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Last Updated: Friday, 30 November 2007, 10:56 GMT
Early prison releases top 11,000
Prisoner in cell
Early releases: Designed to ease overcrowding
The number of prisoners released under a scheme to ease jail overcrowding in England and Wales has topped 11,000.

Ministry of Justice figures show 2,612 inmates were let out early under the scheme in October - bringing the total to 11,132 since 29 June.

About a fifth of those released - 2,039 - were people convicted of violent offences short of serious injury.

The scheme applies to criminals convicted of lower-level offences and jailed for no more than four years

Ministers introduced the scheme in June as the prison population reached capacity. An additional 400 police cells set aside to house convicted criminals were also filling up.

Under the scheme, prisoners can be released to serve the final 18 days of their sentence in the community in order to free up cells for those being sent from the courts.

While the total number released has reached 11,000, in practice roughly 1,300 prisoners are on special licence at any one time when they would have otherwise been in jail.

Crimes and sentences

Of those released, the largest single group to date has been people convicted of theft-related offences - some 2,522 people.

Around a fifth of those released early are people convicted of lower-level violent offences while another 1,400 were inside for breaking motoring laws.

The majority of those released were serving sentences of six months or less - but 2,021 were on sentences of between 12 months and four years.

The figures show that 385 of those released under the scheme have been recalled to jail, including 118 people accused of committing 180 offences while under the licence.

However, the most common reason for a recall is because someone has failed to keep an appointment with a probation officer.

While the vast majority of those recalled have been put back behind bars, the figures show that 75 remain at large - less than 1% of all those in the scheme.

When the scheme was launched in June, ministers said it would apply to about 25,500 inmates over the course of the year - but the current trend is higher.

The Ministry of Justice says that its building programme of 9,500 additional places over five years is designed to ease overcrowding and that the temporary early release scheme will be eventually brought to an end. Critics say the government cannot however build itself out of a crisis and the Tories want old prisons sold off and replaced with modern institutions better suited to cut re-offending.

The latest prison population figures show it has dropped to 81,455 from a record high earlier in November.

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