Monday, October 5, 2009

Open Prisons

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.


  1. Hello

    Love the blog and have turned a good dozen or so people into readers I hope by passing the link around.

    Feel free to ignore, but one question I cannot seem to find is why Ben is still in jail even though the tariff has been passed.

    I can understand (but not neccersarily agree) Krays and their tariff elements, but wonder why for Ben.

    Keep up the great work and good luck with the PHD.

  2. In this community we had a chilling reminder that concentrating resources and attention on those inside may have a dangerously distracting effect. The next serial rapist or murderer may be a local resident rather than an escapist from a local prison. The Cat D 'open' prison where I ended my life sentence had a high wire fence round it and there were regular headcounts on the wings. This is not the impression fostered by certain media who are, let's face it, just making money out of crime.

  3. Sadly Open Prisons have had a bad press recently as the rate of those absconding has soared. It seems that inappropriate people have been sent to them because of the high prison population. When Judges are commenting on this in sentencing absconders, their comment is picked up by the local press serving communities where open prisons are based. These communities need to know that suitable people are placed in their communities and to hold the Prison Service and Government to account for errors made.

    Maybe we should look at changing clientele who go to Open Prisons? Surely it is more important to ensure people who have served long sentences are the priority. You can not lock someone up for years and expect them to fit into an ever changing society on release. The Prison Governmor's association made national news this morning calling for less use of imprisonment - no sentences under 12 months. This policy may ensure the proper use of open prisons. Assessing people's suitablity is a low priority when there are no beds available in prison establishments.

    Sorry - disagree with the comment above. I want the media to comment on crime, crime figures, Open Prisons, Sentencing Policies etc. I do not want to live in a society were such decisions are made behind closed doors. When we punish people we expect the right decisions to be made about where they serve their sentences. Prisoners need to be protected and prepared for release. The general public need to be protected too from dangerous offenders particularly those sent to Open Prisons.