15 prisoners absconded from Suffolk jail in one year

No cases of coronavirus have been recorded at Hollesley Bay prison, near Woodbridge. Picture: ARCHAN

Hollesley Bay prison, near Woodbridge

The rate of inmates absconding from Suffolk's open prison more than doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic, figures have revealed.

A total of 15 prisoners walked away from Hollesley Bay prison in the year ending March 2021, compared to seven the previous year – and the most since 17 absconded in 2009.

One commentator blamed the rise partly on the suspension of release on temporary licence due to the pandemic.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said figures tended to fluctuate and that numbers fell by almost 40% across the whole prisons estate – from 143 to 101.

Faith Spear, who was sacked from chairing the Independent Monitoring Board at Hollesley Bay after writing under a pseudonym about her concerns over prison reform, said: "A lot of those men will have worked hard to get into a category D prison. It means the promise of a lot of things.

"You've worked hard to get to a place where you've been promised something will be available – and you're suddenly stuck.

Faith Spear. Picture: KJ SPEAR

Former chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board at Hollesley Bay, Faith Spear - Credit: Archant

"It's difficult enough for visitors to get to Hollesley, so if you're bored and missing your family, you might try desperate measures.  

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"They're desperate measures because, once caught, you go back into closed conditions.

"Instead of using the excuse of looking at the bigger picture, the MoJ needs to look at each prison and ask what is, and what isn't happening."

Mrs Spear said Hollesley Bay had also undergone recent changes of leadership, with Declan Moore leaving for Norwich prison after almost a decade as governor, and his replacement, Garry Newnes, leaving for Chelmsford after two years in April.

"After having a particular regime for some years, any changes could bring a little instability," she added.

At times when release on temporary licence was not suspended over the last year, just one prisoner failed to return to prison, compared to six the previous year. 

Steps being taken to prevent absconding include a new enhanced psychology service, a full review of procedures and more support to ready offenders for open prison.

The action plan is regularly reviewed with the prison group director for the region, according to the MoJ.

A prison service spokesman added: “Those who abscond can be returned to tougher, closed prisons when they are found by police and face extra time behind bars.”

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