HMP Sudbury in Derbyshire recently hit the papers, due to a prisoner absconding. This wasn’t an isolated case – indeed, there have been several incidences of inmates escaping from open prisons; which lead the media to ask the question – are these types of prison secure enough for certain prisoners?

In this article, we’ll examine open prisons in the UK in more depth, and whether they’re an effective form of imprisonment or not.

HMP Sudbury and Darren Jackson

Darren Jackson, a convicted murderer, walked out of HMP Sudbury, a category D prison, on the 13th September. This wasn’t the first time he’d managed to escape prison – in 1997, he’d escaped from HMP Ranby, before giving himself up to authorities just three days later.

Jackson was charged with the murder of Gill Ellis – a mother of three. In 1984, he and some other men mugged her, then Jackson stamped on the victim so forcefully that her pancreas split, and she died.

Gill Ellis’s brother, Derek Peat, commented on Jackson’s escape: “What I can’t understand,” he told the Mail Online, “is after the first time he escaped why they put them in a Category D prison which you can walk free from. At the end of the day, they should be thinking about the public. It’s a cock-up in the government.”

Ministry of Justice Response

In response to the situation, a spokesperson for the government assured that “public protection is our top priority.” They added: “When an abscond takes place, police are immediately notified and are responsible for locating the offender. Those who do abscond are returned to much tougher, closed prisons, where they will have to serve additional time.”

Jackson was caught just two days after his escape, and is currently being detained by Staffordshire police.

How do Open Prisons Work?

By Grim23 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia CommonsOpen prisons, such as HMP Sudbury and HMP Ford, are designed for ‘prisoners who present a low risk, can be reasonably trusted in open conditions, and for whom open conditions are appropriate.’ There are nine open prisons in the UK, and conditions differ considerably – but generally speaking, inmates have private cells and are able to move more freely around the prison. There are also a wider range of activities, plus opportunities to work within the community.

Prisoners can apply for day release – for example, to attend an interview or funeral. To qualify, they must agree to abide by the strict rules, before being granted a licence. They are not permitted to simply walk out of prison – and if they do so, the punishment can be severe.

Are They a Threat to Society?

It’s important to remember that rates of absconding have fallen dramatically in recent years, and that although it’s easier to escape from a category D prison, most prisoners choose not to – as it’s simply not in their best interests.

All inmates are risk assessed to see if they’re suitable for open conditions, and this risk assessment also takes into account their prison record, and any other incidences of absconding.

Of course, there are isolated incidences where the system does not work – as in the case of Darren Jackson. It’s reasonable to suggest that he should never have been in an open prison in the first place, given the fact that he’d successfully escaped in the past. However, it’s important to note that for most, the open prison system works; and provides an invaluable bridge to re-entering society once more.

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