A South Wales Argus editorial team has been given unprecedented access to two prisons – one of which houses only sex offenders.
Usk prison near Monmouth – a special secure prison reserved only for sex attackers, including murderers, rapists and child molesters – and nearby Prescoed Open Prison have been at the centre of controversy since six sex offenders were moved from Usk to the open prison in September and one of them absconded.
The Argus has been swamped with protests from worried local residents and public meetings have condemned the governor of both prisons, Phillip Morgan, for adopting the Home Office policy of placing sex offenders in an open prison.
The controversy was heightened when the Argus reported that a prisoner absconded from Prescoed almost every week. At this point the governor telephoned editor Gerry Keighley, protesting at what he saw as onesided coverage.
“He invited me to meet him but I said I would go only if I could take a reporter and a photographer into the prisons,” said Keighley. “I was amazed when he agreed.”
Reporter Rhiannon Beacham and photographer Mike Lewis accompanied him on a tour around Prescoed and Usk, where they were allowed to speak to and photograph any prisoner who was willing to appear in print.
Keighley said: “It was strange to see people who we would all describe as monsters being taught how to lay bricks, plaster ceilings or even make children’s toys.
“They are the lowest form of life, yet I understand the governor’s view when he says that they have to be let out when their sentence ends and it’s safer for all of us if they have been properly rehabilitated through sex offender programmes.
“But we will continue to support the local community’s call for the housing of sex offenders in the open prison to be stopped – because they are living in fear. As always, we’ve got to be on our readers’ side.”