Police force burdened by prison absconders, says crime commissioner
Justice chiefs have been prescribed a “dose of reality” over the burden on police having to round up runaway convicts.
Police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore lamented the impact on resources of prisoners absconding from Hollesley Bay.
He also criticised the Prison Service’s failure to sufficiently engage the community before deciding sex offenders would soon be housed at the jail.
On Saturday, two convicted robbers were found in Stowmarket after failing to return to a meeting point while on temporary release to visit Ipswich the previous day.
Prison figures have revealed 335 absconding cases at the jail between March 1995 and March 2018 – an average of 14.5 a year.
The rate was as low as three in 2012 and as high as 36 in 2004.
Of eight last year, five failed to return from temporary release to the prison, which had 132 staff and 467 inmates as of March 2018.
Three-quarters were returned within 30 days – better than the national average of 63% – but one remained ‘at large’ as of March 31.
This month, the Prison Service confirmed Hollesley Bay among several open prisons to be used for accommodating growing numbers of sex offenders – five of which absconded from jails last year.
In a letter to Hollesley Parish Council, governor Declan Moore said sex offenders would be “suitably risk assessed”.
It was news to many, including Mr Passmore, who said: “It would have been courteous and sensible to talk to local people first – to manage their expectations.
“I’m very unhappy about it and will be writing to the minister.”
A Prison Service spokesman said: “Sex offenders are already held successfully at other open prisons but their growing number means we need more of our open prisons to accommodate them, including HMP Hollesley Bay.”
The two most recent absconders have been moved to tougher closed prison conditions, adding to the Prison Service, which said it took breaches of temporary release conditions “extremely seriously”.
Mr Passmore said: “I’m aware offenders have to go somewhere.
“Open prisons play important roles and Hollesley Bay is one of the best, if not the best, so this is absolutely no criticism of the prison and its governor.
“Absconders put a collateral burden on a stretched force, which gets no extra funding for it.
“It’s time for a dose of reality, sadly missing from Whitehall at the moment.”
•Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey contacted the Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart, outlining local concern over Hollesley Bay being used to accommodate sex offenders.
In her letter to Rory Stewart, Dr Coffey asked what assessment had been made of the impact on the local community, and whether or not previous absconding levels had been taken into consideration.
Dr Coffey said: “I recognise that about 18% of all prisoners are in jail for sexual offences and, as prisoners approach their release date, they need to be fully prepared for life on the outside.
“Open prisons are extremely important in helping facilitate prisoners’ transition back into normal life, but they should not be an easy place for potentially dangerous criminals.
“Considering the very close proximity of the primary school, I fully understand local residents’ concerns, so I have written to the Prisons Minister and asked him to look again.”