The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Open-Says Me

The entirely predictable orgy of vandalism at Ford open prison has spurred the yahoos who comment on tabloid websites and some who write for the papers to question the raison d'etre of the open prison system. Let's leave aside the issues around plentiful booze and a relaxed regime and look at the system. The 80-odd thousand prisoners who are currently inside range from seriously dangerous psychopaths to clever violent and cynical professional criminals, to pathetic addicts and losers, and to the bank clerk who couldn't resist diverting a few quid into his own account, or a bent councillor. They are all different and they all need a different approach.
The top-end nasties need to be kept away from society. Open prisons are unlikely to see many of them. Long-sentence prisoners (say five or more years inside) should, in any sensible system, be eased back into society; that means a gradual relaxation of the regime, and, as in the best open prisons, placement in paid or voluntary work on the outside. The tabloids sneer at the 'soft' conditions, choosing to ignore the basic facts that:-
Nasty prisoners have to be constrained in high security - as humane as practicable, but above all, secure.
Long-stretch prisoners have either learned their lesson or they have not. The law prescribes their release date, so it makes sense to try to coax them back into society.
Open prisons are open because 85 per cent of inmates realise how much they have to lose by playing up. 15 percent are immune to reason.
The proverbial dodgy bank clerk is no danger to anyone in open conditions.
TJNML - there's just no money left. Thus, some unsuitable and intractable inmates are put into open nicks where they take the piss.
POA - Whatever happens in a prison the POA say it's due to shortage of staff. Read 'not enough overtime'.
Why waste lots of money in a secure nick banging up the likes of Jonathan Aitken?

What happened at Ford was the result of bored and mostly antisocial men getting pissed up for New Year and doing a bit of recreational criminal damage. It is probably true that too many Cat D men are cynically down-classified, to free beds and save cash. It was pretty stupid not to anticipate trouble on New Year's Eve, knowing that plenty of booze was on offer.
I am not trying to justify what happened, but neither do I think that it calls the open regime into question.

Here is a piece by someone who knows what she is talking about.