Open prisons – Just how safe are the public?

New daily mail link added at bottom of this page with new statistics which include – 

  • Last year saw 175 inmates leave open prisons or disappear on day release

  • 37 murderers and five rapists have absconded over the last three years

Definition – “A prison where prisoners are not kept inside because they are trusted not to escape”, yet time and time again we pick up a newspaper or turn on the tv and see another “high risk” offender simply walk out. Further more the police then warn us the escapee is a danger to the public, which poses the question why are they in open conditions in the first place ?


Pictured above – The wall surrounding Leyhill open prison in Gloucestershire, which houses over 130 offenders serving “LIFE” sentences and over 90 dangerous sex offenders who continue to pose a real risk to the public

Leyhill received prisoners identified as high or very high risk, but such prisoners would not normally be able to work or visit outside prison – which calls into question the point of why they are in open conditions

January 2013 Hunt for rapist who walked out of prison: Serial attacker vanishes from the ‘Savoy of Slammers’ 

  • Sean Cawthray, 41, left Leyhill Open Prison in south Gloucestershire

  • In 2002 Cawthray attempted to kidnap 14-year-old girl at a bus stop 

  • Police advise public to dial 999 immediately if they see him

  • Previously been jailed for four years in 1990 for rape and attempted rape, and for eight years in 1993, after a further rape conviction

From 2006 – More than 4,000 prisoners have absconded from open prisons in England and Wales in the past five years, the Home Office has admitted. In response to a parliamentary question from David Davis, the shadow home secretary, it said that 4,307 prisoners unlawfully left the 13 open prisons, including 693 in the year 2005-06.

Here we look at the UK open prison regime and what dangers they actually pose to the public and/or those that live close by ….. “The great strength of an open prison is that it operates mainly on trust”


No need for this – Prisoners have their own keys to their single rooms

Open prisons have no walls or fences to keep offenders in. Prisoners have keys to their rooms and everybody works or is involved in some form of education or training. But there are many other differences from the CAT A & B prisons. Single man rooms. No movement outside from 11 pm -8 am, unlike higher CAT prisons where 22 hour lock up is normal. Snooker tables & pool tables, games rooms, excellently equipped gyms, far superior food, allowance for pets – Ferrets and budgies are the most favoured. Playstations or x boxes, but no internet is allowed, however mobile phones with access can be sought for the “right price”. Allotments for lifers. Better education and chances for qualifications. Outside sports including football, rugby etc…. But even with all these luxuries, spending time in the fresh air on a regular basis is the greatest distinction

On average it costs the tax payer £30,000 a year to keep someone in prison

Sex offenders mixed in with other offenders are among the ‘very high-risk inmates’ being held in open jails that have little security. Most offenders are also not properly risk assessed before being sent to a open prison

Drugs, mobile phones and steroids are very popular within the walls of most open prisons in the UK. With barely any security and 5 ft walls surrounding the prisons, it is no wonder so many offenders fancy a few hours out. Normal practice includes a pick up from friends or family on the “outside”, a few hours out and back for roll call before any notices they have gone

MORE than 100 criminals, including killers, armed robbers and drug dealers, have gone on the run from Sudbury open prison near uttoxeter in the past four years. Latest figures for Sudbury show that 50 inmates absconded between October 2007 and March 2009, with a further 29 going on the run in the rest of 2009. The figures for the previous 18 months reveal that 106 prisoners went missing.


Sudbury Open Prison in Derbyshire has certainly lived up to its description. Two inmates decided they wanted to take a day trip to visit their girfriends in Birmingham and, after scaling a six-foot wall, did just that. Shortly before roll-call they returned and tried to climb the same wall in the opposite direction, only to be seen by prison officers. They fled and “holed up” in a hotel for five days before turning themselves in at Sudbury, this time arriving via the front gate, not the back wall.

The enterprising pair both said they embarked on the jaunt because they were “fed up” with being in prison. We were under the impression that this was the point of the exercise. The judge in the case said there was no question of inmates “regularly” going over the fence and coming back. That prompts the question: how would anybody know?

In May 2006, it was revealed that more than one inmate a week was escaping from Leyhill Prison. Statistics showed that 66 prisoners had walked out of Leyhill in the 2005/06 financial year. The Prison Service claimed the amount of escapes was down to population pressures in the UK prison estate, with less trustworthy prisoners being transferred to open prisons like Leyhill. More than 20 convicted murderers absconded from Leyhill Open Prison near Bristol between 2001-2006. Six rapists were also among those who have absconded from Leyhill in that same time span


The Category D jails have few security measures and often have no perimeter wall, with inmates trusted to come and go during the day as part of their rehabilitation. Hundreds of open jail inmates abscond each year, including 362 in 2008-09. Around 700 prisoners absconded from open prisons in 2005

Evil Michael Chandler raped six women in a string of terrifying attacks. He was handed six life sentences in 1988 by an Old Bailey judge who warned he should be kept away from women for 30 years. But prison bosses now allow Chandler out to work alongside women in the Sofa Project furniture warehouse in Bristol.

