Published: 00:10, 18 April 2019
| Updated: 08:30, 18 April 2019
Women prisoners have been denied new accommodation as flats refurbished for £250,000 have been left empty for 10 months.
East Sutton Park Prison, near Maidstone, houses 102 offenders and plans had been made to allow 16 of those to live in the modernised apartments.
However, shortly after they were renovated it was revealed funding for staff had been denied and the flats, which used to be for prison staff, would no longer be made available.
In their 2017-18 annual report published today independent monitors at East Sutton Park Prison highlighted concern that the former staff accommodation remains empty.
The Prison Service declined to fund the necessary staff to supervise the facility. It was suggested semi-independent living would be a considerable benefit for those who have served long sentences, allowing them to get used to being self-reliant again.
The report did, however, praise the dedication and commitment of staff in supporting residents in preparing for release.
The prison’s good record of resettlement, with residents finding voluntary and paid employment, was also highlighted.
Government policy is to encourage moves to open conditions and the board is urging the Minister with responsibility for women’s prisons, Edward Argar, to find the funding to bring the flats into service as a matter of urgency.
IMB East Sutton Park Chair, Peter Judges, said: “Staff encourage residents to take responsibility for achieving as much as they can from their time at East Sutton Park and provide an excellent level of support. For residents, who have served long sentences, returning to the community can be quite a culture shock.
"The refurbishment of the flats was intended to help residents become more self-sufficient as part of preparation for release. It is a great waste of money to refurbish the flats and then not use them, quite aside from the loss of benefit to the would-be occupants.
"Women come to East Sutton Park after being in closed conditions and the philosophy is to become self reliant.
"They go out to work until they are ready to be released and the idea was for the accommodation to be used as a halfway house.
"These flats were refurbished for £250,000 in June and they are still empty.
"People were being trained to work as admin staff at the flats and the prison service then said they weren't going to fund the staff and the flats were going to be kept reserved."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "The extra capacity at HMP East Sutton Park was built in anticipation of an increase in the number of female prisoners from 2018 onwards. Although the population has in fact decreased, this option remains open if this changes in the future.
“We welcome the IMB’s praise of the staff’s dedication to help inmates find employment upon release.”
The full report is published on www.imb.org.uk/reports/