What is an open prison? Can prisoners leave open jail when they want?

Police are searching for sex offender Paul Robson, who absconded from an open prison in Lincolnshire last weekend.

Robson was reported missing from HMP North Sea Camp, in Boston, on Sunday. He received a life sentence in 2000 after breaking into a woman’s home and sexually assuming her at knifepoint, but was deemed suitable to be moved to the open prison in February 2021.

He was finally transferred to the category D prison at North Sea Camp last month, but subsequently absconded just weeks later – raising questions among the wider public about the open prison system.

READ MORE: How long is a life sentence in the UK, which offenses carry a life sentence and how does parole work?

What is an open prison?

An open prison is a type of prison in which prisoners considered to be low-risk are trusted by the authorities to complete their system with minimal supervision.

Also known as category D prisons, inmates at open prisons are often not locked up in their cells and may even be allowed to take up employment while serving the remainder of their sentence.

However, they do not have total freedom and are only permitted to leave their prison open for a particular purpose.

Open prisons are an important part of the rehabilitation process, preparing prisoners who are coming to the end of their sentence for life in the outside world.

Who goes to open prison?

Inmates at open prisons are either coming to the end of their jail term or are considered to pose minimal risk to the wider public – or both.

This may include prisoners convicted of serious offenses – including sexual and violent crimes – if they are considered by authorities to be of low risk.

Some victims of crime and politicians have criticized the practice of sending such prisoners to open prisons, where there is a more relaxed regime in place.

According to figures from the Ministry of Justice, a total of 101 prisoners absconded from open prisons last year.

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