Following the recent news that six men absconded in the space of one week from Sudbury open prison, Carolyn Bointon took a closer look at the figures.
THE number of absconders from Sudbury jail makes alarming reading.
In just one week in June, six prisoners – burglars, robbers and men with a violent past – left the doors of the open prison and did not return.
It takes the total official number of absconders this year so far to 17 – but the Ashbourne News Telegraph has discovered that there are many more men who leave the gates and do not return.
Prison service figures show that prisoners given Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) who do not return to the jail as planned can double the number of men classed as absconders.
HMP Sudbury can house up to 600 adult male category D prisoners – defined as those that can be reasonably trusted not to try to escape.
They are often given ROTL to work in the community or to go on "home leave" in preparation for their release.
But if they do not return to the prison as planned, they are classed as a Release on Temporary Licence Failure – and these do not generally get reported in the news.
Absconders, on the other hand, are defined as a prisoner who walks out without permission – these are the ones whose details are released by the police for public circulation.
According to the Ministry of Justice's latest Prison Performance Digest, in 2012-13, 28 men absconded from the prison – but an astonishing 39 failed to return after being given ROTL.
The year before, (2011-2012) also showed a similar trend – 21 absconders but a massive 50 ROTL failures.
So far this year, 17 men have absconded from the prison – figures on the ROTL failures are not yet available, but previous year's numbers may suggest that there will be a larger number of ROTL failures again.
Sudbury prison was inspected in March. In his report, chief inspector Nick Harding wrote: "Since the previous inspection, the number of absconds had increased. There had been 24 in 2012, 29 in 2013 and 17 in the first six months of in 2014.
"ROTL failures were also increasing."
The report said that at the time of the inspection, "a strategy had recently been introduced to deal with these issues" and that previous absconding was being used to identify trends and patterns.
Despite this, the prison still maintained a Minister of Justice rating of 4 – this is on a scale from 1 (serious concerns) to 4 (exceptional).
The governor of HMP Sudbury, Adrian Turner, was unavailable for comment, but a Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The Justice Secretary has been clear that keeping the public safe is our priority and has ordered immediate and major changes to tighten up temporary release processes and open prison eligibility.
"Each and every absconder is taken seriously, with the police contacted as a matter of urgency.
"Open prisons and temporary licence are an important tool in rehabilitating long-term offenders but not at the expense of public safety."