Prisoners to be released up to two months early to help ease overcrowding in jails

Male prisons are currently 99.7 per cent full, with just 238 spaces left Credit: PA

Prisoners will be released up to two months early to help overcrowding in prisons, the justice secretary has announced.

Alex Chalk announced a plan to extend a scheme which allows "certain low-level offenders" to be released from prison early because prisons are nearing capacity.

Previously prisoners could be released up to 18 days before the end of the sentence, but this has now been increased to 35-60 days.

Mr Chalk told the Commons the government will enable the scheme to happen for "a time limited period", and "work with the police, prisons and probation leaders to make further adjustments as required".

ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen discusses how much earlier prisoners could now be released

Mr Chalk also said electronic tags will be used to "enhance public protection" where necessary.

Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood said this policy is "the most drastic form of early release for prisoners that this country has ever seen".

"This is a measure that will cause shockwaves and deep concern across our country", she said.

Ms Mahmood said in Mr Chalk's eleven page statement on early release "merited one paragraph", and accused the government of "trying to quietly slip out" the policy by releasing a statement late on Monday evening.

Male prisons are 99.7 per cent full, with just 238 spaces left according to the Daily Telegraph, while women’s jails are 96.9 per cent full with just 118 spaces left.

Mr Chalk had previously announced in October that the government will use its powers to allow the prison service to let some prisoners out of jail up to 18 days early, but this did not apply to “anyone serving a life sentence, anyone serving an extended determinate sentence, anyone serving a sentence for an offence of particular concern, anyone convicted of a serious violence offence, anyone convicted of terrorism, [and] anyone convicted of a sex offence."

The scheme is called the end of custody supervised license (ECSL) scheme.

Asked whether this new early release scheme could become a permanent situation, the prime minister’s official spokesman, said: “No, it is a temporary measure and it will be used at an operational level by the Prison and Probation Service.

“They won’t be in place any longer than is absolutely necessary.”

Asked how long it could be in place, the No 10 spokesman said: “I can’t offer a projection but it is very clearly a temporary measure.

“It is up to governors to use it operationally, depending on their circumstances.”

In a statement released late on Monday evening, Mr Chalk said there was a need to “address the unsustainable growth in the remand population” since the coronavirus pandemic, saying those held in remand had increased by more than 6,000 in 2019 to more than 16,000 at present.

Mr Chalk said, as well as extending the ability for prison governors to release prisoners early, the UK government would be increasing support for bail applications.

In his statement on Monday, he said ministers were “exploring at pace with the senior judiciary the rollout of a remote, nationwide, pilot, crown court capable of hearing new bail applications”.

He added: “The pilot would monitor whether these additional measures result in an increase in the use of tagging and appropriate support packages in bail applications.

“In order to support this, the Government will invest £53 million additional funding to expand the Bail Information Service – part of the productivity package the Chancellor announced at the Budget.

“This will enable our court system to be more efficient by increasing the court-based staff and digital systems that can provide critical information to the judiciary – making the bail process more efficient.

“To support this work a further £22 million of additional funding will be available in 2024-25 to fund community accommodation.

“We will also increase awareness about the availability of tags, especially high-tech GPS and alcohol monitoring tags, to ensure that offenders can be monitored in the community.”

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