THERE has been more than one escape every two weeks in the last two years at an open prison that now houses adult inmates guilty of violent crimes, and those on life sentences.
At a meeting of Appleton Parish Council on Tuesday night, officials at Thorn Cross YOI revealed 57 prisoners have absconded in two years.
Parish councillors said they were ‘surprised and concerned’ by the frequency of escapes from the facility on Arley Road, and wanted answers on what is being done to reduce the risk.
Pia Sinha, governor, admitted inmates can abscond ‘by walking out the gates’ and agreed figures were ‘not good’.
She said: “I empathise with some of the concerns raised.
“We are making things a lot tougher.
“One of my clear targets as the governor is that we get as low a number (of escapes) as possible.
“It’s not an exact science.”
Miss Pinha said all inmates have been ‘stringently’ risk assessed as suitable for open conditions and are not deemed a risk to the public.
She also revealed inmates on indeterminate sentences are now at Thorn Cross.
Such sentences have no upper limit, and are passed for serious crimes when there is a concern of future offending.
She said category D facilities are used as part of normal procedure to ‘test’ prisoners on indeterminate sentences before they are released.
One prisoner that absconded was on an indeterminate sentence for robbery, it was revealed.
There are two prisoners on a life sentence, and 27 prisoners serving sentences of 10 years or more, at Thorn Cross.
The most common offences inmates have been sentenced for are production and supply of drugs, and wounding with intent.
Only 40 ‘young offenders’, aged between 18 and 21, are currently housed there, from a total population of 309.
There are 269 adults.
The parish council said it was a ‘big change’ on what they believed Thorn Cross to be used for.
Clr Peter Walker said: “You consider it used to be only a YOI, and now there is only a small number of young offenders there.”
Craig Burgess, head teacher at Appleton Thorn Primary School, questioned why the community had not been told of the changes.
Mrs Sinha said: “I agree there needs to be that consultation in letting you know what’s happening.”
The governor, who has been in the post for three months, was asked to attend the meeting after the Warrington Guardian revealed lifers were now eligible for transfer to Thorn Cross.
She said taking lifers had previously been opposed, but due to ‘population pressure’ in prisons nationally, she could no longer say no.
Only lifers within three years of the minimum term of their sentence ending can be considered for transfer.
Mrs Sinha said prisoners would only be transferred having shown ‘exemplary behaviour’ and participated in education and training.
“It is about protecting the public, added the governor.
“If you go straight from closed prison to release you are not protecting the person.”
Thorn Cross YOI 309 inmates
40 young offenders
112 determinate prisoners under five years
142 determinate sentences under 10 years
27 determinate sentences over 10 years
70 prisoners can work outside of the facility
Some have been moved from a category A or B prison
Sex offenders, or high risk offenders, cannot be moved there.
Most common type of offender - possession, production and supply of drugs
Second most common type of offender - wounding with intent
Other common offenders are robbery and burglary
2008 - started taking over 25s
August 2012 - started taking over 25s
January 2013 - started taking lifers