Plans for early prisoner release shelved by government

Proposals to release some offenders from prison earlier than planned have been shelved by the government.

The change was due before the House of Commons on Tuesday where it faced opposition from a number of Tory MPs.

But a Whitehall source told the BBC it was no longer necessary as the coronavirus outbreak has eased pressure on the prison system with fewer cases going to the courts.

Inmates could still be released under the COVID early release scheme.

The government proposal would have seen offenders in England and Wales who meet certain criteria – including serving a sentence of less than four years – eligible for release 180 days early under the Home Detention Curfew scheme instead of the current 135 days.

The plans, which pre-dates the pandemic, had been looked at as a means of giving offenders more time to transition back into the community – and as a way of reducing parts of the prison population.

Previous estimates, from last year, show around 500 prisoners would have been eligible under the change.

A number of Conservative MPs were known to have been unhappy with the plans with one senior backbencher claiming “dozens” were set to rebel.

However the proposed change has now been dropped with a government source telling the BBC it is no longer necessary.

At the beginning of April the government announced that, in a bid to reduce coronavirus infections, low-risk offenders with two months or fewer still to serve would be released on temporary licence in stages.

Speaking at the end of last month, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said that, under the Covid early release scheme, 33 out of 4,000 prisoners in England and Wales had so far been freed.

Mr Buckland said progress on the scheme announced at the start of the month had been “slow”.

But he said other measures, such as requiring inmates to spend more time in their cells, had so far helped to prevent an “explosive outbreak”.

As of Wednesday, 390 prisoners and 447 prison staff had tested positive for COVID-19 across 74 prisons in England and Wales.

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