Page last updated at 12:09 GMT, Friday, 29 February 2008

Nearly 18,600 inmates freed early

Prison doors
The prison population has hit new records in recent weeks

Nearly 18,600 prisoners have been released early under emergency measures introduced last summer to tackle overcrowding, the government has said.

In January, 2,386 inmates were let out early, bringing the total number of early-release offenders in England and Wales since last June to 18,583.

Since then 367 alleged further crimes were committed by prisoners freed under the End of Custody Licence scheme.

The news comes as the number of inmates this week hit a record high of 82,180.

'Super-prisons'

Of those freed under the scheme, 673 have been called back for not complying with the conditions of their release, but 124 have not surrendered themselves and are still on the run.

The emergency measures were introduced last summer as the prison population reached capacity. An additional 400 police cells set aside to house convicted criminals were also filling up.

OFFENCES COMMITTED BY THOSE FREED EARLY
3,484 - violence
1,730 - burglary
790 - drug offences
409 - robbery

Under the measures, 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.

Early release applies to criminals convicted of lower-level offences and jailed for no more than four years.

Overcrowding

In December, Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced plans to build three "super-prisons" each housing about 2,500 offenders as a means to solve the over-crowding problem.

He said that by 2014, the jail building programme would take total prison place numbers up to 96,000 from the current 81,000.

Ministers have also said they would look at recommendations that sentencing in England and Wales should be more closely linked to the number of jail places.

But critics say the government cannot build itself out of a crisis.

The Tories have recommended that old prisons are sold off and replaced with modern institutions better suited to cut re-offending.



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