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Low-Level Offenders Could Be Released Up To Two Months Early

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Some prisoners could be released up to two months early to relieve overcrowding in jails in England and Wales, the justice secretary has said.

Alex Chalk said the policy would only apply to “certain low-level offenders”.

Last autumn, he announced “less serious offenders” could be released up to 18 days early. This has now been extended to between 35 and 60 days.

Labour said the government had failed to build enough prisons and that the announcement had been “snuck out”.

The prison population has ballooned in recent decades as a result of tougher sentences and court backlogs.

Mr Chalk said the changes – which were published on the UK Parliament website – would be for a “limited period”. No timeframe was given.

He added that “where necessary, electronic monitoring will be applied” to “enhance public protection”.

According to figures from the Ministry of Justice, the prison population stood at 88,220 as of 8 March. Operational capacity is just over 89,000.

Projections released by the government suggest that the prison population could reach 94,400 by March 2025 and between 93,100 and 106,300 by March 2027.

The Howard League, a prisons charity, states that the prison estate should not hold more than 79,597 people.

Mr Chalk is the justice secretary for England and Wales. The prison services in Scotland and Northern Ireland are devolved, meaning they are under the control of the respective nations.

As well as the early release of some prisoners, Mr Chalk outlined a number of other points to “ensure” the government has “sufficient prison capacity in order to lock up the most serious and dangerous offenders”.

Delivering 10,000 new prison places by the end of next year, and creating 20,000 in totalSome inmates doubling up in cells “where safe to do so”The Ministry of Justice working to double the number of Foreign National Offenders (FNOs) it deports£53m of extra funding allocated to make “the bail process more efficient”And in the year 2024/25, making £22m “available” to fund community accommodationShadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood said the situation was “a crisis of the Tories’ own making” and that it “puts the public at risk”.

“Successive Conservative governments have failed to build enough prison places,” she said.

“This has led to them granting early release to violent criminals, domestic abusers, and burglars.”

She accused the government of “releasing prisoners in secret” and said the public would be “rightly alarmed” that it had “activated a supposedly temporary scheme indefinitely”.

“The justice secretary has a duty to be candid with the public,” she said.

“After 14 years of the Tories, prison violence is still rocketing, staff are leaving in droves, and high reoffending rates mean prison leavers often end up back in custody.

“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.”

A report published last summer by the recently sacked independent borders inspector, David Neal, was critical of the Home Office’s handling of FNO cases. It found that two schemes – the Early Removal Scheme and the Facilitated Return Scheme (both designed to deport FNOs) – were not being administered effectively.

The report found that “the quality of data provided was so poor that case sampling exercises could not be carried out with any reliability”.