Seventy Criminals Flee Open Jail

Seventy criminals including three murderers have absconded from an open prison this year, the Home Office said. Of the 70 who fled Ford Open Prison in West Sussex, 29 are still at large. Among those are a murderer serving a life sentence and drug dealers. They were assessed as “low risk” to the public, according to the Home Office. Home Secretary John Reid said serious offenders were being rehabilitated before being returned to the community. “It’s to protect the public,” he said.

The figures were given in a parliamentary answer to the shadow home affairs minister, Nick Herbert, who described the situation as a “total disgrace”. Mr Herbert, whose constituency includes Ford Prison, said: “Not only have 70 prisoners absconded from Ford this year already, but over a third of them have not been recaptured and many should never have been in an open prison, having committed the most serious offences, including murder.”

The inmates absconded between 1 January and 16 October – 13 of them went missing in March, 15 in May, and 11 escaped in September. Some had committed offences such as burglary, driving while disqualified and possession of a false passport.

Earlier Ford in Arundel was at the centre of controversy after it emerged 11 foreign national offenders had “simply walked out” during May.

Dr Reid immediately ordered another 141 foreign inmates to be taken to different locations over fears more could abscond.

A Home Office spokeswoman could not confirm how many of those who had escaped from the prison were foreign nationals, adding it was never possible to “guarantee” that inmates would not abscond from an open prison. Some of these people have been in prison a long time,” she said.

“You either release them straight from a closed prison or you give them a chance to get re-established by using an open prison. Every time an abscond happens it is instantly reported to the police, and many have received additional sentences as a result.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: “The real question is whether the crisis of overcrowding in higher security prisons means there has been a spill-over of more dangerous offenders into open prisons.”

Last month a leaked memo from Ford’s governor, Fiona Radford, disclosed that Dr Reid was prepared to “take the risk” that there would be more escapes as a result of the scheme.

“There is always the risk of absconding but the rate of absconding has come down dramatically in the last 10 years,” Dr Reid said on Tuesday. “It is less dangerous if they go through rehabilitation before they go back into the community than if they go straight from closed conditions into the community.”