Hostels in prisons to house sex offenders

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The Independent Online

A network of hostels to house released prisoners in the grounds of jails is being planned because of public hysteria over paedophiles.

A network of hostels to house released prisoners in the grounds of jails is being planned because of public hysteria over paedophiles.

Local communities across Britain are blocking planning permission for new hostels amid fears that children will be placed at risk of attack from sex offenders. By building them in prison grounds it is hoped to provide more protection to the public while reducing the risk of vigilante action against suspected paedophiles.

But plans for the first new hostel - inside the perimeter fence of a privately run jail in South Wales - have already provoked angry demonstrations from local people.

Probation organisations said that if the plans for hostels fail then offenders will have to be placed in unsupervised accommodation in residential areas.

Attempts to build much-needed hostels in various parts of the country have been hit by what probation chiefs term a "planning blight" as local communities have rejected any plans to rehouse offenders among them.

Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "These people are not in prison and it is important that they are able to go to their work or education. This option offers a high level of protection to the public and also gives the offenders protection from being attacked by a mob."

The first of the hostels is planned for the grounds of Parc prison in South Wales, which is run by Securicor. But it has met severe opposition from the people of nearby Coity. The local Labour councillor, Eleanor Dodd, said: "This is very emotive and feelings are running high. Not one person in the village thinks it's a good idea."

At a heated meeting in the village's church hall last week, the chief probation officer for Mid-Glamorgan, Sam Pollock, tried to explain that the hostel plan was a good idea. "I would have thought that the project we are putting forward should provide greater assurance for people in that it will be well monitored," he said.

Mr Pollock is faced with the problem that his service does not have a single hostel in which to accommodate offenders. Instead, his staff are having to place people as far away as Reading and Bristol.

The only other prison hostel for released prisoners is a small unit inside Nottingham jail, which is used to house the dangerous paedophiles Lenny Smith and Robert Oliver.

Under the plans for the Welsh unit, 25 offenders would be housed under the supervision of Securicor staff. Some of those living in the unit would have been released from prison on licence, while others would be serving community punishments or awaiting trial. The unit would be monitored by CCTV and would be inside the perimeter fence of the prison site though outside the prison wall. Residents would leave the unit during the day to go to work or attend training programmes.

There are already 101 hostels in England and Wales, mostly in residential areas and housing 2,400 people who are on parole or who are under supervision as part of their probation orders. One in three offenders housed in hostels has committed a sex crime.