WORRYINGLY, no fewer than four prisoners have absconded from open prisons while out on day release in the last few weeks.

And, while three have been apprehended at the time of writing, the system is rightly under scrutiny.

Three had committed serious crimes and the fourth, a convicted murderer, had even absconded twice before.

Reacting to understandable public concern, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has ordered an immediate clampdown on day release for previous absconders. In addition, so-called ‘town leave’ will be abolished, risk assessments will be stricter and prisoners will wear electronic tags.

These precautions are sensible.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that open prisons and day release are an essential part of our justice system. Evidence shows that prisoners cope better with life on the outside after being re-introduced to it gradually.

Day release passes fulfil that role.

Usually they work, with only one per cent abusing the system.

Of greater concern, however, is the fact that almost half of all adults leaving prison are reconvicted within the year. The Justice Department calculates that re-offending costs us the equivalent of a London Olympics, annually.

In an attempt to break this cycle, prisons now focus on reducing drug and alcohol addiction, tackling mental health problems, education and work. At the same time, new rules for prisoners’ incentives and earned privileges were introduced in November.

For example, televisions are turned off during work or study periods and confiscated as punishment.

I think most of us would agree that rehabilitation is the ultimate goal, but prisoners need to be in no doubt where they stand.