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Women's prison in York to close
A WOMEN'S open prison near York is set to close as part of a shake-up of the way female offenders are treated.
HMP Askham Grange, at Askham Richard, will close "in due course" because the changes will mean there is no longer a requirement for dedicated women's open prisons, the Ministry of Justice has today announced.
HMP East Sutton Park in Kent will also shut, along with the mother and baby unit at HMP Holloway in North London. Female inmates will serve their sentences closer to home and will be offered skills to help find work on their release under the new reforms.
Low-risk offenders will be encouraged to undertake practical training so they can seek employment following their jail term.
The reforms, announced by Lord McNally, the minister for female offenders, will mean all women's prisons will become resettlement prisons so that women are close to home and are re-integrated into society.
York Outer MP Julian Sturdy said: “Whenever announcements like this are made, my first thoughts are always with the people who work there, and I am sure this will be a difficult time for those who have devoted years of their lives into making Askham Grange so successful at rehabilitating offenders.
"I spoke to the Minister, Lord McNally, and he informed me that at present there is no fixed timetable for closure. He did, however, assure me that there will not be any compulsory redundancies.”
City of York Council leader James Alexander said the impending closure of the prison was "disappointing", saying: "My concern lies with the 100 staff who work at the prison who are currently unsure of their future, and I will be contacting Lord McNally to discuss their future.
"The council will be working with the prison and partners to support staff with training and redeployment in light of this news.”
Askham Grange has space for 126 offenders and The Press reported in May how it had been described as "remarkable" by inspectors despite concerns about management turnover.
The prison kept its "high performance" status after being assessed by the Independent Monitoring Board, which said its reoffending rate of about six per cent of those who spent more than a year there was among the best in the country. Its healthcare, security, safety in custody measures and educational opportunities were praised, with the mother-and-baby facilities ranked as "excellent" and the regime classed as "supportive and caring".
Former prisoners include Tracie Andrews, jailed for life for stabbing her fiance Lee Harvey to death. In 2010, it was revealed she was let out from the prison to spend a day shopping and visiting restaurants in York. She had been serving the final part of her 14-year tariff at Askham Grange and was released in 2011.
The prison also housed Anne Darwin, who helped her husband John fake his death in a canoe accident so they could claim the insurance, and child killer Mary Bell. Askham Grange's prisoners were jailed for crimes including fraud, burglary, drugs, violence and murder.
The prison was originally built in 1886 as a country house for Sir Andrew Fairbairn, a Leeds factory owner, MP, soldier and philanthropist. It remained in his family until 1939 when Neville WF Wailes-Fairbairn, its then owner, was killed in a riding accident, and his widow handed the Grange to the Government. It became a women's prison in 1947.
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