Treat our community with respect, say Pucklechurch residents angry over Ashfield prison plans
2:28pm Tuesday 15th January 2013 in News By Alexandra Womack, senior reporter covering Yate, Chipping Sodbury, Winterbourne, Frampton Cotterell, Rangeworthy, Wickwar, Hawkesbury, Iron Acton, Coalpit Heath and Old Sodbury
THE government is not treating the people of Pucklechurch with any respect, claim local people upset over a decision to turn a young offenders’ institution into an adult jail.
The government has announced plans to make HMYOI Ashfield, which opened in the village in 1999 with a capacity for 400 15 to 18-year-olds, a low security jail for adult men as part of wider plans to cut running costs by closing six jails and creating one super jail.
Westminster said there had been a national decrease in the number of young people in custody and the change in age group would help secure Ashfield's future. It would mean turning the facility into a Category C prison, the second lowest security jail for people who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who are unlikely to try to escape.
But the decision, announced on January 10, was made without any consultation with local people.
Pucklechurch Parish Council chairman Cllr Bob Symons told the Gazette he had received no notification from government.
"We have been reassured by the director of Ashfield that the parish council will be involved in any consultation," said Cllr Symons.
Fellow councillor Martin Smith, who runs the Pucklechurch community website, said: "A number of residents are upset that there was absolutely no consultation.
"They are not treating the community with any respect. If they are going to have a Category C prison you would think they would want to try and get the community’s support."
Boyd Valley councillors Steve Reade and Ben Stokes, have written to the National Offender Management Service, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice, asking for more information on the proposals.
In a statement, they said: "We are very concerned about the manner in which this announcement has been made and whether this is a proposal that is subject to change or a decision that we're all simply being informed of.
"We have written to the National Offender Management Service to ask that an opportunity be provided for people to find out more how this change will affect Ashfield, its staff and the surrounding community."
Thornbury and Yate MP Steve Webb said: "I understand the argument that falling numbers of young offenders means things have to change, and that this may be the best way to keep Ashfield open, but it is still a very big change both for those who work there and for the local community.
"This has not been well handled, with leaks and rumours and a lack of clear information."
Mr Webb said he was pressing for talks with Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling and hoped to organise a meeting with local people and government representatives as soon as possible.
Inmates at Ashfield receive a minimum of 25 hours of education each week. But as an adult prison, fewer staff will be needed and there are fears for widespread job losses.
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