Criminals could escape jail if their local prison is full under Government plans to tackle overcrowding, it is claimed.
A review of the Prison Service by Labour peer Lord Carter of Coles is expected to recommend not jailing people who have been sentenced to six months or less if there is no space in the system.
The measure, for a limited period, comes at a time when Britain’s prisons are already over maximum capacity of about 81,000 – with the population estimated to reach 102,000 by 2011.
Public confidence in the supervision of high-risk offenders released from prison suffered a fresh blow yesterday with the disclosure that 83 have been charged with a further serious offence, such as murder or rape, in the last year.
The figure for 2006-07 compares with 61 high-risk offenders who committed further serious crimes while under the supervision of the probation and police services in the previous year.
The Ministry of Justice figures show that 12 of the 83 were among the 1,249 offenders categorised as level three – known as the “critical few” – and under the highest levels of supervision.
The publication of the figures revived the argument over the quality of parole, probation and police supervision in cases such as Anthony Rice who murdered Naomi Bryant, and Damien Hanson and Elliott White who killed city banker John Monckton while under supervision.
Overcrowded jails are presenting a threat to the public, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has told the BBC.
Anne Owers said the prison population of 80,000-plus in England and Wales was having a “huge effect”, including on the rehabilitation of offenders.
Ms Owers said vulnerable inmates were being shuttled between prisons “like a pinball machine”.
Work on reducing suicides over recent years was now being reversed and they are on the increase again, she added.
Predictions for the prison population suggest government building plans may not provide enough cells for inmates.
The Ministry of Justice figures suggest there will only be enough cells in the most optimistic of circumstances.
More than 80,000 people are in prison and the government has pledged 9,500 extra spaces to ease overcrowding.
Ministers have also published separate figures showing 3,832 prisoners have been let out of jail since June under a special early release scheme.
The current prison population is hovering at just below a record 81,000, with police cells being used for some inmates as an emergency measure.
Serious concerns about housing inmates in court cells during the height of the jail overcrowding crisis were raised by watchdogs today.
The chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, and the inspector of court administration, Eddie Bloomfield, criticised the Prison Service’s decision to keep inmates in court buildings for a weekend.
Facilities were inadequate and some prisoners in the middle of a trial had to reappear in court wearing clothes they had slept in, they said in their report on the overcrowding response.
Hundreds of dangerous prisoners could be freed from jail because of “disastrous” failings by the Government when it introduced a new prison sentence, a High Court judge said yesterday.
Mr Justice Collins gave warning that many inmates could be released whether or not they are a risk to the public because ministers had failed to provide resources to the Prison Service.
The Government is also likely to face claims for compensation running into tens of thousands of pounds from prisoners held beyond the minimum term laid down by the courts.
Since 2005, courts have been able to jail criminals deemed a public risk to an indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP) — a prison term with a minimum time to be served in jail before they can be considered for release.
DOZENS of violent and prolific offenders have been released from prison early to help solve the overcrowding crisis.
A study of 61 convicts freed in the first few days of the government’s early release scheme shows that 19 – almost one in three – had convictions for violence.
The new figures undermine claims by Lord Falconer, the then justice secretary, who told parliament last month that the early release of up to 25,000 prisoners would “exclude offenders convicted of serious sexual or violent crimes”.
The releases came after the number of inmates in England and Wales reached 81,040 – up by more than a third since Labour came to power, mainly because of tougher laws with longer sentences.