A PRISONS watchdog has withdrawn an assessment which reportedly described plans to close a women’s prison near York as “baffling”, after saying it should not yet have been published.

Reports this week claimed the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) had warned shutting Askham Grange open prison, part of Ministry of Justice reforms, was a “high-risk strategy” which may increase reoffending and would have a “detrimental” effect on families.

The national IMB has said the 2012/13 annual report for the prison was published by the local board “in error”, and it will be officially released at the start of February.

It has not been confirmed how the publication mistake happened or whether any amendments will now be made, with the original report unavailable to view on the IMB website.

Askham Grange has one of the lowest reoffending rates in the country and was last year ranked as “remarkable” by the IMB, retaining its high-performance status.

An online petition at the HM Government site calling for the prison, which can house 126 offenders, to remain open has been signed by more than 1,100 people amid claims cost-cutting is the prime factor for shutting it.

The Ministry of Justice has said the closure of Askham Grange and East Sutton Park women’s prison in Kent is not imminent, will not lead to any job losses and will allow female offenders to serve their sentences closer to home, with the IMB report being considered by ministers once it is formally submitted.