Labour consider plan to release prisoners after 40% of sentence served

Labour is considering plans to release offenders after they serve just 40% of their sentence in a bid to tackle prison overcrowding, the Guardian has been told.

While the proposed plan – first reported by the Daily Telegraph – is just one of several options the Ministry of Justice is weighing, prison overcrowding has emerged as one of the most urgent issues facing the new government, with governors warning that the prison estate in England and Wales will be effectively full within the next week or so.

One government source told the Guardian: “No one wants to do it, but their hands have been forced by the inaction of the last lot. It’s very much an option though and not a done deal yet.”

The new proposal would release prisoners on “determinate” sentences between 40% and 43% of the way through their sentence. Offenders jailed for sex crimes, violence or terrorism would be excluded from the scheme, as would any offender subject to Parole Board decisions upon their release. The plan would replace the current 10-week early release scheme.

Another government insider added: “We haven’t made any decisions yet, we’re just kicking the tyres on all the options. But the crisis is acute and there are no easy decisions ahead of us.”

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As of May, the prison population was at 87,505, with an official usable capacity at 88,895. Earlier this year, the government formally triggered a crisis measure to ease prison overcrowding by using police cells to house inmates, following a decision to consider releasing some prisoners 70 days before their sentences were due to end.

In his first press conference as prime minister on Saturday, Keir Starmer highlighted prisons as one of the biggest issues facing his government, saying it would be impossible to stop the current policy of releasing prisoners early because of the lack of capacity in jails.

“We’ve got too many prisoners, not enough prisons,” Starmer said.

His decision to appoint James Timpson, the businessman and rehabilitation campaigner, as the new prisons minister has been hailed by prison reform experts. More than 10% of Timpson’s workforce are former prisoners, and Timpson has previously argued that only a third of people in prison should really be there.

While Starmer stood by his appointment of Timpson, he steered clear of endorsing that view, though he said he wanted early intervention to stop young boys in particular from getting on the “escalator” of a life of knife crime and going to prison numerous times.


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