Monday, 31 December 2007

"Safeguarding the public"

Do you remember the case of Daniel Driscoll? He's the convicted murderer currently on the run after absconding from an open prison - along with a couple of drug dealers - earlier this month.

Well, it looks like we could soon be hearing about plenty more cases like his:

THE government has quietly resumed the practice of sending high-risk offenders with a history of violence to open prisons, in breach of its own guidelines.

According to complaints submitted by probation officers to their union this month, criminals convicted of grievous bodily harm, domestic violence, robbery and wounding are being moved to open jails.

The National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) has received reports from six of the country’s nine open prisons about a new influx of cases of inappropriate referrals.

Staff at one open prison said that in mid-December they had 25 persistent offenders, all deemed to be high risk to the public.

The use of open prisons to house violent criminals was first announced in October 2006 by John Reid, then home secretary, as a short-term solution to overcrowding.

It was stopped in March this year following complaints from staff about the increasing violence and drug use by the transferred offenders. The government then issued instructions that no violent criminals or sex offenders should be transferred.

It has now emerged that when the prison population passed 81,500 in November, this was ignored and prisoners began once again to be relocated to open prisons.


A spokeswoman for the justice ministry said: “Our position has always been to safeguard the public.”

What, I ask, does she mean by that? Does she mean that the government will do all it can to safeguard the public? Or does she instead mean that safeguarding the public is simply a vague ideal, something that it would be very nice to be able to do, but which isn't really a priority? Since it's clearly not the former, I can only assume that the message is that while the government would very much like to keep the public safe from violent criminals (by, for example, ensuring that such offenders are kept in high security prisons, rather than in open prisons from which prisoners abscond at a rate of more than one a week), that's just too much like hard work, and that therefore the public can go and screw themselves!

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