MP challenges open prison policy as new unit opens in Doncaster

HM Prison Hatfield.
HM Prison Hatfield.

A Doncaster MP has challenged the Justice Minister over the number of serious offenders walking out of open prisons.

Don Valley MP Caroline Flint challenged Justice Minister Mike Penning after 18 offenders absconded from HMP Hatfield last year alone.

Don Valley MP Caroline Flint.

Don Valley MP Caroline Flint.

The exchange comes just months after a new open prison unit, Hatfield Lakes, opened in the borough.

The facility, next to HMP Lindholme, has the capacity to house 124 offenders.

Ms Flint said: “I am one of 14 MPs, including yourself Mr Speaker, who have open prisons in our constituencies, and some 61 murderers have gone on the run from these prisons in the past five years.

“With the opening of a new open prison unit in Don Valley given the welcoming name of Hatfield Lakes, there is concern about the kinds of prisoners transferred into these establishments, often with little prior knowledge or, indeed, any say by the Governor on the suitability of prisoners coming into their care.

“Will the Minister meet with myself and other interested members to discuss the criteria for housing violent prisoners in Open Prisons?”

The Minister paid tribute to Ms Flint’s campaigning and agreed that the Prison’s Minister would meet with her.

Ms Flint said: “The public have every right to question why violent offenders, including murderers, are being transferred into open prisons.

“If this is just to make room in over-crowded prisons by shunting inmates elsewhere, then the Government are failing in their duty to protect the public.

“I value the important role of open prisons, but they were never intended for inmates who are a danger to the public.”

Ms Flint and Hatfield ward councillor Pat Knight have campaigned tirelessly on the issue and met with the governor of HMP Hatfield in the summer to discuss concerns.

Residents have compared the prison to a holiday camp after the recent spate of inmates absconding. Concerned resident Bev Chapman said: “It seems to be a holiday camp, not a prison.”

Speaking after six prisoners absconded in as many weeks during the summer Joe Simpson of the Prison Officers Association said: “We share the concerns of the community, at the minute the wrong type of offenders are being sent to open prisons. Because of the increase in the prison population and the closure of prisons there’s a need for more space.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Keeping the public safe is our priority and The Justice Secretary has ordered immediate and major changes to tighten up temporary release processes and open prison eligibility.”