High Sheriff of West Sussex, Dr Tim Fooks, visits Ford Prison

High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing, talks to the lead governor at Ford Prison about how prisoners are helped to restart their lives in a constructive way.

Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 11:16 am

As each of us voluntarily agrees to give up some component of our liberty in order to combat the current dangerous phase of the coronavirus pandemic, there are those in our society for whom the latest round of restrictions had proved especially unwelcome.

These are the men detained at HMP Ford, one of the 14 Category D men’s prisons in England and Wales and the only prison in West Sussex.

Category D or ‘open’ prisons are those which have minimal security and, in normal times, they allow eligible prisoners to be released on temporary licence (ROTL) so they can spend most of their day away from the prison to carry out work, education or for other resettlement purposes, such as spending time with their families.

The bicycle service and repair shop at Ford Prison

Open prisons house only prisoners who have been risk-assessed and deemed suitable for open conditions. Furthermore, a ROTL is a privilege granted to a prisoner, rather than a right, and it is withdrawn if any breaches occur with very little chance of reinstatement.

The site for HMP Ford used to be a very important airfield for both the RAF and civilian organisations for 40 years. Eventually, the base was closed in 1958 and in 1960, it became a prison with the old billets being used for prisoner accommodation. There is now a programme to upgrade all the residential facilities, which, when complete, will allow the prison to take well over 500 men.

When I visited HMP Ford in December, when West Sussex was still at Tier 2, I was impressed to hear from Andrew Davy, the prison’s lead governor, how many men were able to be employed locally or were engaged in further education. In addition, the facilities on site have allowed the men learn new skills or refresh old ones. Some of these are linked to excellent innovations, such as their bicycle service and repair shop. Furthermore, the prison also has its own fully-functioning market garden, which supplies, among other customers, Serving Thyme, the prison’s café and plant store.

Serving Thyme was opened in 2019 and it is now run by the men as a going concern. As such, it captures much of what lies at the heart of the HMP Ford – if prisoners can complete their sentence ready to re-engage usefully and normally with the world outside, they are much less likely to re-offend. For some, this process may also require attending therapy to address a long-standing problem like an addiction but for others, it may involve completing training in a new skill to a professional level or even completing a new degree.

The official opening of the School of Construction at Ford Prison in the autumn

As Mr Davy explained, for some, the temptation to stretch their ROTL is too great but for the great majority, the trust this arrangement implies can sow the seed that grows into a sense of hope for their future. Knowing that others believe in you, and that you now have much to offer, builds up a resilience which can protect against returning to a life of crime.

For those men who have rediscovered a hope for their future and committed themselves to turning their lives around, the additional lockdown required by the pandemic is proving very challenging. However, the staff at Ford continue to provide their careful balance of encouragement and supervision and, as 2021 gets underway, Mr Davy is looking forward to better times ahead.

Prisons can appear to be places that represent only human failure but it is encouraging to know that in West Sussex, even those who have failed so seriously are being given such a constructive and appropriate way to restart their lives through the work of HMP Ford.

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Carpentry at Ford Prison

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Engineeering at Ford Prison
Injection moulding at Ford Prison
Plastering at Ford Prison
The garden at Ford Prison
Serving Thyme, the prison’s café and plant store
Catering at Ford Prison