Calls for prison system ‘radical’ review after latest Hollesley Bay absconders

HM Prison Hollesley Bay. Picture: GREGG BROWN

HM Prison Hollesley Bay. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Archant

A radical review of the prison system is needed after a 24-hour manhunt for two Hollesley Bay absconders at the weekend, Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner has said.

The public was warned not to approach prisoners James Regan, 33, or Robert Butler, 34, after they failed to attend morning roll call at the open prison at 8.30am on Saturday. It was not known if they absconded together. They were the subject of a Suffolk Constabulary manhunt and both had been caught 160 miles away in Hastings, Sussex by Sunday morning.

Butler, of Romford, was a member of a gang which netted almost £1m from 102 burglaries across the region in a six-month crime spree in 2014. He was jailed in June 2015 and is serving a seven-year and three-month sentence for conspiracy to commit burglary and driving offences. He was arrested and returned to the prison system yesterday morning.

Regan was arrested just before midnight on Saturday and was also returned to prison.

The country’s prison “crisis” has been blamed on prison overcrowding, staff shortages, mental health provision, and an ageing population. Open prisons have been run since 1936 as effective means of ensuring prisoners are suitably risk-assessed before being released into the community under appropriate licence conditions.

Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner, said public safety was not compromised at the weekend.

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But he said: “I certainly do believe we need to have a radical look at our whole prison system because I find it quite dispiriting when you meet young men in particular, by the time they are 30 they have been inside eight or nine times. That shows the system isn’t working.

“I think there needs to be a better system so the public get a much greater understanding of who and why people are placed in open prisons to allay concerns over public safety which I share. I think the governor and staff at Hollesley Bay do a very good job.

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“We have got to keep public safety at the top of our concerns, we need the prison authorities to work with us, but we also need to make sure we are suitably equipped if we are getting all these prisoners from other counties. Why is it not recognised in the funding formula? I will be writing to the prisons minister asking for a better understanding of what’s going on.”

The latest Hollesley Bay absconders come a month after key questions into why a murderer was allowed temporary release from the open prison to then disappear in Ipswich for nine hours went unanswered by the government.William Kerr was jailed in 1998 for killing Maureen Comfort in her Leeds flat two years earlier.In 2015, he fled a bail hostel in Hull after being released on licence from prison in Rutland – eventually turning up in London.He absconded from Hollesley Bay on December 1, 2017, after failing to show up at a rendezvous point after a few hours’ release. He was caught in Carr Street at about midnight that night, when a member of the public saw him in town and called police.The prison service gave the same statement twice to this newspaper despite repeated requests for further details. It said: “Those who do abscond will face tough consequences, including being returned to closed prison conditions.”

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