CHELMSFORD Prison is to be among a group of 70 which will become rehab centres closer to inmates homes.

Plans were unveiled on Thursday by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling for the establishment of a nationwide network of resettlement prisons.

The reforms aim to allow prisoners to stay in cells either in the area they live in or close to it and help their rehabilitation back into society.

It is also hoped staff from outside the sites will be able to assist offenders to find work or training for when their sentence is finished.

Mr Grayling said: “Rehabilitation in the community must begin behind the prison walls and follow offenders out through the gates if we are to stand a chance of freeing them from a life of crime.

“Currently a local area could expect to receive offenders from dozens of prisons across the country – this is hopeless.

“It is little wonder we have such high reoffending rates when you have a prisoner leaving HMP Liverpool, given a travel permit to get them home to the south coast, and then expected to simply get on with it.

“This approach is a significant step forward in our reforms to tackle reoffending and lays the groundwork for building a genuine nationwide network of ‘through the gate’ supervision and support for all offenders.”

Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex Lindsay Whitehouse welcomed the Government’s plan, saying he thinks it will help prisoners and the community.

Mr Whitehouse, who was deputy governor of the prison for six years, said: “I think this will have very positive benefits including enabling agencies to have easier access to prisoners, allowing prisoners receiving treatment for drug or alcohol problems to continue their treatment locally and getting job placements.

“Prisoners can become apprehensive when they are about to leave about going back into society, so if they know probation or another agency they are working with is nearby then it will make them less apprehensive.”

A trial run of the project will start in the north west of the country this autumn before the centres are rolled out across the UK a year later.