The Secretary of State for Justice has assured Mark Menzies MP that steps have been taken to reduce the number of absconds from Kirkham Prison.
Mr Menzies, the MP for Fylde, wrote to Robert Buckland and spoke to him following the publication of the HMP Kirkham Independent Monitoring Board Annual Report which raised several areas of concern at the open prison and the wider judicial system.
Mr Menzies highlighted three serious incidents at the prison in the past 12 months which required the opening of the command suite and the attendance of the board, 36 absconds in a 12-month period, and the escalation in the availability of drugs at the prison.
Mr Buckland replied to say action had been taken by the prison authorities and the results were already being seen.
He wrote: “Please be assured that I take concerns of this nature very seriously and I am sorry that you have felt the need to write to me under these circumstances.
“The five assaults that occurred between May 2019 to March 2020 went through rigorous investigation, and were later found to be isolated incidents.
“You also expressed concerns about the use of drugs, which the IMB Annual Report reveals has been a persistent issue. HMP Kirkham has responded with additional drug testing, as well as increased searching and use of mobile detectors.
“Throughout 2019, HMP Kirkham introduced a number of additional measures to reduce the risk of prisoners absconding. These new measures have strengthened the communication and relationships between the sending and receiving establishments when a prisoner transfers to open conditions, in order to enhance pre-transfer checks and to improve the understanding of the open regime offered in Category D sites.
“These measures also include additional support for new arrivals, especially in their first eight weeks in the prison and the use of maturity screening for those under 30 years of age.
“An abscond steering group has been set up, chaired by the Deputy Governor, to monitor the calibration of risk management in this area. Following the introduction of these measures, my officials have advised me that the number of prisoners absconding has reduced in the first three months of this year.
“I hope this letter provides the assurances you require and I will continue to closely monitor the situation at HMP Kirkham.”
Mr Menzies said: “I wrote to let the Secretary of State know I would not let failings across the judicial system put any of my constituents, or the staff at Kirkham Prison, at risk.
“I am pleased to hear about the extra checks and measures now in place at Kirkham, and even more pleased to hear the abscond rate has fallen.
“It was clear prisoners unsuitable or unready for open prison conditions were being moved to Kirkham and that was simply not fair on the dedicated staff at Kirkham and it was not fair on residents.
“I am glad action has been taken, and for assurances the situation is being monitored further.”