Friday 17 January 2020

Escape from reality

Martin McDermott needed no weapons, no files, no digging tools, no rope ladders in order to escape from prison. He did not have to hire a helicopter, as happened in one notorious case in Mountjoy Jail. He just walked out the door.

For McDermott was held -- insofar as he can be said to have been held at all -- in Loughan House. This is an open prison, in which inmates are trusted not to abuse what to an ordinary law-abiding citizen looks remarkably like freedom.

Circumstances that justify housing prisoners in this manner may exist. They are not immediately obvious, especially when one considers the absurdities of the system.

The jails are so overcrowded that up to 40 inmates get temporary release every day -- although the authorities do not know where they are or whether they might reoffend.

But Martin McDermott was no ordinary prisoner. He was serving a seven-year sentence for the manslaughter of Garda Gary McLoughlin. He had 91 previous convictions. The escape of someone who killed a policeman has baffled and outraged the country.

He was quickly re-arrested -- in Derry, by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. But that must not, cannot be the end of the affair. Who ordered the transfer of a man with his record to an open prison? Can it happen again? This time, what looks like gross negligence somewhere cannot be hidden away.

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