Open the Gates!

In the wake of a spate of prisoners absconding from open prisons, Justice Minister Chris Grayling is now bringing in tighter criteria for determining which prisoners are suitable for open conditions. But what does this really mean for prisoners?

Under the new rules, no-one who has ever escaped or absconded in the past will be granted a transfer to an open prison or release on temporary licence. In the case of prisoners who are serving fixed term or determinate sentences, this means that, if they fail that criteria, they will spend the whole of their sentences in closed prisons. But what about Lifers and IPP prisoners? The Parole Board rarely direct such prisoners release without them having spent a period in open conditions. So if they fail this criteria, how will these prisoners prove themselves?

And what of those prisoners, determinate and indeterminate alike, who are already in open prisons (and behaving appropriately) but fail the new criteria based on their pasts? These individuals will inevitably be returned to closed conditions, despite having proved themselves entirely trustworthy in open prisons. And what effect will all this have? If you recall prisoners who have already been granted open conditions and simultaneously reduce the number of prisoners you grant such conditions to in the future, the effects are unavoidable; cells in open prisons will sit empty whilst overcrowding in closed prisons (already at record levels) will only get worse.

So could this have any positive effects for prisoners? Absolutely. Since those determinate sentenced prisoners who fit the new criteria would also have fit the new criteria; it’s reasonable to suppose that any that do will already be in open prison or on the transfer list to go to one. But over the years, many Lifers and IPP Prisoners have been turned down for progress to open conditions based on minor issues which do not impact on risk of absconding or re-offending and who fit the new criteria regardless of minor issues.

Since closed prisons cannot sustain such a rise in population without an outlet being put in place soon, I suspect that there is only one solution. Over the next year the number of indeterminate sentenced prisoners recommended for open conditions recommended by the Parole Board will rise dramatically. Finally Lifers and IPP prisoners will begin to progress. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for!

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