Most prisoners would be delighted when they are told that they are going to an “open prison” and it appears that the Ford Open Prison in England has lived up to its name. Ninety inmates from the prison in West Sussex, including a murderer Robert Donovan, who reportedly escaped four years ago. Other escapes include inmates like Michael “Skull Cracker” Wheatley, who had 23 previous convictions for robbery, two for attempted robbery and 18 for related firearms offenses.
Open prisons allow prisoners to seek jobs and serve their sentences with minimal supervision and perimeter security. It sounds a lot like the dream of hobos in the song “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
The jails are made of tin.
And you can walk right out again,
As soon as you are in.
In this case 90 inmates are missing for a prison that only holds 557. However, the greatest problem is the delay in telling the public that a murderer is on the loose for years.
I am a supporter of alternative prisons, including the integration of inmates in outside employment to facilitate their reintroduction into society. The key is to pick the prisoners carefully and to keep close supervision — neither of which seems to have happened with Donovan or the “Skull Cracker.”