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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 08:39 GMT
Should offenders be released early?
The home secretary is calling for hundreds of prisoners to be released early and fitted with electronic tags.

In a speech to prison and probation inspectors, Mr Blunkett will say early release should be the automatic first option for offenders serving short sentences, except for those convicted of sexual or violent crime.

The prison population is at a record level of more than 70,000, but the Home Office insists the impetus for early release is to cut re-offending - not to ease over-crowding.

But the Conservatives say the move makes a mockery of the criminal justice system. They say the government must ensure criminals serve their sentences, even if that means building more jails.

What do you think? Will electronic tagging of offenders work?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Prisoners should be released from prison every day. In work parties, in order to go out and spend their time gainfully renovating disused properties and the like which could then be given over to the Local Councils to be used to help overcome the housing shortage. Everyone wins. The prisoners learn trades which will prevent them slipping back into crime when they are finally released, they also undergo a form of punishment, and the taxpayer has something more tangible to behold for his outlay than a supercharged hoodlum. Also, the cost of Carpenters and plumbers might become more realistic!
Shaun, Teignmouth UK

I am disappointed at the "hang 'em & flog 'em" attitude of most of the contributors

John, UK
I am disappointed at the "hang 'em & flog 'em" attitude of most of the contributors. The decision to release a prisoner early with a tag would only be done after deciding if the person was liable to re-offend, the nature of their crime and many other factors. Not all prisoners are there because they mugged a little old lady.
John, UK

The law-abiding public need protection, and whilst I am for more rehabilitation work whilst offenders are in prison, I don't feel they should be released early. We already have a system which criminals do not fear, with courts failing to jail offenders who then continue to make the general public suffer. If we have to build more prisons, then we must do so. Frankly we are never going to solve these problems, until we have a government who does more for the poorer elements in our society, and narrows the gap between rich and poor. Margaret Thatcher would be proud of Tony Blair's efforts to date!
Mike, UK

Short sentences do not deter. That's why the prisons are full.
Sam, UK

I think that it might be worth a try, but we should be very, very careful which criminals get to walk this road

Angie, Bar Harbor, Maine, USA
I think that it might be worth a try, but we should be very, very careful which criminals get to walk this road. Non-payment of fines does sound like a contender. If there is a victim involved, perhaps they could be given a power of veto, and, if tagged and released, why not keep the tag on for twice the remaining time of sentence as a condition of release. Violent sorts? Keep 'em in.
Angie, Bar Harbor, Maine, USA

The National Probation Service is rarely mentioned in any discussion about the release of prisoners unless something goes wrong. The fact of the matter is that they work long and hard protecting the public and getting it right when assessing some of the most dangerous people eligible to be released. A clear distinction has to be made in the public mind between the dangerous high risk offenders who will stay in prison and the proposed release of a number of lower risk prisoners who are very often sentenced to custody for non-violent offences such as relatively minor dishonesty offences, driving whilst disqualified, and non-payment of fines. It is highly unlikely that such people once tagged will pose an increased risk to the public. What needs to be addressed are the anomalies in the criminal justice system that allows sentencers to send large numbers of people into custody who could well be made subject to community orders and thereby supervised intensively. Custody should be a last resort not a first.
David Raho, UK

What's the point with fitting them with an electronic tag? Is it an Easter present

John, UK
What's the point with fitting them with an electronic tag? Is it an Easter present. Why can't they get on with the job and build more multi-storey high security prisons instead of spending public money on building things like the millennium dome. And even if we tag them and find out that they have committed a crime where are we supposed to put them? And we usually tag animals, it goes against human rights to tag human beings. I think we are basically letting criminals go free. What if they manage to fly outside Britain. Are we going to trace each and every of them?
John, UK

I don't think it's too bad an idea, if criminals who have committed non-violent crimes were given this tagging scheme, then I don't think I would mind. However if violent criminals/sex offenders were given this tagging scheme then I would be 100% against it.
Russell, UK

All those who advocate early release of any criminal clearly are fortunate enough to live in areas which do not suffer at the hands of these parasites. I note that the people marked for release are those guilty of such offences as burglary, theft and drug offences. In other words, crimes which most often occur in deprived areas, well away from the odious bunch of champagne socialists who constantly harp on about their welfare. It's an affront to the victims of these scum, as well as the people who have to put up with their anti-social behaviour on a daily basis. People like Blunkett and Blair living in their sheltered and affluent areas would never understand. Another preposterous move from an out of touch and bumbling government.
Dan, UK

