DUNCAN BARKES I was right to voice concerns about prison

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Four years ago, when I was presenting a daily radio show for West Sussex, I engaged in a war of words with the-then governor of Ford Open Prison. I was voicing concerns about the prison, its procedures and security.

The riots over the weekend demonstrate nothing has changed and that my criticisms were, and remain, fully justified.

My on-air rants about the prison stemmed from the fact that at least 70 prisoners absconded from the facility between January and November 2006.

Fast forward to January 1, 2011 and many of us awoke to the news the prisoners had rioted and a number of buildings were ablaze.

Throughout the day the TV news was dominated by footage of riot police entering the complex to regain control. At one stage, two fire engines were escorted into the prison grounds to tackle the raging fires.

In 2006 I was keen for the-then governor to come on my radio show to answer questions about the shambolic security at the prison and to confirm whether or not convicted murderers were among those who had absconded.

No interview was forthcoming, despite my repeated offer to also go to Ford and interview her on-site. It was a cop out and one that showed contempt for local residents.

I have had no dealings with the current governor of the prison, but clearly nothing has changed. The place is still a shambles.

The general secretary of the Prison Officers Association has gone on the record to say the riots were started after a number of inmates refused to be breathalysed after a stash of booze was discovered.

This will come as no surprise to many who have previously worked at Ford or who live locally. Smuggled contraband at Ford has been going on for years.

At one point there was even a large hole in the security fence where alcohol was passed through. Former staff and local residents have previously confirmed this to me.

Another concern is there were only two prison officers and four support staff on duty when the riots began. The half-dozen personnel were responsible for a prison population of just under 500.

I know our current coalition government has already shown itself to be rather wet on law and order, but a load of bladdered inmates trashing several buildings and starting fires while a woefully-inadequate staff of six try to contain the outbreak is shocking.

Somebody must be accountable for the ongoing catalogue of cock-ups at Ford Open Prison.

Serious questions need to be answered, including:

* Is Ford being used to house criminals that cannot be trusted in a category D ‘open’ prison?

* Why has nothing been done to improve the security of the place despite glaring lapses going back years?

* Is it normal procedure to have so few staff responsible for so many inmates?

If the prison and justice systems are to retain any credibility then such questions must be answered, honestly and quickly.

As it stands, management might as well bus prisoners up the road to Butlins. I doubt inmates would notice the difference.