Fresh calls have been made to review which offenders are housed at Kirkham Prison after a series of criminals absconded from the open facility.
Three prisoners have been reported missing in the last week alone, and in April, convicted murderer Thomas Parkinson evaded authorities for more than two weeks.
Police only told the public about 22-year-old Nathan Alan Stewart, formerly of Albert Street in Penrith, on Tuesday - 11 days after he absconded from the category D facility on August 16.
Then on Wednesday, police confirmed that Eric Keogh, 31, and Christopher Stevenson, 38, were both wanted for the same offence.
That brought the total number of police appeals for absconded prisoners in the last year to 18, although not every abscond is publicised.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “I am concerned to hear of further absconds from Kirkham Open Prison.
“Overall Kirkham is a good prison with dedicated staff carrying out pioneering work with prisoners who are coming to the end of their sentences.
“Given the number of absconds, I am concerned at the selection process which is being used to decide which prisoners are suitable for the open prison environment such as that at Kirkham, and this is something I believe the Ministry of Justice needs to look into urgently.”
As a category D prison, Kirkham has minimal security, and prisoners held there are allowed to spend time away from the prison on licence to carry out work or training.
According to the Ministry of Justice website, category D prisons should “only house prisoners that have been risk-assessed and deemed suitable for open conditions”.
But an annual inspection report of Kirkham, conducted by the Independent Monitoring Boards and published in May, claimed that “unsuitable prisoners” were still being transferred to the open prison, in spite of previous concerns raised about the issue.
The report said: “Despite assurances last year from the Prisons Minister that categorisation of prisoners was being correctly completed, there are still prisoners who are unsuitable for transfer to a category D establishment being sent to Kirkham.
“A number of those who arrived at Kirkham were deemed to be unsuitable for life in a category D establishment.”
On April 25, 31-year-old Thomas Parkinson escaped from HMP Kirkham through a window.
Parkinson, from Ribbleton in Preston, had been serving a life sentence for murder.
In 2006, then aged 19, Parkinson stabbed 23-year-old Shaun Higgins in the back after gate crashing a party in Preston.
After he absconded, officers told the public to not approach him, warning that he “could be violent”.
When he was finally caught on May 13, Parkinson’s lawyer claimed “impatience” caused him to abscond, since he had been due for home release, but the decision had been delayed.
The IMB report also claimed that “drug debt problems” were a major cause of absconds, and said that in 2018, 21 prisoners had warned staff themselves that they were at risk of absconding.
It warned that had they not come forward voluntarily, the number of prisoners who absconded “would be a lot higher”.
Inspectors also noted that most absconders were recent arrivals at Kirkham, and raised concerns that the reception billet they were housed in was “close to the main gates with direct access to the main road”.
In the report, inspectors asked if, in future, it was possible to house new arrivals in a billet inside the main area of the prison.
It has not been possible to verify if this change has taken place.
The large number of broken and vandalised CCTV cameras was also highlighted in the report as a security problem.
Nathan Alan Stewart, Eric Keogh, and Christopher Stevenson remained on the run from authorities last night.
A Prison Service spokesman said: “The number of absconds from open prison has fallen by two-thirds in the last decade but we work closely with the police to recapture absconders and they face a return to tougher, closed conditions when caught.”
‘Unsuitable’ prisoners to blame for drugs issues inside Kirkham
A report into conditions at Kirkham Prison revealed drug smuggling at the facility was “easy”.
The independent monitoring board said in May that the number of absconders fell from 21 in 2017 to 18 the following year.
It blamed drug debt problems and “prisoner unsuitability” for several of the absconds, saying the use of illegal substances had “escalated” in the prison.
The report added: “An investment in staff and detection equipment would start to make inroads into this problem and would help to send out the message that drugs are not tolerated in prisons.”
Judge ‘astonished’ at open prison move
Earlier this month, a judge said he had been left “astonished” that an offender with a “really bad record” had been moved to an open prison.
Timothy Joyce, 33, was serving a sentence for drugs offences when he absconded from Kirkham Prison in June.
Preston Crown Court was told he had done it deliberately in an attempt to be moved to a more secure facility after being threatened over a drug debt.
Joyce, originally from the Birmingham area, was moved to a secure facility in Lancashire after admitted escaping from custody and damaging a Ford Fiesta.
Defending, Julie Taylor said Joyce made the “impulsive” decision to walk out of the prison and get himself arrested deliberately.
Judge Philip Parry, imposing five months in jail, said: “You’ve got a really bad record and frankly I’m astonished you were put in an open prison.
“You really have racked up considerable custodial sentences over the last 10 years but nonetheless you found yourself in open prison conditions.
“I’m told you were under threat from other prisoners in the institution. You simply walked out of HMP Kirkham and were detained within an hour or so, having damaged a member of the public’s car.”