If there was a proper deterrent for crime in this country we would not have to resort to these frankly ridiculous measures to alleviate the overcrowding problems, as there would be less crime in the first instance.
Steve West, UK

Given that a recently estimated 80% of all crimes currently remain unsolved, the true figure for re-offending by tagged criminals must be closer to 10%

CB, England
May I point out that the government's claim that only 2% of electronically tagged criminals re-offend is incorrect? The fact is, only 2% of tagged criminals are brought to trial for re-offending - which is an altogether different matter. Given that a recently estimated 80% of all crimes currently remain unsolved, the true figure for re-offending by tagged criminals - as opposed to actual convictions for re-offending - must be closer to 10%. So, if we have 70,000 electronically tagged criminals re-offending in-line with the statistical average, they may be expected to collectively commit 7,000 new offences of which 5,600 will remain unsolved. With the foregoing in mind, the fact that David Blunkett can maintain that releasing prisoners and tagging them is a good idea simply beggars belief.
CB, England

Of course offenders should be released early and the worse the offence, the sooner. It's the best way I know of to keep the police and the judges fully employed and off the public dole.
Mark, USA

You have a carrot and a stick. No early release takes away the prison officer's carrot. His job is now much harder. Electronic tagging: People who are not violent do not belong in jail. Tag them make them come home at 19:30 and feed and look after themselves. If they do not get the message them maybe jail.
Steve Kniste, UK

Tagging should only apply to those people who are unlikely to reoffend. Anybody who has committed a violent crime or is in prison for a second or more time should not be eligible. Prison server is to punish and rehabilitate. Only when prisoners have been adequately punished should they be eligible. Tagging should also be used for every prisoner on parole and restrictions should be put on them. It should still be seen as a punishment and not a desirable easy option.

This is yet another spur of the moment policy, from a government that appears unable to approach any subject with any semblance of coherence.
Phil, UK

Offenders should serve the sentence that they have been given in full. As has already been pointed out, too much concern is wasted on these criminals. Do-gooders should mind their own and show their concern for the victims of crimes, the children who are abused, the women who are raped, the elderly who are mugged and beaten. I know the prison service is overcrowded, that is something the government should address - create facilities for more prisoners. If I had to pay an increase in tax to know that my wife, young son and family were even a little safer I would pay without hesitation.

Why no let out the people in prison for non-payment of fines and such like?

Chris, UK
We are about to have a crackdown on crime. This means that muggers and the like are going to need prison space. So why no let out the people in prison for non-payment of fines and such like, albeit with limited freedoms? We need to free up some prison space - it's not brain surgery!
Chris, UK

There's a more important point being missed here; Why are so many people concerned about prisons becoming crowded and under-facilitated? I'd much rather know that the parasites are crammed into bunk-beds, 4 to a cell and eating meals of the most basic standard than what we have currently... Colour TV, their own cells in many cases, access to pool tables and various other recreational facilities - Things I have to do a hard, honest week's work to enjoy. Maybe I chose the wrong path?
Wayne Brannan, UK

Why so many offenders in the first place, especially children? I have to agree with Simon, UK, that it is directly linked to discipline. We need to get back to a system of teaching children that there are consequences for their actions. Releasing offenders early is giving the wrong lesson. Why work hard to earn a living when you can just steal from others and get tagged for a few months. A strong message needs to be sent out that crime does not pay and will be punished. I believe this will cut down the crime rate and therefore there won't be a need for more prisons. Why is society so scared of getting tough?
Charmaine, UK

When will people start to draw a number of subjects together; the abolition of discipline in schools and the increasing number of parents who have children without understanding their responsibilities means that we have a gradual increase of people in society who can't differentiate right from wrong. Inevitably, this leads to an increase in street crime etc as we are currently witnessing. Ally this to the obsession with finding excuses for perpetrators of crime and disregarding the victims, plus a legal system that has lost sight of justice and is now more concerned with making money from arguing points of law and you have the sorry state in which we find ourselves. Why won't it get resolved - measures implemented now would not yield real benefits until Tony Blair is a distant memory and, secondly, since the majority of our politicians are from have a background in law, their is no real political will. Early release is a case of addressing a symptom rather than the cause.
Simon, UK

Electronic tagging will have no appreciable benefit once the tags have been removed

