Massive Japan manhunt for 'model' convict who fled open jail

Tokyo, Japan - More than 1,000 Japanese police were on the hunt Friday for a "model" inmate who fled an open prison, officials said.

Tatsuma Hirao, 27, who was serving time for multiple thefts, had been working at a shipbuilding yard at the Matsuyama prison in the southwestern city of Imabari.

But he gave guards the slip on Sunday night, disappearing from the facility he shared with around 20 other inmates.

"We deployed a total of 1,200 officers" to find the prisoner as soon as possible, said Masafumi Shigematsu, a local police investigator.

Hirao was caught on security cameras running away from the dorm, according to the investigator.

It was "an open institution" where inmates can walk around freely, said prison official Mutsuhiro Kawauchi.

"The inmates at the facility are trusted. They are believed to be able to control their desire to run away," Kawauchi told AFP.

A total of 21 inmates have escaped since the opening of the prison in 1961, but Kawauchi said it had no plans to increase security.

"The purpose of the facility is to teach prisoners about building a relationship of trust... We have a lower re-offending rate, so that's the merit" of the facility, he added.

After Hirao's escape, a car was stolen nearby and later found abandoned on Mukaishima island, which is tens of kilometres (miles) away.

Residents on the island reported to police that socks, a mobile phone, a wallet and a pair of sandals were stolen, according to local media.

A resident on the island also reported his car keys had been stolen and said he found a note saying "I'm borrowing your car but I'll never damage it."

Japan enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the developed world but a relatively high re-offending rate.

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