ANGRY villagers at Appleton Thorn, Warrington are furious at a decision by the Ministry of Justice to take in sex offenders at Thorn Cross Open Prison.
The bombshell news has come in a letter from prison governor Mick Povall which has been circulated to local residents.
It states that the Secretary of State has decided to expand the Open Prison estate to take in prisoners who have committed sexual offences – and that Thorn Cross has been identified as one of the establishments that will start to take sex offenders from the end of the year.
Ex-police officer Syd Edwards, who has lived in Appleton Thorn village for more than 30 years, said: “This decision is ridiculous – it takes no account of the fact that there is a primary school less than 30 yards from the prison.
“This crosses the line – it is a step too far.”
Another local resident, Simon Puleston, said: This decision needs to be reviewed further. The prison is in close proximity to Appleton Thorn Primary School, two nurseries, also a further 72 new houses being built by Bloor Homes.
“Clearly as a local resident and a neighbour I have grave concerns. We have four young children.
“I hope we can at least have the decision to identify Thorn Cross as a suitable establishment reviewed.”
Borough Cllr Peter Walker said: “My initial reaction is that Thorn Cross Open Prison is in a completely inappropriate location, with a primary school on the opposite side of the road, to be housing sex offenders . Thorn Cross has worked very had with residents to establish good relations and confidence. I fear this decision by the Home Office will damage that.”
The letter from the prison governor states that under the present government, more sex offenders are being convicted and spending longer behind bars. Since 2010 sentences have increased by more than 20 per cent, with sex offenders facing on average five years in prison.
There are now 4,000 more men in prison convicted of sexual offences than there were in 2010. This includes a growing number of men who present a low risk and have been assessed as suitable to be held in open prisons.
The prison service already successfully holds men convicted of sexual offences in open conditions at HMP Leyhill and HMP North Sea Camp, but due to the increase in this population group more open prisons are needed to accommodate these offenders.
“In response to this population trend, the Justice Secretary has agreed to authorise HMP Thorn Cross to accept men convicted of sexual offences as part of their population. Subject to agreement of detailed local implementation plans, I expect these changes will take place by the end of the year.
“The safety of the public is our highest priority. The ability to test men in open conditions as they approach the end of their sentence is often a critical step in their reintegration into society.
“Prior to transferring to the Open estate a risk assessment of all prisoners is undertaken on a case by case basis and the re-categorisation process places risk of harm to the public at the forefront of the decision making process.
“As part of the transformation of the estate we aim to get the right prisoners held in the appropriate conditions to both protect the public and offer a rehabilitative environment to tackle their offending behaviour.
“Increasing the number of places in the open prison estate for men convicted of sexual offences, who are assessed as low risk, will go towards achieving this aim and free up much needed capacity in closed prisons.
“We will always ensure there are sufficient prison places for offenders sentenced to custody by the courts and aim to ensure that the prison estate reflects the needs of offenders and provides best value for the taxpayer.”