Tony , England
Electronic tagging will have no appreciable benefit once the tags have been removed. If you want to use the system then have a period of tagging at the end of the full sentence. After all when they are locked up the rest of us are safe from them. We need more prisons, for even if we release all those who really shouldn't be in prison, there are more than that number terrorising society, who the police and courts have so far failed to incarcerate. In reality nothing will change in the near future, for this government which had every opportunity when the Tories were destroyed by the electorate, have failed abysmally to demonstrate any form of leadership.
Tony , England

This government's solution to any crime problem seems to be to not make it a crime. They're trying it with cannabis they're now trying it with convicted criminals. If we have a crime problem, and there aren't enough prison places then build more prisons, provide more police on the beat. What next? We can't catch all rapists so stop rape being a crime?
John, UK

If I get caught driving 35 in a 30mph zone, the very full weight of the legal system is brought down on me. If I mug some old granny I just get a "good talking to"
Neil Pearce, London, England

We need lots more prisons, but built to a much more basic standard. No more television sets in rooms, computers, education classes and fancy food. Simple bare walls, hard floors and bread and water.
Neil Pearce, London, England

e have hard currency, the Russians have unused prison camps in Siberia, and I'm sure they would be delighted to take the drug pushers, muggers, rapists and paedophiles off our hands

Guy Hammond, England
The solution to overcrowded prisons is obvious. We have hard currency, the Russians have unused prison camps in Siberia, and I'm sure they would be delighted to take the drug pushers, muggers, rapists and paedophiles off our hands at a much lower cost than running prisons or tagging schemes in the UK.
Guy Hammond, England

To Chris B - You can't label these people as prisoners! They are criminals. Imprisonment is an ancient and out dated form of punishment. It is costly to the innocent as we pay through our taxes. If we build more prisons we will have less money to spend on other things like health care or schools. We need a modern form of punishment, one that shows how we have advanced as a society, not how we are all to eager to push away and hide the product of human greed. Let's get these people out and educate them, show them that they are a part of humanity and they can make a positive contribution.
Chris Warwick, UK

I fail to comprehend how releasing prisoners into a society in which most crimes remain unsolved, and in which the crime rate is - not surprisingly - soaring, is going to reduce crime. This week's favourite phrase: "cut re-offending", is a poor whitewash of an excuse made by an incompetent Home Secretary who has no concept of cause and effect, and who is consequently at a complete loss for a sensible strategy. The bottom line is the need to cut crime - and we will never achieve that by emptying criminals out of the prisons and back onto the streets. All that achieves is the provision of more fodder for the police, the courts, and society in general to have to cope with.
Chris B, England

The majority of the subscribers to this debate have focussed upon the criminals and not the victims. Releasing these parasites to prey upon other innocent victims is a typical left wing bleeding heart liberal attitude and effectively tells the community that the criminals' welfare comes before their victims' welfare.
Ralph E Snape, England

If someone is out, and tag and they kill someone, that is in my eye murder by the state or are failing us miserably, be it health, law and order, justice, Europe, public transport the list is endless.
Sven, UK

After visiting a number of prisons throughout the UK I can confirm there are many inmates who should never have been incarerated in the first place.
Mart, Canada

Either way, you pay via prisons or, social services.

Mart, Canada
After visiting a number of prisons throughout the UK I can confirm there are many inmates who, should never have been incarcerated in the first place. Ner do wells, opportunists and socially inadequate individuals, psychiatric cases make up the bulk of the prison population. They are in prison because "society" is unable or, unwilling, to provide sheltered working environments for them. Either way, you pay via prisons or, social services. Take your pick. I would prefer the social services route.
Mart, Canada

It seems to me that we send too many offenders to prison, for too many reasons which have more to do with fear than rehabilitation. Policies such as zero tolerance and the war on drugs are merely fascism under a different name, placebos for middle-class anxieties, meaningless political rhetoric. Excuses for and amelioration of a media produced anxiety. All criminalization does is produce another unemployable underclass. Make the choice either return to the 17th century and hang every offender or look for an alternative way of accepting crime socially, realistically, but do not make the mistake of imprisoning too many because that remedy has been discredited since the early 18th century. It merely hardens offenders
George Stainer, UK

Corporate-run prisons are the fastest growing industry in the USA, which, ironically, has the most prisoners per-capita than any other country. Does this practice benefit anyone but the stockholders in these corporations? Do these corporations have lobbyists who influence government toward greater and greater levels of incarceration for non-violent crime?

