New jail for sex offence convicts

NORFOLK'S new 500-capacity prison will be used solely to house sex offenders, it has been revealed.The director general of prisons confirmed that the jail at the former RAF Coltishall site would specialise in rehabilitating people convicted of sex crimes, including child abuse.

NORFOLK'S new 500-capacity prison will be used solely to house sex offenders, it has been revealed.

The director general of prisons confirmed that the jail at the former RAF Coltishall site would specialise in rehabilitating people convicted of sex crimes, including child abuse. It will become a specialist national centre and one of only three dedicated sex offender complexes in the country.

Residents nearby called for reassurances that sufficient security precautions would be put in place. They asked for representatives of the prison and Ministry of Justice to meet with them to discuss concerns.

As part of the plan, the prison service is also considering removing the specialist sex offender unit currently based at Wayland prison near Thetford.

Prisons director general Phil Wheatley said that the move should have a minimal impact on residents as sex offenders are normally a “compliant population” who are unlikely to attempt escape.

He added: “I recognise that this may be of concern to local people initially. However, I can reassure them it will meet specific and detailed standards of security and have an enhanced security perimeter. It will not hold any prisoners of a higher category than C which means those who pose a greater risk to the public will not be held here.”

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His comments are the first confirmation that the prison - which has not yet been named - has been earmarked for sex offenders.

Mr Wheatley added that those held there would be unlikely to be granted temporary release, for example to carry out community work towards the end of their sentences.

Upon release they would remain on licence and are likely to be released on the condition they return to their home address or probation approved premises. They would be monitored using Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements.

“I cannot remember the last time we had an escape from a sex offender prison. On the whole these are prisoners serving more than a year who are well motivated to stay and take the help that is on offer. Stereotypically they are an obedient population,” he said.

“We do not expect violence within the prison or the kind of riots and other events associated with other complexes, although that is not to say that these people do not pose a potential threat in wider society.”

John Harding, chairman of Coltishall parish council, said many would initially be “horrified” by the news. He added clarification on security measures were needed to address these concerns.

“We need the government to be open, honest and up-front about its intentions,” he said. “There may well be proper precautions in place but we need to know about them.

“The main concern is going to be over security when offenders are released. When they are inside the prison you would hope we are safe, but when their sentence ends will they just be turfed out onto our doorstep or will there be a proper system in place?”

His fears were echoed by Glyn Williams, chairman of the Coltishall Eco-Town Action Group. Mr Williams said that, if the prison was properly managed, there should be no risk but added that reassurances were needed.

“There will certainly be an issue surrounding people's perceptions which they need to address,” he added.

“Whatever the type of offenders they are, it shouldn't make a difference so long as they are locked up. But there are specific issues connected to sex offenders that need to be taken in consideration.”

Explaining the decision, Mr Wheatley added: “There are a whole host of problems associated with trying to run a prison with a mix of sex offenders and other inmates, not least effective segregation.

“This is an opportunity to convert a physically strong building specifically for this purpose. It will allow us to remove sex offenders from higher security prisons than they need.

“In employment terms it will bring specialist workers, such as psychologists, to the area who are likely to settle as well as more local recruitment for specialist roles.

“In the long-term it also provides us with an opportunity to carry out positive work to prevent further offending. It will improve access in the region and nationally to sex offender treatment programmes that address offending behaviour.”

The prison was originally supposed to house mostly inmates from the Norfolk area but Mr Wheatley admitted he did not expect a “great demand” for prison places for sex offenders from the county, meaning it will cater for a large area.

The prison will open in two phases, the first is on track to open in November 2009 with a capacity of 250 places and the last in March 2010 with capacity for another 250 places.

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