• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Judges in England and Wales told to delay sentencing as prisons reach maximum capacity

ByLara van Vorst

Oct 27, 2023
Building with Ministry of Justice sign

Reportedly judges had been ordered to delay the sentencing of rapists and burglars as the country’s prisons were full, according to the Times.

The UK’s prison population currently lies at 95,526, just a few hundred places short of the maximum capacity. The prisons that do have capacity are almost all women’s prisons, young offender institutions or high-security prisons, unfit to accept most transfers.

In an address to the House of Commons on 16 October 2023, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk revealed his short-term solution to the problem. It includes an early release for thousands of prisoners, the UK renting prison places overseas, and attempting to return foreign prisoners to their home countries.

Sentences below 12 months will be suspended and offenders who are sentenced to less than 4 years, are to be released 18 days before their automatic release date. This applies to all whose release dates fall between 16 October and 12 December 2023. 

He also announced that the government would follow the example of countries like Norway and Denmark and look for prison places to rent abroad.

Lastly, he said the government would attempt to return foreign prisoners to their country of origin.

“There are over 10,000 foreign nationals in our prisons. It cannot be right that some of them are sat in prison when they could otherwise be removed from our country.”

Chalk’s proposal has sparked criticism. There are concerns that an earlier release could make resettlement difficult for those looking to secure accommodation or employment on release.

Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, pointed out the danger of overcrowded prisons. 

He said that prisoners will be released without having experienced the support needed for them to properly settle back into the community, which potentially results in them committing more offences.

Nicole Jacobs, domestic abuse commissioner, has spoken out saying:

“Many of those serving short sentences will be in prison for domestic abuse & stalking offences.”

“The Ministry of Justice must seriously consider the safety of victims of domestic abuse and set out clearly how they will be protected.” 

Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood also criticised Chalk’s reaction saying that he should have offered an apology.

“As everybody knows, the first stage of rehabilitation is to acknowledge your mistakes and make a sincere apology for those affected and let down by your actions or in his case inactions.”

“His failure to do so is utterly inexcusable.”

Image: “Ministry of Justice” by It’s No Game is licensed under CC BY 2.0.