STAFF shortages are affecting current workers at Ford Open Prison, an annual report has warned.
The prison’s Independent Monitoring Board has stated it is concerned at the high level of vacancies as government funding has been cut.
Chairman Andrew Isaac said: “As a result of ministry of justice cost-cutting in recent years, levels of staffing have been reduced. There are now staff shortages right across this establishment, as well as others.
“At the end of the reporting period, Ford was still obliged to send staff to cover in other prisons while having to cope with 20 vacancies of its own in a total establishment workforce of 152.
“Efforts are being made to recruit but this level of shortage had a significant impact on existing members and staff.”
The board is comprised of members of the community around the prison. Its role is to report annually to justice secretary Chris Grayling about the prison’s work.
Its members have the right of access to every prisoner and every part of the prison and also to the prison’s records.
The prison opened in 1960 and caters for category-D prisoners who have been assessed as suitable for open conditions with a low risk of absconding and to the public.
The prison has rooom for 539 male offenders. Last August saw it housing 262 white British offenders, 208 black and ethnic minority offenders and 12 foreign nationals.
Their average age was just under 29 years, though four were over 70 years old.
Mr Isaac said the board believed the prison had coped satisfactorily in a year of relentless change.
This was largely because of alterations to the rules for release on temporary licence.
These were brought in by the government after high profile absconds from open prisons last year.
The board’s report states there are about 2,500 releases from Ford every month for community service, work placements, education or family contact.
“Of those, an average of between two and four prisoners don’t return when they should or abscond, which is a failure rate per month of less than 0.2 per cent of man days spent by offenders in the community,” it says.
The tightening of the rules was one of the reasons behind a drop in the number of temporary releases from 3,553 in September, 2013, to 2,451 last September.
“There has been an increase in the number of prisoners returned to closed conditions this year–- 198 during the first ten months of 2014 compared to 146 in the same period in 2013,” the report said.
The biggest security problems at the prison relates to drugs and mobile phones.
The high number of men going through reception daily meant it was impractical with the current number of staff to do a high level of random searches.
However, a considerable number of finds were made.