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Early Release Scheme

Volume 523: debated on Tuesday 15 February 2011

8. How many prisoners with convictions for violent offences were released under the early release scheme between 2007 and 2010. (40459)

Between 29 June 2007 and 9 April 2010, 81,578 prisoners were released under the end of custody licence scheme. Of those, 16,335 were violent offenders. The scheme finished last year with the last release on 9 April.

Does the Minister agree that the consequences of the previous Government failing to get a grip on reoffending were that our prisons reached bursting point until the then Justice Secretary had to release prisoners early, thus putting the public at risk?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. By failing to plan properly for the necessary prison accommodation, the previous Government were forced to resort to the end of custody licence scheme. More than 1,600 of those 80,000 prisoners released committed further offences while on the scheme, including very serious offences. One of those offences was murder.

How confident are the Government that fast-tracking the release of prisoners with sentences of imprisonment for public protection—IPP prisoners—will not put the public at increased risk of serious crime?

We will take no risks in this respect. All prisoners who have to be released under the IPP scheme will be properly risk assessed. I repeat that the problem with the previous Government’s approach was that these prisoners were released automatically simply because the previous Government had run out of space. However, that scheme was cynically brought to an end just before the last election.

Of the 16,300 or so prisoners whom the Minister mentioned, how many were failed asylum applicants who were not deported?

I am afraid that I do not have those figures available for my hon. Friend. However, there is a separate issue about the number of foreign national prisoners in our jails, and it remains the Government’s policy to seek to remove them on release as soon as possible.

Can the Minister confirm that on four occasions—in 1984, 1987, 1991 and 1996—the previous Conservative Government released prisoners earlier and with far fewer safeguards? Let me also ask him about the early release of prisoners convicted of violent offences. He mentioned that those serving an IPP sentence will be released early. Exactly how many of the 6,000 prisoners currently serving an IPP sentence will be released early, and what criteria will be used?

I am happy to confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that none will be released early and all will continue to be risk-assessed.

Let me ask the Minister to answer this question accurately then. Can he confirm that, as a direct consequence of the cuts that his Department has accepted from the Treasury, there are now fewer programmes for those on an IPP sentence, which means a longer delay before they go on a programme? Can he also confirm that the consequence of the cuts in front-line probation and prison officers will be less rehabilitation while in prison, and that another consequence of the cuts that he has accepted will be cuts to the Parole Board, which will mean a double whammy of more prisoners being released prematurely and less rehabilitation in prison?

The right hon. Gentleman has to get his attack right. One moment he seemed to be saying that we were about to release too many IPP prisoners; now he seems to be saying that we will release too few. Which is it? The fact is that there has been a growth in the number of IPP prisoners. Everybody accepts that IPP sentences have become de facto life sentences and that we have to address that, but there will continue to be a proper risk-assessment of any prisoner released from an indeterminate public protection sentence.