STAFF at a women’s open prison near York have called for it to be saved from closure by launching an online petition.

HMP Askham Grange, at Askham Richard, will shut after the Ministry of Justice said dedicated prisons for female offenders were no longer needed and the move will allow inmates to serve their sentences closer to home.

The news came five months after inspectors described the jail, which has space for 162 offenders, as “remarkable”. Assurances have been made that no jobs will be lost, but the petition on the HM Government website – which yesterday had 858 signatures – said Askham Grange and HMP East Sutton Park, in Kent, should stay open as they were the only women’s prisons in the country. No closure date has been confirmed.

In a letter to The Press, “devastated” prison staff wrote: “We are a high-performing prison and we are ranked in the top five in the country.

“We care about what we do and full emphasis is on rehabilitation and resettlement, which is what the Government is trying to achieve. We have been doing this for many years with excellent results and have very low reoffending rates.

“We also have a superb mother and baby unit and a facility, unique within the Prison Service, which allows our women to have their children to come and stay with their mothers and provide valuable family ties.”

They said the prison had a business enterprise unit and created money through its gardens, hairdressing service and conference facilities, saying: “We could understand the closure if we didn’t perform highly and did not give anything back to the community, but we do.

“Residents here are very upset and unsettled and do not want to step back into closed prisons.

“If ourselves and East Sutton Park close, there will be no open prisons left in England for these women, which is discrimination in itself.”

Lord McNally, minister for female offenders, said the reforms would mean women’s prisons becoming resettlement prisons, allowing women to maintain family relationships and be “reintegrated into society”.

Askham Grange’s former prisoners include murderer Tracie Andrews, Anne Darwin, who helped her husband John fake his death in a canoe accident in an insurance fraud, and child killer Mary Bell.