Delay in releasing prisoners costs £2m

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As many as four out of 10 prisoners were released late because of bureaucratic delays last year that cost the Government a total of £2m, its spending watchdog says.

The Prison Service targetsays dossiers for parole should arrive with the Parole Board 10 weeks before a prisoner becomes eligible for release.

The National Audit Office found that, in 40 per cent of cases, the dossiers had not arrived two weeks before. In January 1999, the target was met in 50 per cent of cases. But, by September, there had been some improvement.

The National Audit Office said the delays were particularly severe in the case of illegal immigrants. A quarter of those in prison were released in time for their planned deportations, and one in 12 spent more than three months longer in custody because of the delays, at a cost of £500,000.

The delays were caused by the late arrival of documents from the police, the courts and the probation service.

Prisoners are eligible for parole from half way through their sentences, though 60 per cent of applications are rejected - the reason given that the prisoners have failed properly to address their offending, through training, education and work experience

But the Audit Office found no explicit link between successful completion of these three requirements and parole.

The report recommended better monitoring, better cooperation between the agencies within the criminal justice system and stronger accountability within the Prison Service. Prisoners' sentence plans should be properly linked to preparations for their release, it added.

Applications for parole had risen by one-quarter in two years to total 6,078 in 1998-99.