35 prisoners still at large

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has commented on figures published by the Ministry of Justice last month which show that 35 prisoners who have absconded from Ford Prison since 2004-5 are still at large in the community.


The figures, which relate to September last year, show that four prisoners absconded in 2004-5 and have still not been caught - there were a further fourteen in 2005-6, thirteen in 2006-7 and four in 2007-8.

Some of the prisoners who absconded from Ford Prison have been on the run for up to four years.

There are more absconders still at large from Ford than at any other prison, and it continues to have one of the highest abscond rates of any jail in England and Wales.

The figures have come to light at a time of crisis for the Prison Service.  UK prisons are severely overcrowded and the population reached a record high of 82,180 last week, over 150 more than its operational capacity.

The Prison Service's Director General Phil Wheatley has appealed to prison governors to identify another trawl of prisoners ‘suitable' for transfer from overstretched local jails to low-security open prisons. 

Governors have been told that prisoners serving less than 12 months must be considered for transfer to an open prison after a minimum of seven days in more secure conditions.

The Prison Officers' Association say that the transfer of prisoners from higher-security Category B and C jails to open prisons, blamed on overcrowding, is one of the reasons for high ‘abscond rates'.  They say the type of prisoner now being held in open jails has exacerbated the problem.

In their annual report for 2006-7, published this week, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of Ford Prison highlighted their "major concern" about the ability of the jail to rehabilitate prisoners prior to release.  It said the prison is not adequately fulfilling its principal role as a Resettlement Prison. 

The IMB put this down to lack of investment and the influx of short-term prisoners from overcrowded local jails on the End of Custody Licence (ECL) scheme.  It argued that Ford is increasingly seen as a ‘holding centre'.

Nick Herbert, who is also Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, said: "It's bad enough that prisoners are walking out of Ford at the rate of one a week.  And that's on top of the 282 that have been released early by this Government.

"But the fact that 35 prisoners who have absconded are still at large is appalling."

Mr Herbert launched new Conservative policy proposals on prison reform with David Cameron earlier today. 

The Green Paper, entitled ‘Prisons with a Purpose', includes proposals for minimum and maximum sentences (with no parole until the minimum sentence has been served), tougher community sentences, an end to automatic release for prisoners on determinate sentences, a new generation of prisons, 5,000 extra prison places, and the requirement that offenders contribute to a Victims' Fund.



Notes for Editors

1. Prisoners are classed as ‘absconders' if they absent themselves from Prison Service custody without lawful authority and without overcoming physical security restraints such as that provided by fences, locks, bolts and bars, a secure vehicle, handcuffs or direct supervision of staff. This latter category are classed as escapes.

2. It is projected by the Ministry of Justice that there will be around 560 ‘absconds' from open prisons in 2007-8. This figure peaked in 2003-4 at 1,310. In the last five years, there have been around 4,000 absconds.

3. 282 prisoners have been released from Ford on the End of Custody Licence (ECL) scheme (to Jan 2008).

Alexander Black