Open prison Hollesley Bay has 14 absconders in two years, figures show
- Credit: Archant
More than a dozen prisoners at Suffolk’s Hollesley Bay have absconded in the last two years - with two escapees still on the loose.
Hollesley Bay, close to the Suffolk coast, is one of the lowest-security prisons in the UK, with prisoners trusted with temporary licences to work outside the prison and leave to visit family or friends.
Now, data from the Ministry of Justice shows 14 prisoners absconded from the open prison on the Suffolk coast in the two years to March 2019, and two of those inmates remain at large.
Faith Spear, who previously worked as chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board at Hollesley Bay, said: "Where Hollesley Bay is concerned, many who are sent there do not have family or support in the locality, therefore trying to keep in touch with family can be hard.
"There is no public transport to the prison and the nearest railway station is some distance.
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"It has been known for prisoners to abscond due to the distance. Hollesley Bay may be an 85-acre site, close to the sea and in a lovely part of Suffolk but it is in the middle of nowhere and for an open prison, that causes difficulties."
She also pointed to a drop in the quality of "purposeful activity" according to the inspection, adding: "Four years ago, there were no recommendations for purposeful activity at the prison, yet this time there are five.
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"Whether they are ensuring prisoners get impartial careers advice or those engaged in prison industries can achieve relevant qualifications, the clue is in the name -'purposeful activity' is not something to pass the long, often monotonous days."
Prisoners are classified as absconders if they escape from prison without physical restraints, more common with open prisons.
It is a different offence to fail to return from a family visit or working in the community on a temporary license.
The number of absconders has dropped by around two-thirds in the last decade - from 17 in 2009 to six in 2019 - and more than 15,000 temporary licenses for work or family visits were made in the six months prior to the prison's last inspection in October 2018.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "Open conditions are an important part of the prison estate because they allow long-sentenced prisoners an opportunity to experience a return to the community in a limited and controlled way.
"The authorities can test whether prisoners are ready for their eventual release, giving them opportunities to take up employment or education during the day but returning to prison at night.
"Without that prisoners could spend years behind bars, then be ejected to the streets without any preparation.
"Fewer than one per cent of prisoners released for the day fail to return."
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, praised the work at the prison, but acknowledged that any prisoners absconding would be a concern for the local community.
He said: "We do need to remember Hollesley Bay is an open prison and it has an excellent track record of successful offender rehabilitation largely due to the work being undertaken there.
"It's also understandably very concerning for those who live in close proximity to the prison."
A Prison Service spokesperson added: "We work closely with the police to recapture absconders quickly and when they are caught they face a return to tougher, closed prison conditions."