A PRISON watchdog has praised a women's jail near York for its achievements in the face of a continuing threat of closure.

The Ministry of Justice said in 2013 that Askham Grange Open Prison at Askham Richard would close 'in due course' as part of a shake-up of the way female offenders were treated.

But the jail remains in existence and a Ministry spokesman said yesterday that a date for its closure had not yet been decided.

Now the prison's Independent Monitoring Board has said in its annual report that Askham Grange 'functions well' despite the uncertainty over its future, with exceptionally high scores for its last Chief Inspector of Prisons and Ofsted visits.

"The uncertainty caused by the threat of closure ought to have impacted on staff and residents but this has not been the case, and the management and staff have continued to provide the best possible support to the women in the prison," it says.

"The prison meets the ministers' aspirations to improve education, training and re-settlement but instead of being a golden example for the service to follow, still faces the threat of closure."

The report says that despite two years of 'turmoil' about its future, residents still generally felt safe and it provided an excellent opportunity to reduce re-offending and to prepare residents for successful and rewarding life after release. And although recruitment had been a problem since the closure announcement was made, the level of service was undiminished.

The report reveals that after release from Askham Grange, women had found employment in areas including data processing, book-keeping, call centre work, cleaning, retail and restaurant work, and some had become self employed, setting up beauty therapy and nail businesses.

One resident worked part-time at a prestigious hairdressing salon in York and, following her release, the company gave her a full-time job and she was now employed as salon manager.

A number of residents were also involved in community work with charitable and voluntary organisations in York and the surrounding area, offering them the chance to gain worthwhile work experience.

The report urges ministers to ensure the prison continues with its resettlement work with long term offenders.