Monday 13 June 2005

Open prisons.

Yet another story picked up from This Is True:

IT was hardly the most sophisticated hiding place for a prisoner on the run.

When drug-dealer Lee Barnes grew tired of prison life he escaped by walking out of the front door, and then went straight home and got a job.

But although he had given his address to the authorities when he was sentenced, it was 18 months before the police finally arrested him.

The Humberside force is now facing severe criticism after it emerged that he spent his entire year-and-a-half "on the run", living at the same address in Hull he had given the court during his sentencing and openly working as a garage mechanic.

Severe criticism, eh? How severe, exactly? Anyone been sacked? No, of course not. Humberside law enforcement probably don't believe in a blame culture.

Really, how bad does a police force have to be to be outwitted by someone who isn't even trying to outwit them?

Barnes, 28, walked out of a low-security prison after his girlfriend and son failed to visit him. He hitched a lift to Hull where he told his family he had been given early release. He expected police to quickly trace him, but months passed and he settled in to a life of raising his young son and working as a mechanic.


Barnes has now pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing firearms and one of escape at Hull Crown Court and has been sent back to Hull Prison.

In mitigation, barrister Steven Garth told the court Barnes had escaped because he was in despair at not seeing his son for months.
He said: "For 18 months he lived quite openly at his old address and got himself a job. There were no attempts to hide. He expected to be arrested at any time and taken back to prison. ..."

The word "escape" seems a bit strong. Barnes was in a low security prison, which means he can do what he likes as long as he turns up for a roll-call in the evening and spends the night there. He escaped from prison in much the same way that I escaped from my house this morning. I've not studied the issue in enough depth to say whether open prisons are, on balance, a good or a bad thing, but surely this is a good example of their downside.

However, that's just the escape itself: very easy, and impossible to stop without scrapping open prisons. That's hardly the issue here. Barnes was clearly the right candidate for an open prison: having escaped, he went home, stayed at home, got a job, harmed no-one, and waited for the police to pick him up. Why on Earth did that take so long? Keith Toon, a city councillor, said:

"If he escaped and was living at his old address the police should have known his whereabouts and picked him up in days not months."

Days? What low standards these politicians have. Barnes was at home, waiting for the police, intending neither to avoid nor resist them: it should have taken hours to pick him up — and that's including the time the prison took to notice he was missing. Once the police heard from the prison, it should have taken minutes.

The police still haven't heard from the prison, incidentally. They arrested Barnes following a tip-off from the public. To be fair to them, maybe they did arrest him mere minutes after that tip-off. The fault lies with the prison service, who either didn't notice or didn't report that one of their prisoners had gone.

Remember: these people are responsible for keeping you safe from harm.

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