Open prisons hold a mixture of prisoners serving a few weeks or months and long-termers on anything from four years to life. Gradually introducing long-term prisoners into the outside world again is one of their most important functions. They work by helping to undermine the grip of institutionalisation, offering measures of freedom and personal responsibility that are denied in closed prisons.

So the question is: is this change in the composition of the open prison population being driven by overcrowding elsewhere in the system? In particular, is that pressure leading to the wrong sort of people—those who are not suited to open conditions—being sent to open prisons? The chief inspector says that population pressure”— overcrowding—has meant that open prisons are receiving prisoners who would not formerly have been sent to open conditions at that point in sentence. So the independent inspector is observing that this change is going on and believes that it is driven at least in part by population pressures elsewhere in the system. But surely that is a failure on the prison system ?

My final point about the allocation of offenders to open prisons is the thorny one of sex offenders. Inevitably, they are one of the most controversial and difficult groups in the prison system, and it is important that institutions such as Leyhill have the right expertise to deal with them. I believe that the prison has about 60 sex offenders serving “life sentences”, and approx 90 in total. There is also the question of whether other institutions should be developing that sort of expertise—for example, whether there should be somewhere in the north of England where officers have such skills, or whether sex offenders should be clustered in smaller groups and other open prisons given the training and support that they need.

There are obvious problems with clustering large numbers of lifers who have committed sex offences. If they have lost contact with their own local community, a specific area can become a focal point for them when they are released. Where sex offenders are “deemed not to pose a risk to the public”. But does prison actually stop a sex offender and in particulour paedophiles/child abusers from re-offending when given the opportunity ? The answer is a simple NO, and the statistics prove that !

Just some of the dangerous prisoners who simply walked out or pose a danger to the public

May 2008 – Britain’s wide open prisons: 130 killers are among 14,000 convicts who have escaped from low-security jails – Around 150 of those who escaped from open prisons have never returned or been brought back to jail

January 2013 – Murderer Brian Grady walked out of HMP Prescoed From Open Prison

Brian Grady, also known as Brian Revill, walked out of HMP Prescoed in south Wales. The 26-year-old was jailed for at least 11 years in July 2003 at Bristol Crown Court after being convicted of murder and robbery.

Febuary 2011 – Serial rapist is let out of jail to work in sofa shop

December 2012 – Dangerous paedophile/sex offender finally caught after two months on the run from North sea camp open prison

Ivan Leach aka Lee Cyrus was jailed in 1999 for 14 months after admitting unlawful sex with a 13 year-old girl who said he had spiked her drink and threatened to kill her. 

Leach was jailed in 2005 for robbing a 90 year-old woman. He was given a life sentence with a minimum tariff of five years. He also has convictions for burglary and robbery and assault.

Previously, in 1984 he was jailed for seven years for robbing and burgling a 79 year-old woman in her sheltered accommodation flat, and striking her in the face and body with his fists. He has several other convictions for targeting elderly victims. He also wounded a man and woman with a knife after an argument in 2001. In 1995 he was fined £150 for flashing a woman jogger

August 2006 – Child rapists fled open prison

Elms was jailed at the Old Bailey in March 1996 for raping a teenager at knifepoint. He previously served a four-year sentence for indecently assaulting a 15-year-old schoolgirl. At the time the judge described him as a “danger to the public”. Aspinall was jailed in December 1992 for raping a minor and kidnap. Aspinall has 16 convictions covering 26 offences

September 2012 – On-the-run rapist John Whiteside gave himself up, armed with knife

John Whiteside went on the run from North sea open prison while serving life for rape is back behind bars after walking into a police station with a knife. John Whiteside was convicted twice in the 1990s for brutal sex attacks on women in Leicester, one at knifepoint. 

In March 1992, he bound and raped a 21-year-old student as she walked along Great Central Way, near Western Boulevard, at night. He was sentenced to eight years in jail, but within two months of his release he struck again – this time subjecting a terrified 17-year-old prostitute to a sex attack in a country lay-by.

Febuary 2010 – FRENZIED killer is on the loose after absconding from an open prison

Gary Gibbon brutally beat and killed a drunk down-and-out with a broken milk bottle in Peterlee, County Durham, in 1984. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at Teesside Crown Court in April 1985. Gibbon absconded from Sudbury Prison, in Derbyshire

June 2012 – Escaped prisoner Jamie Frater had stabbed teacher to death

Jamie Frater, 38, was a detainee at Blantyre House Open Prison, in Goudhurst, when he failed to return following work in the community.He had been convicted in 1993 for murdering 45-year-old Geoffrey du Rose and jailed for life.He then kidnapped local resident Cheryl Thompson and forced her to drive across three counties before finally being arrested at gunpoint in Wiltshire.

