Tonight’s edition of BBC’s Panorama was frightening, socking and worrying. It exposed failures within The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and HM Prison Service (HMPS) in relation to Open Prisons and the types of offenders that it is sending to these establishments.
HMP Ford and HMP Castle Huntley were featured in the programme. HMP Castle Huntley is located three miles west of Dundee and falls under the jurisdiction of SPS while HMP Ford is located outside the village of Ford in West Sussex, brining it under the jurisdiction of HMPS.
The programme exposed cases of convicted murderers being placed in open prisons after less than two years of their sentence being served. One case that was featured was that of a murderer who absconded from Castle Huntley and went on to commit a sex offence in Blackpool and a murder in London before being caught – he hanged himself in Brixton Prison while awaiting trial for the murder in London.
Another case, again from Castle Huntley, was of a Dutch man sentenced to ten years in prison for smuggling Cannabis into the country. He absconded from Castle Huntley with more than five years of his sentence to serve and for the last three years has been living in his native Holland. The programme claimed that The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) were aware of this particular individual living in the Holland and were unable to have him extradited back from Holland based on a legal loophole. However, the BBC failed to provide any evidence that this was the response from COPFS.
It appeared from interviews with representatives from organisations who represent Prison Officers and Probation Officers that people who are unsuitable for open estates are being placed in them. This is blamed by some on the general situation in prisons regarding over-crowding.
SPS appeared on camera to explain that the changes that were being made were quite deliberate and served a purpose and categorically denied that these decisions were being taken as a result of prison overcrowding. There was a written statement from the Ministry of Justice which flew in the face of the evidence from the BBC Investigation.
This raises serious concerns about public safety. If prisoners who are violent and have served so little of their sentence are being placed in prisons which allow them leave and which they can just walk out of then the prison services are failing in their duties to protect the public from dangerous individuals and also in their duty to ensure the rehabilitation of offenders.
It is my opinion that there is a place for OPen prisons. People who have been convicted of so called minor offences, who are not violent or those coming to the end of long prison sentences (and I’m talking about the final months here) can really benefit from the Open Prison system.
It truly is disgusting.