August 1 2014 Latest news:
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
A toughening-up of day release rules at open prisons such as Suffolk’s Hollesley Bay has been accelerated after a murderer and an armed robber absconded from a Merseyside jail.
Ministers have promised to bring forward proposed changes to the system – including compulsory electronic tagging for prisoners on temporary leave – following murderer Arnold Pickering and armed robber Thomas Moffett’s disappearance from HMP Kennet at the weekend.
It was the third time Pickering, 44, from Greater Manchester, had gone on the run and came two weeks after a robber known as Skullcracker absconded from open prison in Kent.
The announcement follows news that the number of inmates going missing from Hollesley Bay almost doubled in the past three years, with Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures last month showing that 25 prisoners either absconded or failed to return from approved leave in 2012/13 – up from 17 in 2011/12 and 13 in 2010/11.
Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said “major changes” would be brought in as a matter of urgency, including the abolishment of leave without clear links to rehabilitation.
But Peter McParlin, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, blamed prison closures and staff reductions for overcrowding and for people being put in open conditions when unsuitable.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said open conditions allowed long-sentenced prisoners to return to the community in a limited and controlled way, which worked well in most cases.
Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner, Tim Passmore, said: “Only a tiny proportion of prisoners abscond, but we need to send a clear message that this is unacceptable.
“I’m all in favour of rehabilitation and we don’t want to upset those people who play by the rules, but public safety must be our priority.”
Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey, who has discussed concerns with the MoJ about the amount of prisoners absconding from Hollesley Bay recently, said: “It is important to help facilitate prisoners transition back into normal life but open prisons should not be an easy place for potentially dangerous criminals.”