Prisoners are set to be released two months early under the scheme.
Prisoners are set to be released two months early under the scheme.

Shabana has written to the Justice Secretary after the government confirmed it is extending the early release scheme.

News that the scheme would be extended to an unprecedented 60 days was announced late yesterday evening.

There are around 2,000 spaces left in UK prisons, leading to a prisons capacity crisis.

In her letter, Shabana asks the Justice Secretary to come to the House to urgently answer questions about the extension of the scheme.

You can read the letter in full below.

Letter to the Justice Secretary

Dear Secretary of State

I write regarding your written statement published late on 11 March 2024 which announced that the End of Custody Supervised Licence Scheme (ECSL) has now been expanded so that prisoners who are eligible will now be released up to an unprecedented 60 days ahead of their automatic release date. Given the extraordinary nature of this intervention and the potential risk posed to public safety, I believe that it is of paramount importance that you come to the House to explain why this decision has been taken.

In your statement on the Government’s approach to criminal justice on 16 October 2023, you accepted that a capacity crisis has taken hold in our prisons.  Over the weekend, it was even reported that the country will run out of prison spaces by Easter, potentially triggering prison riots and prison vans leaving courts carrying offenders without anywhere to take them.

In reality, it has been clear for some time that the situation was becoming unsustainable – as your Government has been warned by everyone from the Justice Select Committee to the National Audit Office. And it is common sense that over-flowing prisons cannot function properly – so not only has violence increased, but prison is now failing to fulfil its basic function of cutting crime, with reoffending rates also on the rise.

In order to address this crisis of your own Government’s making, in October you trailed emergency measures to release some prisoners on licence up to 18 days early. You were explicit that this power would “only be used for a limited period and only in targeted areas”- the scheme was to be a “a temporary operational measure to relieve immediate pressure”.

It later emerged – from a combination of off-hand comments from other ministers, responses to written questions from Parliamentarians and media reporting – that the scheme in fact began the very next day. From the outset, then, you have chosen not to be transparent with the House and the public.

Indeed, you have already secretly expanded the scheme even before the 11 March 2024 announcement. Last month we learned from a leak to the media that the scheme would be used in more prisons and, according to unpublished guidance to prison governors, be “activated for an undefined period”.

Now we have learnt that eligibility for early release is to begin up to an unprecedented 60 days in advance – over three times the number of days on licence as under any previous scheme. No other government has ever found itself having to do this and yet the House has been provided with only a written statement quietly put out late in the evening.

This is plainly inadequate given the gravity of the situation. You have a responsibility to be candid with the House and the public about the reasons why this scheme has been expanded and the impact it is having. Specifically, I ask that you come to the House to answer the following questions:

  • How many prisoners have been released early under the scheme to date?
  • Which prisons are using the scheme?
  • Which types of offenders are being released early under the scheme?
  • Are domestic abusers and stalkers eligible for release under the scheme?
  • Why has the scheme been expanded to early release up to 60 days?
  • Why has the scheme been “activated” indefinitely?
  • What measures have been put in place to ensure that probation has the time and resources to adequately assess risk and protect the public?

I and other members of the House have asked your department for answers on the above multiple times with no success. This is completely unacceptable. The public deserve to know the truth following 14 years of your mismanagement of the criminal justice system. I request that you come to the House immediately with answers.

Yours sincerely

Shabana Mahmood MP 

Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood

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