More prisoners to be released early to reduce overcrowding

More prisoners to be released early to reduce overcrowding

  • Writer, Kate Whannell
  • Role, Political correspondent, BBC News

The BBC has confirmed that the government will announce plans on Friday to release prisoners early in a bid to prevent prisons from becoming overcrowded.

Justice Minister Shabana Mahmood is expected to announce a series of urgent measures to free up space in prisons.

Government sources confirmed that the main measure would be to automatically release prisoners on “standard determinate sentences” after serving 40 percent of their sentences.

Currently, they are released after serving 50 percent of their sentences.

There will be exemptions for sexual and serious violent offenders.

“Some of what we found was shocking, not about finances but about prisons,” he said.

“It’s worse than I thought. I’m quite surprised they were allowed to get into that situation. It’s reckless to let them get into that place.”

Last week the Prison Governors Association, which represents 95% of prison governors in England and Wales, warned that prisons would run out of space in the next few days.

Alex Chalk, who served as Justice Minister until last week when his party lost power in the general election, told The Today Podcast that one of the reasons for the overcrowding was the Covid pandemic, which led to delays in cases.

He said that the increase in the number of people awaiting trial in custody from 9,000 to 16,000 during the pandemic period was “ruthless arithmetic logic”.

He said early release of prisoners would buy the government “18 months”, adding: “It won’t buy you more than that.”

He said the new Justice Minister Shabana Mahmood should be “very forthright and credible in the long term”.

“If the situation is that we don’t have any new money, are you seriously going to suggest that instead of building a new hospital we will build a new hospital at a cost of £600,000 per cell?”

Chalk argued that fewer people should go to prison in the first place because prison sentences increase the likelihood of recidivism.

When asked why he did not make changes while he was in government, he said it would be difficult to pass in parliament and added, “This is a calculation, the prime minister is being taxed.”

In March, Chalk announced plans to release detainees up to two months early in an effort to reduce overcrowding.

The Ministry of Justice is building six new prisons to create an additional capacity of 20,000 people.

Labour has yet to say what it will do in the long term, but Sir Keir’s appointment of James Timpson as prisons minister suggests the party will change its approach.

Mr Timpson, the boss of a shoe repair chain that has a policy of hiring ex-offenders, told Channel 4 in an interview earlier this year that “we are addicted to punishment” and that only a third of prisoners should be there.