THE threat of closure hanging over a prison near York for almost a decade has finally been quietly lifted, The Press can reveal.

The Prison Service says it has no plans to close Askham Grange, an open prison for women at Askham Richard, west of York.

The news safeguards the jobs of 90 people who work at the jail.

The Ministry of Justice announced in October 2013 that Askham Grange was to close "in due course" because a shake-up of the way female offenders were treated meant there would no longer be a requirement for dedicated women's open prisons.

The reforms, announced by Lord McNally, the then minister for female offenders, meant that all women's prisons would become resettlement prisons so that women were close to home and were re-integrated into society.

But in 2019, with it still open, the Chief Inspector of Prisons rated Askham Grange as one of the best performing jails in the country, awarding it the highest grading of ‘good’ in all four Inspectorate ‘healthy prison tests'.

The 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 - "a welcome finding when the levels of self-harm elsewhere in the women’s estate are so troubling."

He said continuing uncertainty over the jail’s future needed to be resolved as soon as possible, adding: "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."

However, in 2020, the Prison Service told The Press that the closure decision had still not been revoked, although there were "no immediate plans" to close the jail.

The service said last week that the original rationale for planned closure was that women were being moved a long distance from home to be resettled from Askham Grange, so the plan was to develop resettlement functions in other women’s prisons and close Askham Grange. 

However, the current position was that all women’s prisons now had resettlement functions but there was still a need for Askham Grange and the service had no plans to close it.

York Outer MP Julian Sturdy welcomed the 'great news' that Askham Grange was to remain open - 'not just for the staff who now have job security.'

He said: "I also believe this is an endorsement of the prison's excellent reputation for rehabilitation.

"Hopefully now teams based at the prison can make long-term plans with confidence."