Page last updated at 14:14 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 15:14 UK

Early release inmates on the run

Prison cell
The early release scheme was introduced to ease overcrowding

More than 100 prisoners freed under an early-release scheme are on the run after being told to come back to jail, Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show.

Under the scheme, introduced last summer to ease overcrowding, 36,661 inmates have been let out early.

Since it began, 1,244 have been recalled with 111 still at large.

The figures come as the Conservatives pledged to scrap current rules which automatically release inmates after they have served half their jail term.

The rules that automatically release fixed-term prisoners after half their term, are separate from the scheme introduced to tackle overcrowding.

Those inmates who are eligible for that scheme - the so-called End of Custody Licence (ECL) - can be freed a further 18 days earlier than the time indicated by half their sentence.

ECL only applies to those serving between four weeks and four years, and is not available to prisoners incarcerated for very serious crimes.

The most recent figures show that in August 2008, release under ECL was given to 2,486 inmates.

Graph showing number of early releases

Among those released last month were 60 robbers, more than 200 burglars and 100 people convicted of drugs offences.

Ministers predicted 25,500 prisoners would be released in the first year, but the actual number was 31,500.

An MoJ spokesman said: "The numbers released and our projections for the total number of releases over a year are broadly in line with the numbers we originally expected."

He also said the policy would be reassessed as soon as there was more prison space available.

The spokesman added: "Of those released on ECL we have been notified that about 3% have been recalled.

"Just 1% have been notified to the National Offender Management Service as allegedly offending during the ECL period.

"All prisoners released on ECL would have to have been released anyway in a maximum of 18 days' time," he said.

Those who cannot be released early under the scheme include anyone who has committed a sexual offence that requires them to sign the sex offenders register, murderers, people convicted of serious assault, child cruelty and explosives offences.

Those who are the least willing will spend the longest in custody
Nick Herbert
Shadow justice minister

One sex offender was released in August under the scheme, but his crime was not serious enough for him to have been entered on the sex offenders register.

The Tories said the standard procedure for releasing prisoners after half their sentence "betrays the victims of crime".

Shadow justice minister Nick Herbert said the current system offered no incentive for offenders to go straight.

He said the Tories would ensure that prisoners "earn their release", and proposed prisoners would be given a minimum and maximum term by the courts, and every inmate would serve the minimum tariff without any chance of parole.

Mr Herbert told the Conservative conference in Birmingham: "Those who are the least willing will spend the longest in custody."


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