JAIL officials have denied claims that Ford Open Prison is suffering from a staffing crisis but conceded that drug abuse was ‘a problem’.
An insider at the Category D open facility claimed night patrols were worse now than in 2011 when the prison suffered from large-scale rioting that caused £5million in damage.
The source also claimed sex offenders were being held at the jail – something which the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says is ‘completely untrue’.
The insider, whose identity is being withheld by the Gazette, claimed staff were ‘fatigued’ and ‘working too many long hours’ and said: “The staffing level here is even worse than it was when the riot happened. They have been cut down so much. It’s a lot worse than before.
“There’s a total of six staff in the prison at nights, sometimes less. There’s three officers and three night patrols for 500 prisoners.
“We wouldn’t stand a chance in stopping something if it kicked off. Not that we could have done when the riot happened but it’s a lot worse now.”
“In Ford, when upwards of 100 men go out on temporary licence every day, it is absolutely impossible to prevent drugs from being brought in.”Andrew Isaac, chairman of Ford’s Independent Monitoring Board
However, the MoJ has categorically denied the claims. A spokesman said: “These allegations are completely untrue. Staffing levels over night have not fallen and HMP Ford does not have any prisoners serving a sentence for sex offences.”
Likewise, Andrew Isaac, the chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) which oversees standards at Ford, also denied the allegations.
He said: “You will know only too well that ‘sources’ usually have an axe to grind.
“No prison can be staffed in the expectation of unrest. All prisons rely on the co-operation of their residents for the regime to run properly.
“Although more staff at any time of the day or night would be very welcome, it is not the view of the IMB that the level of staffing at night at Ford is inadequate.”
He added the source was ‘misinformed’ about sex offenders at the jail, as Ford had no specialist facilities to deal with such offenders.
The insider also alleged that Ford had a problem with inmates taking drugs.
The whistleblower said some prisoners would collect parcels of drugs from Ford Railway Station or within the prison’s grounds. Prisoner’s used hidden mobile phones to contact friends outside the jails, who would then drop off the contraband, the source alleged.
“There’s no control over it, It’s a big problem.”
The source said ‘spice’ - a ‘legal high’ – was becoming increasingly prevalent in the jail with more inmates using it. He added that, due to low staffing levels, mandatory drug checks were not always taking place.
Mr Issac agreed drugs were an issue at the jail.
“Drugs are a problem throughout the prison estate,” he said. “In Ford, when upwards of 100 men go out on temporary licence every day, it is absolutely impossible to prevent drugs from being brought in.
“Those returning to the prison are searched randomly, but the numbers coming in and staffing levels simply don’t allow for everyone to be searched. And even if there was more searching, the nature of the 110-acre site makes it impossible to prevent drugs coming in.”
Mr Issac added a lot of effort went into telling inmates of ‘the evils of drugs and alcohol’ and that prison officers would make an immediate search if they had intelligence drugs were in a particular place.
“If an offender is caught in possession of drugs, he is sent straight back to a closed prison, and does not get another chance to come to open conditions again. He loses a lot,” Mr Issac said.