Inmates prefer prison to tagging

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The Independent Online
A PLAN to release thousands of prisoners in the world's biggest electronic tagging exercise is being held up because some inmates would prefer to remain in jail.

The new head of the Prison Service said yesterday that only about 50 prisoners would be released tomorrow to start a programme aimed at placing 30,000 inmates a year on "home detention curfew".

The plan requires prisoners to remain at home between 7pm and 7am with electronic tags on their ankles. But some do not trust themselves to stay clear of their old criminal haunts. Martin Narey, the service's director- general in waiting, said prisoners suitable for release had asked to stay in prison. "One or two have been honest enough to say they don't think they can comply with it," he said.

Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, said colleagues reported that a small number of prisoners had declined to go on the scheme because they feared they would relapse into drug addiction or alcoholism

He said: "Others have been so institutionalised they just feel they cannot cope on their own, and some live in worse conditions in temporary accommodation than they enjoy in jail."

Mr Narey said he hoped the scheme would quickly gather momentum but stressed that governors would not be asked to relax the release criteria simply to increase the numbers on the programme. He said: "This is not about clearing our prisons and there is no quota on the number of curfews."

A further 50 prisoners will be released on curfew on Friday and a batch of about 150, who become eligible for release over the weekend, will be sent home on Monday.

The prisoners will be monitored by private security firms who will be alerted by an electronic signal if the offender leaves home during the curfew.

Mr Narey said only prisoners who posed no risk to the public were considered for early release. He agreed that the first prisoners being released were the "safest bets" for not reoffending.

He said: "My worst nightmare is that someone will make a rash decision and release someone inappropriately."

Eligible inmates must be serving a sentence of between three months and four years and be in the last two weeks to two months of that sentence.

Mr Narey said sex offenders would in almost all cases be ineligible although a small number of exceptions might be made for those who were clearly no risk to the public.

Breach of curfews will not automatically mean a return to prison. Mr Narey said that if an alarm was triggered but it transpired that the prisoner had left home only for a few moments to speak to a neighbour, he could be let off with a warning.

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