Thu. Jul 25th, 2024
alert-–-overcrowded-prisons-will-let-‘several-thousands’-of-prisoners-out-earlier,-new-justice-secretary-shabana-mahmood-is-expected-to-announceAlert – Overcrowded prisons will let ‘several thousands’ of prisoners out earlier, new Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood is expected to announce

The Justice Secretary is expected to announce plans to release ‘several thousand’ criminals later this week in a high-risk move to tackle the prison overcrowding crisis.

Shabana Mahmood is likely to bring in new measures which will see a large number of offenders effectively handed a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

The emergency measures are expected to allow convicts to be automatically released after serving 40 per cent of their sentence, rather than the current 50 per cent.

Prison sources said the move – which is likely to require final sign-off by Prime Minister Keir Starmer – will be designed to free several thousand inmates early over coming months.

It comes after Sir Keir attacked the Tories at the weekend for leaving the penal system in a ‘mess’.

But backing a wider prisoner release scheme risks the party being accused of being ‘soft on crime’ despite its manifesto pledges to improve the criminal justice system.

One prisons leader told the Mail that the Justice Secretary needs to release up to 4,000 criminals to create ‘breathing space’ in the packed jails.

Mark Fairhurst, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, said: ‘I think they should be aiming for 3,000 to 4,000. That would give us some breathing space.’

There are currently 700 spare places in adult male jails which are likely to see the system through to early autumn, he added, if the number being jailed by the courts follows normal patterns and dips during August.

Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, during a visit to meet police officers in Lewisham, south-east London, yesterday MON, said: ‘I’m extremely concerned with the legacy that the Conservatives have left us with on prisons.

‘They have allowed the number of remand prisoners, of people waiting for trial, to increase because of the chaos and the backlog in the criminal justice system.

‘All of those things are going to need to be addressed and to be fixed, and the Prime Minister has said there isn’t going to be a quick fix, but we’re going to have to deal with the legacy that we inherit.’

She said the previous government had been ‘totally irresponsible’ in its management of the jail system.

Last October, Conservative ministers introduced a scheme allowing inmates serving up to four years in jail to be released early. By May the maximum discount had been increased to 70 days.

Lower-level violence criminals were eligible under the scheme but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has refused to release details of the numbers and types of offenders who have been released.

Further increases to 80 or 90 days are believed to have been considered as part of a range of options handed to Ms Mahmood.

But a blanket 40 per cent discount is understood to be favoured, partly because it avoids immediately freeing offenders who have been handed short-term sentences by the courts.

The prison population in England and Wales stood at 87,453 on Friday.

By comparison, the number was 44,000 when then Conservative home secretary Michael Howard delivered his famous ‘prison works’ speech – championing use of custodial sentences – in 1993.

MoJ data says the ‘usable operational capacity’ in the jails is 88,864, indicating about 1,400 spaces are available. However, some of these will be in women’s or open prisons, while key pressures are in the adult male estate.

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