Whistleblower raises safety fears at open prison

Grendon Springhill sign
Grendon Springhill sign

Dangerous criminals are being transferred to an open Vale prison too quickly, putting staff and the public at risk, a prison guard has said.

The Spring Hill Prison officer, who wants to remain anonymous, said prison closures have meant inmates who should be kept in higher security institutes are being transferred early to make room.

He said the combination of this and staff cuts has increased safety fears among workers, with a number of violent incidents this year and a subsequent negative effect on morale.

His claims have been backed by the Prison Officers’ Association, which says the classification of prisoners has been a concern for a couple of years.

In July, Ian McLoughlin was on day release from Spring Hill when he allegedly murdered Graham Buck in Little Gaddesden.

Less than two weeks ago a guard believed he was ‘fighting for his life’ when he was attacked in the grounds of the Grendon Underwood prison, possibly with a ‘bladed weapon’. Police initially said a member of the public was thought to have carried out the attack, but the insider says it is widely believed an inmate was involved.

The source also said that earlier this year a senior member of staff was beaten over the head with a steel bar by a prisoner and has not been able to return to work since.

He said: “Had a perpetrator been found he would have been charged with attempted murder.”

The officer said staff are concerned about the assessment being given to prisoners before they are sent to Spring Hill, a Category D open prison.

He said: “There is a real concern about the sort of people people we are getting and that they are making the place a much more dangerous prison to work in and that is making it more dangerous for the public around there.

“We have a different clientele than we did a couple of years ago.

“The people coming here now are not the sort of people we have had before.

“You have to ask how much risk assessment is going into that process.”

Although he says there has not been a reduction in the number of staff that work at the prison, more staff are now shared between Spring Hill and the neighbouring HMP Grendon. He says there are just 18 full-time officers to deal with Spring Hill’s 335 prisoner capacity.

The source said: “We have got insufficient staff.

“Everybody thinks that working at an open prison is easy, but the people in the open prison are exactly the same people who were in higher category prisons before they were downgraded.

“They carry the same potential for harm to the staff and public.

“When things go wrong people can get hurt.”

The prison officers’ trade union said it has been concerned about dangerous criminals being sent to open prisons since the HMP Ford riot in West Sussex on New Year’s Day 2011.

Ralph Valerio, the Prison Officers’ Association national vice-chairman, said: “Local prisons are getting a lot of short-term prisoners and rather than keeping them in a Category B environment they very quickly will be put to low level C or D prisons and find themselves at prisons where they would not normally be.

“The option the prison service seems to be taking is to categorise prisoners as D and hope they don’t do anything bad.

“There has been a domino effect.

“It is hardly surprising that there is an increased rate of violence and absconders.”

The Ministry of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.