Free to Go: UK Prisoners Being Released Early Due to Overcrowding in UK Prisons

An existing scheme has been modified meaning that prisoners can now be released up to 70 days early, to combat overcrowding in jails in England and Wales.

An Overcrowding Problem

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As of March 2024, 88,220 of the 89,000 places in English and Welsh prisons were occupied, leaving just 780 places available.

Tackling the Issue

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A scheme was introduced in October 2023 to review offenders nearing the completion of their sentences for early release.

Early Release

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The scheme originally allowed for release up to 18 days early. In October, two-thirds of prisons, including HMP Wandsworth were overcrowded. 

Problems at HMP Wandsworth

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The overcrowding issues meant that inmates were sharing rooms intended for only one person. In September, a prisoner escaped, allegedly by clinging to the bottom of a delivery truck. An inspection found that conditions were “inhumane”.

Easing Pressure

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Problems such as escapes and failing inspections become much more likely when a prison is dealing with beig overcrowded.

Moving Inmates

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The UK justice secretary, Alex Chalk, said that 40 prisoners had been moved from Wandsworth following the escape, but the inspection a month later showed there were only 4 prisoners less.

October 2023

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As well as introducing the review of prisoners for early release, reported that Judges had been told to delay sentencing convicted criminals on bail. This included rapists and burglars.

Details of the Scheme

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To date, the scheme has not and will not include early release of anyone convicted of a serious violent offence, or sexual or terrorist offences

Updating the Scheme

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The early release of “less serious offenders” with a sentence of less than four years was extended in March from the original 18 days to between 35 and 60 days.

Difficulties Lie Ahead

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The change in the scheme is in response to government projections. It is predicted that prisons could be holding 94,400 inmates by March 2025 – 5,400 over capacity.

Other Plans

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Alex Chalk outlined several other measures to improve the situation, including an additional 10,000 places by the end of 2025.

Extra Funding

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The plans also include significant funding – an extra £53 million – to improve the efficiency of the bail process, and £22 million to provide community accommodation.

“Releasing Prisoners in Secret”

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Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood accused the Tories of putting the public at risk and failing to build enough prison places. Mahmood said, “This has led to them granting early release to violent criminals, domestic abusers, and burglars.”.

Foreign National Offenders (FNOS)

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Another aspect that the government plans to change is deportation. The aim is to double the amount of FNOs that it deports.

Criticism From the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

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A report published in 2023 criticised the Home Office’s Early Removal Scheme and Facilitated Return Scheme, “both designed to save money and free up prison spaces”, for “not being administered effectively”.

Operation Safeguard

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Operation Safeguard was introduced in October 2006 to deal prison overcrowding through emergency use of 400 police cells. It was first activated in February 2023. 

Additional Costs

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A letter to the Chair of the Justice Select Committee in October 2023 states that Operation Safeguard cost £30.2 million between February and July of the same year and housed 1,135 prisoners during that time.


Image Credit: Shutterstock / Tero Vesalainen statistics state that the reoffending rate for adults in the first quarter of 2024 in the UK was 25.1%, a 1% increase from the same period last year. Norway, considered to have the best prison system in the world, has a reoffending rate of 20%.

A Temporary Measure

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When the early release scheme was first introduced in October 2023, it was touted as a temporary measure. However, it is now believed to be active indefinitely.

Change Coming?

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Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood has claimed that the situation is “a crisis of the Tories’ own making” and that it “puts the public at risk”. She added “A Labour government would get… new prisons built to ease the capacity crisis. And we’ll make prisons work as part of our mission [to] make Britain’s streets safe.”

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The post Free to Go: Violent Criminals Being Released Early Due to Overcrowding in UK Prisons first appeared on Edge Media.

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