A WOMEN'S open prison near York which has been under threat of closure for six years has been hailed by the Chief Inspector of Prisons as one of the best performing jails in the country.

Askham Grange at Askham Richard was awarded the highest grading of ‘good’ in all four Inspectorate 'healthy prison tests' for its second inspection running.

Chief Inspector Peter Clarke said relationships between staff and prisoners were 'extraordinarily strong' and this 'played a huge part in achieving the goals of building women’s confidence and self-esteem en route to eventual release.'

He said the prison was clean, living conditions were good, very few prisoners said they had felt unsafe, the provision of learning and skills was 'outstanding,' there was hardly any violence and levels of self-harm were very low.

“This was a welcome finding when the levels of self-harm elsewhere in the women’s estate are so troubling," he said.

He said continuing uncertainty over the jail's future needed to be resolved as soon as possible, adding: "This is one of the best performing prisons in the country."

"The prisoners clearly benefit enormously from what it can provide. It would be good to think that in the future Askham Grange might remain as an example of what can be achieved, and not fade away into a memory of what was once an exceptional establishment.”

Phil Copple, the Prison and Probation Service's Director General of Prisons, said:“This is an outstanding report and I am delighted that prison staff continued to build on the success of the last inspection. HMP Askham Grange is an example of an excellent open prison focused on the needs of the women in their custody.

"I am particularly pleased that inspectors noted prisoners have access to an impressive range of job opportunities and over half of the women released on temporary licence are doing so to go into paid employment, setting them up for life once they have been released.”