The very words comprise an oxymoron in the eyes of the masses. "Open. Prison." It is a juxtaposition of lexicography that lends itself to a Peter Kay sketch, replacing "Garlic. Bread".
Like much else in the prison system, open prisons did not flow from some profound analysis but are an accident of history. A rising post-war crime rate co-existed with defunct military camps. The problem inevitably found the solution.
Most prisoners never see an open nick. Only two groups have a fighting chance of being dropped into these bucolic hellholes. The first and largest group are those serving very short sentences, preferably for non-violent and non-sexual crimes. The stereotype of open nicks being populated by ex-coppers and dodgy accountants has some truth to it. These people are dropped in Open because Closed prisons are expensive and unnecessarily secure.
The second group is the one that causes the local population to twitch and the tabloids to salivate - those coming to the end of very long or life sentences.
For lifers and long-termers, Open is a period of 're-socialisation' and 'testing’ after spending many years in closed conditions. On the face of it, a laudable enterprise, surely? Though the media presentation is one of murderers and rapists being free to escape and commit mayhem on the locals.
This is based on the strange idea that we commit crime just because we can. I could have killed a dozen people today, but guess what - I didn't. We are not insane; people commit crimes for a reason, even if that reason is essentially a blown mental fuse. That the local villagers do not have a fence between them and us is not exactly a genuine issue of note.
The alternative is to keep all prisoners in secure conditions - a few more hundred million quid’s worth of your taxes - and that long termers are disgorged straight from the deepest dungeons right onto your doorstep as their sentence ends.