Magistrate condemns early release policy

A SUFFOLK magistrate has attacked the Government's policy of releasing criminals from prison early after he spotted an offender in town just weeks after jailing him for six months.

A SUFFOLK magistrate has attacked the Government's policy of releasing criminals from prison early after he spotted an offender in town just weeks after jailing him for six months.

Dr Richard Henry Soper said freeing prisoners on an electronic tag at the “whim” of jail governors made a “mockery” of sentences handed out by magistrates.

The Home Office's Home Detention Curfew allows non-violent criminals to be freed up to four and a half months early.

The magistrate, who is also a family doctor in Bury St Edmunds, said: “I was unaware of the provision for early release on Home Detention Curfew until I saw one of our local offenders walking in the town six weeks after we had sent him down for six months.”


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In a letter to Magistrate magazine, he wrote: “Other local JP colleagues I have spoken to were also surprised and not a little cross.

“We already have the farce of prisoners being automatically released after half their sentence and now, at the whim of the prison governor, they get out after only a quarter.

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“It seems to make a mockery of our serious deliberations about length of custody.”

The magistrate added: “Who should have the authority to determine how long prisoners serve - magistrates or the prison governor?

“Would it not give us some sense of being in control if the governor had to apply to the sentencing court for permission to release a prisoner on Home Detention Curfew?”

Early release is available to low-risk prisoners serving sentences of between three months and four years.

They must have served one quarter of their sentence and have spent a minimum of 30 days in prison.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Home Detention Curfew has been in operation since 1999 and it is considered to be one of the normal components of the sentence plan for suitable low-risk prisoners during the custodial period of their sentence.

“It does not undermine the sentence of the court.”

She added: “HDC has been very successful in providing prisoners with a smoother and more effective re-integration back into the community.

“It enables offenders to be released from prison early, while still subject to restrictions placed on their liberty.

“The scheme helps prisoners resume employment or training at an earlier stage therefore improving resettlement and rehabilitation opportunities.”

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