HM Prison Ford
Before it was a prison, the site now occupied by HMP Ford served for many years as RAF Ford and then as RNAS Ford (HMS Peregrine), a Fleet Air Arm base. From the 1940s to 1950s, a wide array of RAF and Fleet Air Arm squadrons were stationed there, including several Polish and Canadian squadrons during World War 2. Some of the notable squadrons included 700 Naval Air Squadron, which flew the Westland Wyvern, and multiple Spitfire squadrons like 302 Polish Fighter Squadron.
Conversion to a prison in 1960
In 1960, the airfield site was decommissioned and converted into the prison known today as HMP Ford. Unlike most UK prisons that started out as military or civilian prisons, Ford had a unique history as an air base before becoming a prison. The large grounds and multiple buildings left over from its RAF and FAA days made it well suited for conversion to a modern open prison.
Notable former RAF and FAA squadrons based at Ford
Some of the most famous squadrons that were based at RAF/RNAS Ford included 302 Polish Fighter Squadron, 700 Naval Air Squadron, 703 Naval Air Squadron, and 813 Naval Air Squadron. Between the RAF and Fleet Air Arm, several dozen squadrons called Ford home at some point, filling an important military role during WW2 and the postwar years.
Life at HMP Ford Today
Security category and inmate details
Today, HMP Ford is classified as a Category D open prison for adult males. Almost all of the 521 inmates are low-risk prisoners nearing the end of their sentences or on release programs. A majority of prisoners are serving sentences for non-violent and minor crimes.
Facilities and daily routine
Inmates live in open, low-security housing units scattered around the prison grounds. They have access to facilities like gyms, sports fields, and common rooms. The daily routine includes work shifts, educational classes, meals, free time, and roll calls. Prisoners receive more freedoms and privileges than closed prisons.
Work and education opportunities
Prisoners at Ford have access to work programs in textiles, engineering, farming, recycling, and other vocational areas. The prison aims to give inmates marketable skills. There is also a education center that offers classes to obtain qualifications before release.
Issues with security and contraband
As an open prison, HMP Ford has faced criticism for lax security and contraband smuggling issues. Drugs, alcohol, mobile phones have been smuggled in by visitors or returning prisoners. Some inmates have attempted absconding or slipped out at night to acquire contraband. Upgrades to perimeter security have been slow.
Controversies and Criticisms
High profile escapes
There have been several high-profile escapes in recent years of inmates serving life sentences or convicted of violent crimes. In some cases, inmates were able to simply walk out. These incidents have provoked outrage and highlighted security flaws.
Smuggling of drugs, weapons and phones
HMP Ford has struggled to stem the flow of contraband into the prison through a variety of smuggling methods. Drugs, knives, and mobile phones getting into the hands of inmates has caused discipline issues. More searches and monitoring of staff/visitors needed.
Complaints about rehabilitation programs
Rehabilitation services like job training, counseling, education are considered lackluster by prison inspectors. Some inmates have not received adequate support and preparation for re-entering society after release. More resources needed.
Staffing shortages and budget constraints
Understaffing coupled with budget shortfalls have impacted security and daily operations. Staff lack resources to provide adequate security, training, counseling, and supervision of inmates. More funding needed to increase staff.
What Does the Future Hold?
Proposed security upgrades
After a number of escapes in recent years, HMP Ford has proposed security upgrades like new perimeter fencing, improved CCTV systems, and digital monitoring systems. But funding has been an issue thus far.
Plans to expand capacity?
To alleviate overcrowding in the UK prison system, there has been some discussion about expanding capacity at Ford by adding new housing blocks. However, previous expansion plans stalled due to budget constraints.
Preparing inmates for release into society
Going forward, HMP Ford aims to strengthen vocational and educational programs to reduce recidivism rates. More comprehensive rehabilitation aimed at giving prisoners skills and changing mindsets may lead to improved outcomes after release.
What security category is HMP Ford?
HMP Ford is a Category D open prison for adult men only. Inmates are considered low-risk.
What was the site used for before becoming a prison?
It was an RAF and Fleet Air Arm airfield known as RAF Ford and RNAS Ford from the 1940s to 1950s.
How many inmates does HMP Ford hold?
It has a capacity of around 521 male inmates as of 2022. Most are nearing the end of sentences.
What are some of the issues HMP Ford has faced?
Lax security leading to escapes, smuggling of drugs/weapons/phones, lackluster rehabilitation programs, and staff shortages.
What is being done to improve security and safety at HMP Ford? Proposed upgrades to perimeter fencing, CCTV systems, and monitoring. But funding has been lacking so far to enact major security upgrades.