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Ministers to release prisoners early to ease crowding

Ministers to release prisoners early to ease crowding

The BBC has confirmed the government will announce plans on Friday to release prisoners early to prevent prisons from becoming overcrowded.

Justice Minister Shabana Mahmood is expected to unveil a series of emergency measures aimed at freeing up prison space.

The main measure will be the automatic release of prisoners serving “standard, defined sentences” after serving 40 per cent of their sentence, government sources have confirmed.

They are currently released after serving half of their sentence.

There will be exceptions for sex offenders and people committing serious violent crimes.

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer, currently in Washington for the NATO summit, was asked by reporters about his findings on the state of public spending since taking office.

“Some of our findings are shocking, not so much in terms of finances but, I have to say, in terms of prisons,” he said.

“The situation is worse than I thought. I’m shocked that they were allowed to be there. It’s reckless to allow them to be there.”

Last week the Association of Prison Governors, which represents 95% of prison governors in England and Wales, warned that prisons could run out of space within days.

Speaking to The Today Podcast, Alex Chalk, who was justice minister until last week when his party lost power in the general election, said releasing prisoners early would buy the government “18 months” but added: “It won’t buy you more than that.”

He said the new Justice Minister Shabana Mahmood would have to “be very honest and credible on long-term issues.”

“If the situation is such that we have no new money, are you really going to say that instead of building a new hospital, we will build a new one for £600,000 a cell?”

In March, Mr Chalk announced plans to release prisoners up to two months early in a bid to tackle overcrowding.

The Ministry of Justice is building six new prisons to provide an additional 20,000 places.

Labour has yet to spell out its response, but Sir Keir’s appointment of James Timpson as Prisons Minister suggests he intends to change his approach.

Mr Timpson, head of a chain of shoe repair shops that has a policy of recruiting ex-offenders, told Channel 4 earlier this year that “we are addicted to punishment” and that only a third of prisoners should be sent there.