A PRISON near York, which was under threat of closure for almost a decade, has been ranked as the best jail in England and Wales, according to new performance figures.

Askham Grange, an open prison for women at Askham Richard, almost closed recently after a shake-up of the way female offenders were treated suggested there may no longer be a requirement for dedicated women's open prisons.

But now, figures from the Ministry of Justice's prison performance report show that Askham Grange received a score of 98 per cent for the year to March 2023, meaning it had an "outstanding performance" rating.

It was the highest rating for any prison and was an improvement from 94 per cent in 2019/20, the last year ratings were handed out.

The report gives ratings based on four main priority areas, security, training, drug and alcohol addictions and readjustment to society.

From 2013 until earlier this year, the future of Askham Grange was in doubt as the Government planned for women to serve sentences nearer home. The Ministry of Justice said it wanted female inmates to maintain family relationships and to improve their job prospects before leaving jail.

But in March, the Prison Service announced that it had no plans to close the prison near York, safeguarding the jobs of 90 people who work at the jail.

York Outer MP Julian Sturdy welcomed the news that Askham Grange was to remain open.

York Press: Askham Grange was under threat of closure between 2013 and earlier this yearAskham Grange was under threat of closure between 2013 and earlier this year (Image: Mike Tipping)

Mr Sturdy said: "I 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."

Across England and Wales, only 13 of the 119 prisons evaluated were awarded the "outstanding performance" rating, a drop compared with the performance in 2019/20, where 19 prisons had achieved the top-tier recognition.

Full Sutton Prison near York was one of those 13 prisons rated as "outstanding".

York Press: Full Sutton PrisonFull Sutton Prison (Image: Staff)

Separate data from the Home Office found the rate of prisoners living in overcrowded conditions increased from 21 per cent in 2021/22 to 23 per cent in the most recent year to March.

However, none of the estimated 98 prisoners in Askham Grange were in crowded accommodation.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: "The latest figures show that over half of all prisons are performing well and - where there are issues - we are providing intensive support for those jails to drive long-term improvements, recruit extra staff, bolster security and boost training and work opportunities for prisoners so we can better protect the public."

The spokesperson said the service is working on the "biggest prison expansion" in over a century by building 20,000 new prison places.

The Ministry of Justice figures also show a slight increase in the number of prisons rated as a "serious concern". Nine prisons fell into this category, a rise of two from in the previous evaluation.