40,000 prisoners released early

More than 40,000 convicts have been released early to ease the prisons overcrowding crisis, figures showed today.

Under End of Custody Licence (ECL), prisoners can be let out 18 days before they finish half their sentence.

The controversial scheme was intended for short sentence convicts imprisoned for less serious offences, and should exclude those jailed for murder, manslaughter and other violent crimes.

But three violent criminals were released by accident last month, the Ministry of Justice said. They have since been returned to prison.

Since the start of the scheme in June last year, nearly 1,500 of the 42,181 prisoners let out have been called back to prison because they breached the terms of their release. But 125 remain on the run.

Felons have committed more than 600 crimes during their 18-day early release, the figures show.

In October, 2,775 prisoners were released early. One in five was serving a sentence of longer than a year.

Last month it emerged three alleged murders had been committed by early release criminals.

One prisoner killed himself before he could be tried for the murder of a 19-year-old student.

Another, Andrew Mournian, came out of prison early and beat his partner to death.

No timetable has been set for the end of the scheme. Official predictions of prisoner numbers showed more than 200,000 could be released in the next seven years.

Ministers have said they will look to end ECL when prison space allows.

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