17:45, September 30 64 0 theguardian.com

2019-09-30 17:45:03
Conservatives to scrap automatic early release of some prisoners

Violent and sex offenders in England and Wales will no longer be automatically released halfway through their jail sentence under government plans that will increase the prison population by about 3,000.

Nearly all offenders – 92% in 2018 – sentenced to immediate custody are released at the midway point on licence in the community under rules introduced in 2005.

As part of a tough-on-crime agenda dismissed as populist electioneering by critics, the justice secretary has announced that offenders guilty of violent and sexual crimes that carry a maximum sentence of life – such as manslaughter, rape, grievous bodily harm – and who are sentenced to at least four years in prison will be required to serve two-thirds of the sentence in prison before being released on licence.

Since becoming prime minister, Boris Johnson and his government have attempted to make a hardline approach to criminal justice a central plank of their domestic agenda.



The overhaul of automatic release follows a wave of forceful rhetoric and justice-focused announcements, including increased use of stop and search, more police officers on the streets and a review of sentencing.

Johnson’s government also announced plans to create 10,000 prison places – 3,000 of which will be eaten up by the impact of the policy to end automatic release at the midway point.

Penal reform campaigners called the change “complicated and unnecessary fiddling”.

In his speech on Tuesday, Robert Buckland, the justice secretary and lord chancellor, will say: “We’re going to restore faith in the sentencing system because we Conservatives believe release should be earned. And that’s why, for the most serious violent and sexual offenders, I’m announcing this Conservative government will abolish automatic early release at the halfway point. These criminals will be required to serve two-thirds of their sentence behind bars.

“Because keeping the most dangerous violent and sexual offenders in prison for longer means they won’t be out on the streets with the opportunity to commit crime. We owe it to victims to make this change.

“Punishment and rehabilitation are not opposites. We have to do both. Conservatives believe in offering a second chance to those who are ready to change. Prisons simply cannot be giant academies of crime. So we will do more to improve rehabilitation in prison and support our probation services in their vital work to supervise and resettle former prisoners.”

In 2018, of the 77,485 adults sentenced to immediate custody, 92% received a standard determinate sentence, all of whom are automatically released at the halfway point of their sentence.

Johnson and Buckland announced plans to spend up to £2.5bn on creating new prisons, while an extra £100m will be spent on cracking down on crime within prisons.

The unduly lenient sentence scheme, which allows anyone to complain about the length of an offender’s prison sentence, is also to be extended to cover further offences.

Peter Dawson, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “This is no way to make sentencing policy. There has been no review worthy of the name. In cases where the risk to the public is high, judges already have the power to do everything the lord chancellor says he wants.

“And sentencing for serious crime has already become dramatically more severe under every government this century. Yet despite all of that, the research evidence is that the public thinks sentencing is softer than it really is.

“But telling the truth about what’s actually happened on sentencing, and leaving judges free to consider the facts of the individual case, doesn’t win votes. This is the worst sort of politics – one day in the limelight paid for by decades of injustice to come.”

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The more you punish someone, the harder you make it for them to change their lives. This complicated and unnecessary fiddling with sentencing will do nothing to nurture public confidence. “What it will do is heap more pressure on overcrowded prisons and risk even more violence and disorder in a system that is already facing meltdown.”

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