Minister says sex offenders will not be housed Suffolk prison if it risks public safety
Justice minister Rory Stewart has said sex offenders will only move to a Suffolk open prison if it does not put the public at risk.
Mr Stewart made the comments about Hollesley Bay in a letter to Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey.
Dr Coffey had written to the minister to raise concerns about the proposals which have sparked fierce community opposition. Many in the village criticised the lack of consultation over the proposals, which they say are inappropriate given the nearby primary school.
Mr Stewart’s letter acknowledges the “legitimate concerns over this change”. “It is right that the benefits of testing low prisoners in open prisons as they approach release are weighed carefully against the overriding need to protect the public from harm,” he said. “There is no intention to proceed with this population change without full consideration of any concerns raised. We expect that it will take several months to plan implementation and we will only proceed with introducing the new offender group when we are satisfied that this can be delivered safely without putting the public at risk.”
Mr Stewart said the only prisoners deemed eligible would be those nearing the end of their sentence who will have been “helped to change their lives” and had been assessed as low risk. He said the proximity of the primary school had been considered but the risk was assessed as “manageable, subject to appropriate safeguards”.
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Hollesley resident Patrick Jacobs, who has been urging Dr Coffey to press Mr Stewart for more information on the proposals, said it was unfortunate the letter had not been made available before last month’s public meeting when outgoing governor Declan Moore spoke of the proposals. Mr Jacobs said that Mr Moore’s account of the process was that there had been “no local involvement whatsoever”, which meant people in the village have had no opportunity to meet with anyone directly involved in the process.
Mr Jacobs told Dr Coffey the whole process was looking like a “shambles” and called on her respond “fulsomely”and convene a public meeting addressed by “competent senior officials” - to address the concerns.
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Dr Coffey said: “Open Prisons are extremely important in helping facilitate a prisoner’s transition back into normal life but considering the close proximity of the primary school I share local concerns, especially in relation to certain categories of sexual offender. As a result of my letter the Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart, has offered to meet me regarding HMP Hollesley Bay to hear first-hand the concerns of residents and by taking the Parish Council Chairman to Westminster, we can represent the community there. I will continue to press the case and try and effect a change on behalf of residents.”