results of a national review of Prison Service farms and he said he was hopeful Hollesley would retain the dairy, vegetable packing shop and salad produce.

He wants to improve the education service for inmates to give them a better chance of obtaining work when they are released. An accreditated qualification in painting and decorating is being introduced.

Mr Wood said: ''I want to have a prison that I, the Prison Service and the community can be proud of. I want to have a safe working and living environment for everybody here, prisoners and staff, and a constructive regime for prisoners to be rehabilitated and resettled.

''We have little or no assaults, prisoner on prisoner or prisoner on staff, and since I have been here there have been no assaults on staff.''

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