By Martin Graham
SCOTTISH prisoners are enjoying regular holidays at home while they serve out their sentences, despite a string of absconders failing to return after the visits.
Some convicts are being allowed to visit home as often as once a fortnight, for up to a week at a time.
Others enjoyed home visits on multiple occasions, with 59 allowed home on six occasions and 40 visiting home seven times in the space of six months.
Figures show that 368 prisoners were granted home leave in the first half of 2010, including 21 women from Cornton Vale Prison.
Labour’s justice spokesman Richard Baker said that security had to be balanced with rehabilitation.
He said: “Home visits appear to have been extremely regular for some prisoners.
“There is a clear need to balance security with the principles of the open prison estate.
“The Scottish Government commissioned a report from Professor Alex Spencer which recommended the use of GPS tracking for prisoners, but the findings of the report have not yet been implemented.
“We have to accept that home visits are part of the open prison regime for prisoners who are close to release.”
Since January 2010, a total of five prisoners failed to return after a home visit, including double killer Daniel Adam who was an inmate at Castle Huntly.
Adam was later captured at his sister’s house and told a court that he did not return to the prison because he was “steaming drunk”.
Heroin dealer Brian Masson failed to return to Castle Huntly after a home visit in February. The 45-year-old was later re-captured by Grampian Police.
Garry McGeown was convicted of serious assault and drug offences in 2001.
He went on the run from Castle Huntly after a home visit in April 2010, and was captured by Tayside
Police officers on 15 May.
John Burt Brown absconded from Castle Huntly in 2009 after being allowed out on home leave.
He was later found dead in the Gambia, prompting calls for prisoners’ passports to be held while they serve their sentences.
Rapist Robert Foye was serving his sentence at Castle Huntly when he absconded in 2007 after being allowed out to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Whilst on the run, he raped a 16-year-old schoolgirl before being apprehended.
A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said that permission for home visits was only granted after proper risk assessments had been carried out.
He said: “This is about preparing people to reintegrate into society.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The process for transferring prisoners to open conditions was tightened significantly after the Robert Foye case.
“We’ve seen a substantial reduction in the number of absconds from the open estate and these are now at a record low.”