Number of prisoners on early release scheme soars

Nearly 29,000 criminals have been freed from prison early in the first 11 months of an emergency scheme to beat jail overcrowding, it was announced yesterday.

Figures released by Justice Secretary Jack Straw showed there were 2,532 offenders freed up to 18 days early in May, bringing the total to 28,879.

The scheme has already exceeded the government's original estimate of how many inmates would be freed in the first year.

Officials had predicted 25,500 criminals would be freed in 12 months but that total was breached in April's figures, just 10 months into operation.

Last week it was revealed that one of the freed inmates is alleged to have raped someone.

The alleged attacker would have still been behind bars at the time if the early release scheme had not been in force.

Mr Straw has also been forced to make emergency changes to the rules of the scheme after it emerged that two terrorists had been freed early.

Shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said: "After a year of this appalling scheme the figures just get worse - more criminals released early, more violent offenders and more unnecessary victims of crime.

"The Government promised that this policy which is so undermining confidence in our criminal justice system would only be temporary - but if it will only be reviewed in September 2009, almost 70,000 prisoners will have been released early.

"It should be scrapped immediately before any more harm is done."

Currently, 89 offenders recalled to prison after being freed under the scheme are on the run.