Errors in system let criminals stay free

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The Independent Online

The public are being put at risk by administrative blunders that allow criminals who should be returned to prison to remain at large.

Convicts are being left at liberty because officials are forgetting to tell police that their early release conditions have been breached and they should be sent back to jail.

Senior Scotland Yard officers have complained that the National Offender Management Service frequently fails to inform them when criminals out on licence need to be tracked down and returned to prison.

Chief Superintendent Joanna Young of the Metropolitan Police last week warned in a report that the public is being put at risk because the system is not being administered properly. She said that the Release and Recall Section, responsible for monitoring the licensing system, sometimes failed to inform the relevant police force that a prisoner had to be returned to jail. In more than one in four cases it was discovered that the police wasted time searching for prisoners who were already back in jail.

The revelations will intensify criticism of the Government's control of offenders in the community. Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice, last week called on magistrates to send fewer people to jail, as the prison population in England and Wales rose above 82,000 – 21 places short of capacity.

More than 16,000 prisoners have been released 18 days early under a scheme to free up space in prisons, but many re-offended while on licence.