I am not familiar with the severity of crime in Britain but I do know that in my country the policy of "lock 'em up and throw away the key" only ruins families and prevents a lot of nice people who screwed up from being assets to society. I strongly support the use of electronic monitoring instead of prison because it enables a human being to live their life while preventing further offences. It is a well known fact in this country that a jail-sentence often ruins many more lives than the petty, victimless, crime that put them there.
Anthony Stephenson, USA

Simple - harsher punisment equals less crime equals less jails and the need to tag. The UK has got into this situation by being too soft and tagging is another form of being too soft. The crime rate on the Isle of Man is minimal as the law is very hard and people realise if your not prepared to do the time - don't do the crime. Get tough, get real and up the punishment - slapping a pretty wrist tag on somebody and telling them to stay in is not a punishment - its a big cop out!
David LJ, Isle of Man UK

If you have too little prison space, build another prison

Stephen, USA
One Talking Point asks "will street crime crackdown work?" and another asks "should offenders be released early?" I see a crackdown and an early release working as opposite effects of each other. A revolving door, a criminal gets arrested, spends a tiny bit of time in jail only to be released with a little bracelet on their wrist? Hardly a "crackdown" eh? More like a silly joke. This isn't rocket science; if you have too little prison space, build another prison.
Stephen, USA

How can this government ever expect ANY proposal to work when ministers are more concerned with banning hunting with dogs than with getting the country's health, education and justice systems working effectively?
Roisin Lamprell, England, UK

I think it's an idea but not a long-term solution. I don't know what I have against it but it just doesn't seem like a good idea to me. They've committed a crime; I think they should serve their punishment.
Jen, UK

Prison overcrowding can only be resolved by building more prisons

Kevin J, UK
All this is about is to cut costs and save the Government money. Prison overcrowding can only be resolved by building more prisons. Electronic tagging may well stop re-offending while the tag is on, take it off and they'll just re-offend. So what's he going on about! More prisons need to be built, the whole justice system needs to be evaluated and offenders need educating and taught skills so they're given a chance for when they're released back into society. I don't think electronic tagging is the answer at all.
Kevin J, UK

Once again the UK government is trying the cheap solution. Why don't they just increase capacity of the prison system by using certain inmates for more public service and tagging them? And then tagging prisoners who are released after their full term for a certain probation period.
Michael, Dublin, Ireland

We could take things a step further, instead of letting them out early, why put them in at all. By the Government's stats if letting them out early reduces the risk of them committing more crime, then surely not putting them in prison would eradicate it altogether.
Paul, England

It's just a slap in the face for their victims

Baz, England
There should be no early release for prisoners whatever they were jailed for; it's just a slap in the face for their victims. With the increase in crime we should be taking more positive action, such as building more prisons, recruiting more prison officers and giving longer sentences. We should be keeping these people of our streets, not sending them home.
Baz, England

Letting out criminals early, playing with statistics and talking tough... Surely the criminals are quaking in their boots! I say build extra jails and do not worry about the amount of colour television they will need in their cells.
Mike, UK

If prisoners are released tagged, who checks the tags as to where they are? Is it another job for the hard-pressed police forces?
J. Coales, UK

In the very same day the government release figures that street crimes, muggings etc, have risen by 25% we are now contemplating releasing criminals early from prison? what is the world coming to?. I only hope the police are about to announce a huge recruitment campaign as things can only get worse!
James, UK

Releasing them a little earlier under controlled conditions, would increase the positive impact criminal punishment brings to the offenders

Loz, UK
A vast majority of offenders are released before their sentences are complete. Releasing them a little earlier under controlled conditions, would increase the positive impact criminal punishment brings to the offenders. It would be better for society than the thought of a criminal being released to do as they please, with out superfluous attention of the authorities.
Loz, UK

Anyone who ends up in prison has obviously caused discomfort to another person or persons. Why should we just let them out because they haven't got their own cells?
Mark J, Herts, UK

Mr Blunkett has to let convicts out of prison to make room for the success of his crackdown on street crime. Unfortunately the statistics he released demonstrating the "success" of tagging didn't really show the whole picture. Yes only 10% of those tagged and released early re-offended and were convicted. However, around 50% were arrested for various crimes but not convicted.
Geoff Harding, England

I think the government are simply trying to cut costs and make room in the prisons

Emily Woodrow, England
Once a criminal has made the choice to commit a crime it is only right they should be given a punishment. I think the government are simply trying to cut costs and make room in the prisons.
Emily Woodrow, England

