Pucklechurch residents set up action group against government plan to turn Ashfield YOI into adult jail for sex offenders
AN action group has been set up in Pucklechurch amid growing concerns over plans to convert a young offenders’ institution into an adult prison for sex offenders.
Residents and councillors have joined forces in response to government proposals to close Ashfield Young Offenders' Institution and instead house hundreds of sex offenders. National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and Serco Group plc - the contractors who manage and operate Ashfield - are in negotiations over the changes which form part of a wider government overhaul of the country's prisons.
South Gloucestershire councillors Steve Reade and Ben Stokes (Con, Boyd Valley) said the action group was set up after a meeting wiht NOMS and Serco: "This latest meeting provided the opportunity for the community to come together to form this action group in order to try and influence the decisions being made by the National Offender Management Service in relation to the future of Ashfield.
"The next step is to encourage residents to write individual letters based on a suggested template as this is felt to be the most persuasive form of lobbying."
They added: "The Ashfield facility is an important local employer and so we want to ensure as much as possible that the changes are acceptable to the local community."
Ashfield currently has capacity to hold 400 young men aged between 15 and 18. Earlier this month the High Court ruled the facility had punished seven boys unlawfully after a protest over conditions on their wing.
The boys, who were aged 17 at the time and are now all 18, were kept in isolation after the incident. Five of them were subjected to an informal shadow segregation regime, known as ‘restriction on the wing’ which lacked any safeguards applicable to formal segregation procedures.
Judge Nicola Davies condemned the prison for its "wholly inadequate system" of disclosing case papers to solicitors and found that senior staff had a "woeful absence of knowledge" of their legal duties.
All seven claimants were represented by pressure group the Howard League for Penal Reform.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the group, said: "This judgment confirms what we have been saying for a long time, and what the government has now recognised – Ashfield is no place for a child.
"Ashfield is an unsafe establishment run for profit which has seen appalling levels of violence, with 1,039 assaults recorded last year, as well as excessive use of restraint. We are very pleased that it will no longer hold children."