Fears that young offenders institution could become a sex offenders unit
FEARS have been raised that Ashfield Young Offenders' Institution could become a unit for sex offenders later this year.
The Post understands staff at the facility on Shortwood Road, Pucklechurch, have been told by bosses that from April, it could be changing to a category C prison housing adults instead of 15- to 18-year-olds. And, as adults require less staff to manage than children, it could result in job losses.
A member of staff at Ashfield, who did not want to be named, said a meeting was held before Christmas in which staff were told of the plans.
But, as far as The Post is aware, residents living nearby have not been consulted at all.
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A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "The future use of HMYOI Ashfield is under consideration because of the continued national decrease in the number of young people in custody. No decisions have been taken at this stage."
Managed privately by international service company Serco, Ashfield houses 400 boys from the South West, Wales, the Midlands and London.
But the latest figures from the Youth Justice Board show nationwide, more than a quarter – about 670 – beds are empty across the seven juvenile YOIs.
Lawrence Jackson, an experienced solicitor who specialises in representing juveniles, has been contacted by a number of families concerned their loves ones will be moved from Ashfield. He told The Post he has also been told by Ashfield staff that changes are on the horizon.
Mr Jackson, of the Bobbett Mackan practice in Berkeley Square, Clifton, said: "Ashfield is the only facility for 15- to 18-year-olds in the West and the South of England.
"If it closes, the next closest will be Hindley, Manchester, or Cookham Wood in Kent. There will be large swathes of the country where juvenile offenders are not provided for.
"I have real concerns in terms of the effect it could have on rehabilitation, welfare and solicitors' ability to effectively represent their clients.
"If this goes ahead, families from this region will have to travel as far as 300-400 miles to see their loved ones, who often have problems that make them more vulnerable than other children. Many juvenile offenders will never get visits, which could be hugely damaging to their chances of rehabilitation.
"Studies have shown that if young offenders are completely removed from their family and social network, the chances of rehabilitation are drastically reduced."
Mr Jackson, who has been visiting clients at Ashfield for 15 years, added: "As a solicitor, being able to see your clients regularly and in a straightforward way is vitally important for their progress. To be honest, I cannot understand the logic behind it."
Residents living near Ashfield say they have not been consulted at all.
Art Packer, chairman of Puckle- church Village Sports and Social Club, said people who work at Ashfield have mentioned the proposals when they've gone into the club for a drink.
"It's a bit off that no one round here has been told anything officially," said the 70-year-old, who has lived on Becket Court for more than 20 years.
"A lot of people wouldn't want adult sex offenders there, I don't think.
"Ideally, I'd like it to stay how it is because we've never had any problems with the young offenders.
"I would be quite willing to open up the club for a public meeting if they wanted me too."
Mary Ashburn, 82, of Becket Court, who used to work at the facility when it was a women's prison, said: "They should have given us some sort of notification. People should be informed of this sort of thing.
"We've never had any problems with the young people there so it would be nice to keep it how it is."