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110 inmates escaped in one year from 'trusting' open prisons

IRELAND'S two open prisons -- Loughan House in Co Cavan and Shelton Abbey in Co Wicklow -- are designed to help prisoners make the transition back to normal life.

They are very different places to the traditional image one has of a jail, with inmates held in rooms instead of cells, no bars on the windows, less barbed wire and high walls, and with no guards standing post at the front gate.

Trust is at the centre of the open prison regime. Prison authorities warn inmates that if they break the rules or escape, they will be caught and sent back to a closed prison.

The Training Unit attached to Mountjoy -- where businessman Paul Begley, who was jailed for six years last week for dodging customs duty on imported garlic, was sent -- is deemed to be a semi-open prison surrounded by a 30ft guarded wall.

In 2010, 110 prisoners absconded from open prisons -- 45 from Loughan House and 65 from Shelton Abbey.

Eleven were still at large from Loughan and 18 from Shelton Abbey at the end of that year.

Before inmates are sent to an open prison, they are individually assessed by the governor and prison officials to determine whether they are suitable.

Among the criteria examined is whether the inmates are at risk of reoffending, and whether they are a threat to public safety. Prison sources have stressed that public safety is paramount.

It is generally designed for prisoners nearing the end of their sentence, in a bid to help them make the transition to normal life.

In Loughan House, prisoners enjoy the use of an all-weather football pitch, a gymnasium, sports hall, a new education block with classrooms and an ensuite toilet.

They also have longer visiting hours; in Loughan House visiting times are between 10am and 5pm daily.

Irish Independent