Ford Prison riot underlines government incompetence

News of the riot at Ford Open Prison in Sussex will not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed events there over recent years.

The ‘inmates’ rioted because prison officers had the temerity to attempt to administer breath tests after alcohol was found in the prison. Any attempt by an offender in an open prison to evade such a test should result in automatic return to a higher category prison, but there is no effective sanction. The system at Ford is so lax and lacking in basic resources it has previously experienced problems with burglars going into the prison to steal items. Documents have also been removed by ‘inmates’ due to the lax conditions. For years there have been repeated reports of drugs, alcohol and mobile phones being taken into Ford at will, despite these items being banned as they should be in a prison. But Ford is a prison in name only.

‘Prisoners’ come and go almost at will, irrespective of the terms of their resettlement release, because their rooms are unlocked and it is easy to leave the grounds. Many wander out at night to buy drink and drugs, blatantly flouting the regulations. The place is a government run holiday camp that far from preparing offenders for release back into society practically leaves them to their own devices when they are not working in the vegetable plots or the workshops.

But what else can we expect when over 200 ‘inmates’ are being supervised by only two prison officers and four support staff? Is it any wonder over 70 ‘inmates’ absconded in 2006 alone? Is it any wonder that a soft soap attempt to enforce the no alcohol rules among Ford’s ‘non violent’ offenders resulted in a riot, destruction of facilities and arson?

This is what happens when those in authority are not in charge and are continually starved by the government of the resources and manpower required to ensure the prison is run as it should be. The incompetence of successive governments is inexplicible given the tough talk about criminal justice. But when you understand that the promises are just rhetoric and the politicians have no intention of following through on their campaign pledges it all becomes clear.

Incidents like this give people opportunities to say that prison doesn’t work. Prison does work, but only when the regime is effective and offenders are rehabilitated in a disciplined environment. Ford is anything but a disciplined environment and that is the fault of governments who squander money on vanity projects but starve services essential in a civilised society of what they need.

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