April 2007 – A convicted murderer and another man jailed for attempted murder have absconded from an open prison

July 2009 – Axe murderer on the run from open prison

William Reddican, 56, who was convicted of murder in 1981, failed to return to Sudbury open prison in Derbyshire having been allowed out to work in the village.

January 2002 – Escaped murderers back in jail

August 1999 – AN escaped child-killer and rapist was back behind bars last night after going on the run from one of the nation’s cushiest prisons

November 2008 – Prisoner branded one of Britain’s most dangerous men escapes from guards while shopping in Aldi supermarket

Stephen Edwards was jailed for life in 2001 for stabbing his sister-in-law up to 31 times and keeping his estranged second wife Anita hostage in a five-hour gun siege at their home in Chippenham, Wiltshire.

A mockery of the prison system !

A THIEF who absconded from an open jail returned three days later and begged staff: “Please take me back, it’s much more cushy in prison.”

Wesley Crawford, 42, disappeared after getting in trouble for having a mobile in his room. But after three days on the run, he got fed up and decided to go back.

A jail source said: “We couldn’t believe it. To come knocking on the door and asking to be taken back in is amazing. “He basically said that it was much more cushy being inside prison than it was on the outside.

May 2011 – Criminals break into Sudbury Prison and steal tools

The brazen crooks then forced open the door of a workshop and made off with metalwork tools used in workshops by prisoners. Staff at the open prison – which is home to 581 inmates – discovered the break-in when they arrived for work.

Police are now investigating, but there was still a hole in one of the perimeter fences on Tuesday. One prisoner, returning from day release to Sudbury, said: “Everyone will find this hilarious”.

Another inmate, also returning from day release, said: “How can they be expected to keep the prisoners in if they can’t keep the burglars out?” The thieves got away with oxy-acetylene cylinders, hoses, tools and a trolley.

37 jailed killers walk out and flee: Alarm over security at open prisons as figures reveal 175 inmates absconded last year

  • Last year saw 175 inmates leave open prisons or disappear on day release

  • 37 murderers and five rapists have absconded over the last three years

  • MP says ‘unacceptable’ figures show people are not being properly punished for their crimes

Dozens of dangerous criminals including murderers, rapists and paedophiles are simply walking out of prison.

Last year 175 inmates left open prisons or disappeared while on day release, the equivalent of one every other day. The list of violent offenders who have absconded over the last three years includes 37 murderers and five rapists.

Among them is rapist Ivan Leach, a predatory paedophile and ruthless robber whose criminal record stretches back three decades. The tattooed thug is suspected of breaking into a woman’s home and raping her while on the run.

Others include a man who stabbed a teacher to death while high on lighter fuel and a teenager who killed a ‘Good Samaritan’ who tried to stop a robbery.

Last night the MP who uncovered the figures asked how criminals guilty of such serious offences could be allowed to roam free.

Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, said: ‘People will be astonished that it is possible for about 40 murderers and rapists to have absconded in three years.

‘The public expect to be protected from serious offenders, and the fact that so many can abscond is outrageous and unacceptable.

‘These are the most serious of offenders and, as far as I’m concerned, those guilty of murder should be behind bars for life, not put in a position where they can abscond at will.

‘People who have been convicted of rape simply should not be just walking the streets.’ 

He added: ‘What is frightening is that we don’t know how many of these committed offences while they were absconding. We don’t even know whether they are still at large.

‘It shows that far too many people are not being properly punished for their crimes. The public will be shocked and appalled.’ 

The vast majority of the convicts disappeared while in relatively relaxed institutions after serving a long period in prison.

Many of them were allowed to leave during the day to undertake work placements or work in charity shops in an attempt to prepare them for freedom.

According to the Ministry of Justice figures, 679 prisoners absconded between 2009/10 and 2011/12.

They included 149 robbers, four kidnappers, 15 guilty of grievous bodily harm, and three of attempted murder.

A further four were convicted of manslaughter, 22 of possession of firearms or knives, and two had threatened to kill. In Government terminology, ‘absconding’ is different from ‘escaping’ as it does not require climbing a wall or digging a tunnel.

Mr Davies mocked the distinction, adding: ‘It’s like Yes Minister. The public will be delighted to know that these people haven’t escaped – they’ve just absconded.’ 

The figures prompted claims that officials are failing to get the balance right between protecting the public and rehabilitating criminals.

David Green, of think tank Civitas, said: ‘These figures simply reaffirm that the Government does not attach the weight it should to the safety of the public

‘These are people who are given day release in preparation for ultimate release, and then go missing; or people who are put into open prisons where they should not necessarily be.

‘It is concerning that murderers are contained in these groups.’ 

The figures show that the number of ‘absconders’ has fallen from 269 in 2009/10 to 175 last year.

Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: ‘The annual number of absconds has reduced significantly over the last several years with the number in 2011/12 being at the lowest levels since central records began.

‘Of those prisoners who do abscond, the majority are quickly recaptured, returned to closed conditions and referred to the police for prosecution.’ 

A spokesman for the Prison Service admitted that a small number of those who abscond are never returned to jail.