It seems to me that releasing people from prison because of overcrowding is missing the point. Presumably they were sent there because we considered that they deserved it. How does a problem with the prison population change this? All we're doing is answering the wrong question. If our judgement says that a custodial sentence is justified and the prisons are full to the brim, then we'll just have to build more prisons. Perhaps we can reflect on the extent of the malaise in our society whilst we're laying the bricks
Paul B, Oxfordshire, UK

What is the point of prison sentences of weeks in duration? Prison should be reserved for people who need to be in one for an appreciable period of time on grounds of public safety. If someone is being sentenced to a couple of weeks or months shouldn't we find some other way of dealing with them? Is there any point in people losing jobs and homes for the sake of such insignificant jail terms? Better to have them making some real restitution for what they have done - something which is already shown to slash recidivism rates. To the people who say, "Build more prisons" I say "Let us know where you live so the new ones can be put next door to you"!
Andy Richards, UK

Offenders should not be allowed to have any of their liberties back

Dave, UK
Although I usually have a liberal opinion on this matter I believe that offenders should not be allowed to have any of their liberties back, via this tagging program. If the crime warrants incarceration, then so be it. I think we should let the present overcrowding of prisons continue. Only then will the real problems of society and crime be addressed. Will the public be content having twice the amount of offences committed in five years time, (if crime continues on its latest trend) just so long as they can say that our prisons are no longer over-crowded? To me this would be unacceptable.
Dave, UK

The overall crime figures show that this government is coping rather well with law and order, so I think this initiative at least deserves a chance. In my opinion, cutting crime should take priority over the desire to punish wrongdoers, and that seems to be the essence of the argument here.
Jon, Basingstoke, UK

I think Mr Blunkett should be re-designated the title Minister for Knee-Jerk Reactions.
Mark Humphries, England

What about investing some money into more prisons then? Get tougher and help discourage the repeat offences. Also hit young offenders harder while they are impressionable, tackle the disease, not the symptoms!
Tony Kenny, UK

It depends whether we, as a society, want to punish convicted criminals, or reduce re-offending. The two aims often conflict with each other. Speaking as someone who has been burgled in the past, I'm content to see imaginative policies like this used, but only if they can be proven to have a positive effect on levels of crime.
John, England

Apart from a very small minority, all offenders in our prisons today will be released sooner or later anyway

Mark Griffiths, England
I say well done David Blunkett! The experience of the last three years of Home Detention Curfew shows that tagging offenders works. Over 90% complete their sentences successfully which means that contrary to popular newspaper stories, there have been many more success stories than failures. And let's face it, apart from a very small minority, all offenders in our prisons today will be released sooner or later anyway. So let's ease them back into the community in a controlled way rather than simply throwing them out at the end of their sentence without any support. Should we build more jails? This is not the answer. We already lock up more people per head than any other European country apart from Portugal and in order to accommodate a 30% rise in the prison population it would cost over 500m to administer and 1bn in building new institutions.
Mark Griffiths, England

Talk tough, act weak. That appears to be the government's policy on crime. Put a spin on "getting tough" while letting criminals out of jail early. Unfortunately no amount of spin and propaganda will convince the victims or friends and family of victims who are also voters and taxpayers.
Alex Keenleyside, England

Am I the only one who can see the irony here?

James Crosby, Telford, England
On Wednesday we were being told that criminals were going to be targeted in a crackdown on crime. The next day we're told that the best way to stop them from re-offending is to release them before their sentences are completed. Am I the only one who can see the irony here?
James Crosby, Telford, England

We are already too lenient on criminals, so why are we now letting them out early?
James Edwards, England

We had that in the United States for decades. We've released these kinds of people for one reason or another early and many of them went out to commit more crimes. Some of our state legislatures have reacted against this practice by enacting minimum sentences that neither judges nor parole boards can overrule. Learn from our past mistakes.
Mark, USA

To: Geir in Norway, Comparisons between Europe and USA or USA with Canada are not valid because Europe dumped its criminals on the US and it is still occurring that the US receives a high percentage of outright criminals from other countries. Visit Baltimore or D.C. and take a stroll on a summer night.
John W. Shirley, USA

To Mark in the USA: Ask yourself why the crime rate in Canada is so much lower than in the US, and perhaps you may have to revise some of your opinions about criminal behaviour. It is no longer politically correct to speak about the social causes of crime in the UK, and it never has been in the US. But if people in these two countries were not so self-obsessed, and were willing to find out why other countries have lower crime rates, then perhaps they might have been able to tackle rising crime rates in a manner that is worthy of democratic states, and not speak of police state-syle zero tolerance.
Geir Tofte, Norway

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