Should ministers have powers to stop early release for prisoners?

Inmates could be forced to serve the full term of their sentence under new powers

Inside a UK prison
(Image credit: Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

Ministers are to be handed powers to block the automatic release of dangerous prisoners and force them to serve their full sentences under new measures designed to protect the public.

The rule change will allow ministers to override judges’ “fixed-term sentences”, which set automatic release dates at “halfway or two-thirds through offenders’ jail terms,” reported The Telegraph.

They will instead be able to refer cases to the parole board to require prisoners to serve their full prison sentences if they are deemed to have become a “significant public protection concern” and to pose “a very high risk of serious harm”, reported the paper.

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The Telegraph added that it had “originally been thought” that the new power would only apply to prisoners who had been radicalised in prison and who would become a terrorist threat if freed.

But new Ministry of Justice (MoJ) guidance seen by the paper suggests the powers could be applied to “more than 180 types of crime” with the extended detention of prisoners if it is thought they pose a risk of committing crimes after release.

What types of crime could see prisoners kept in detention?

The crimes that could justify extended detention under the new powers include “robbery, burglary, assault with intent to cause grievous or actual bodily harm, affray, criminal damage, brothel-keeping, carrying a firearm with criminal intent, possessing indecent images, making threats to kill, domestic violence and a host of sexual offences,” said The Telegraph.

According to the new MoJ policy framework, seen by the paper, the powers can be used on prisoners serving a fixed-term sentence and “who were not judged to be dangerous at the point of sentence but who are subsequently assessed to pose a significant risk of serious harm to members of the public.”

It also said that the powers would not allow for the prisoner to be detained beyond the end of their sentence as handed down by the court and offenders must be released at the end of their sentence in line with the judge’s decision.

A spokesperson for the MoJ told the paper that the power would be “rarely” used for those who posed “a very high risk of serious harm”.

What do critics of the plans say?

Opponents of the plan warned that the new powers could mean that thousands of prisoners languish in jail for “lower-order” crimes, comparing the plan to the introduction of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences in 2005, which saw prisoners remain in jail for years without a release date, said The Guardian.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, told the paper: “When a Labour home secretary introduced the now discredited IPP sentence we were all told it would be used rarely.

“More than 8,000 cases later, that sounds as hollow as the assurances being made for this unprincipled transfer of sentencing powers from the judiciary to the executive.”

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