An open prison which has seen six inmates escape in the last six weeks is taking on ever greater numbers of serious or violent offenders serving indefinite sentences, according to a union representing prison officers.
Around 100 of the 260 prisoners at HMP Hatfield, where inmates get minimal supervision and perimeter security, are serving ‘indeterminate’ Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences, given to serious offenders to protect the public, according to John Lindley of the Prison Officers’ Association.
The Category D jail near Doncaster has seen six prisoners abscond in the last six weeks, and two are still on the run. Of the six to escape, three are serving such sentences after committing violent offences.
Offenders sentenced to an IPP are set a minimum term which they must spend in prison, after which they can apply to the Parole Board for release, if they are considered to no longer be a danger to the public.
The sentences were scrapped by the Government in 2012 but thousands of prisoners are still serving pre-existing terms of this type, many on relatively short tariffs or having gone past the point where they are eligible for parole
Mr Lindley, secretary for the Hatfield branch of the POA, said that because offenders serving IPP sentences do not have a set release date, they have nothing to look forward to and more motivation to try and escape, making them unsuitable for an open prison.
The most recent abscondee, Mounir Jaouane, was given an indeterminate prison sentence for robbery in 2007. He was released on temporary licence to his former home address in Sheffield on Monday and failed to return.
Mr Lindley said such prisoners were coming to Hatfield in greater numbers because of closures in Category C jails, which have greater security. The Government deny this and say the decision to transfer prisoners to an open jail is taken by an independent parole board.
Mr Lindley said: “The Government has closed prisons and shut wings down. That created less room, now the prison population has gone up and closed prisons are having to make room. They are sending prisoners to Category D prisons who you wouldn’t think would normally come there.
“They have nothing to look forward to. They will be on IPP but on a short-term tariff. The parole board is saying they have got to be tested in open conditions. They don’t know when they are getting out, they are the people causing problems.”
Pressure is growing on the Government to explain the recent rash of escapes from Hatfield since the middle of May. Among those to escape were Damien Burns, 39, serving an indeterminate sentence for slashing a teenager across the face, and Richard Brown, 27, serving an indeterminate prison sentence for an aggravated burglary. Both have since been found.
A Prison Service 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. In the vast majority of cases, the decision to transfer a prisoner serving a life or indeterminate sentence follows a recommendation by the independent Parole Board.”