Boris Johnson seeks to keep ‘dangerous criminals’ in jail for longer with sentencing review

Current law means offenders are automatically released on licence half way through sentences 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 12 August 2019 16:16 BST
Boris Johnson seeks to keep ‘dangerous criminals’ in jail for longer with sentencing review

Boris Johnson is seeking to end the automatic release of prisoners half way through their sentences to keep “dangerous criminals off the streets”.

The prime minister has ordered a review that will consider whether to bring in new legislation to keep convicts inside jail for longer.

Current laws mean that most offenders handed determinate sentences are freed on licence at the half-way point, to be monitored and recalled to prison if they break conditions.

“Dangerous criminals must be kept off our streets, serving the sentences they deserve – victims want to see it, the public want to see it and I want to see it,” Mr Johnson said.

“To ensure confidence in the system, the punishment must truly fit the crime. We have all seen examples of rapists and murderers let out too soon or people offending again as soon as they’re released.

“This ends now. We want them caught, locked up, punished and properly rehabilitated.”

Officials said the review would focus on the most serious violent and sexual offenders, four years after Chris Grayling stripped automatic release from terrorists and child rapists.

The prime minister has instructed a review team to report back with recommendations in the autumn.

During the Conservative leadership campaign, Mr Johnson called for offenders given prison sentences of 14 years or more to remain inside for the entire term.

The change would dramatically increase demand on prisons in England and Wales, which are currently filled to 95 per cent of their operational capacity and battling surging violence and self-harm.

In a slew of announcements over the weekend, the government also announced funding of up to £2.5bn to create 10,000 more prison places and build new jails.

Mr Johnson was accused of disregarding evidence on the impact of imprisonment on reoffending, just weeks after the former justice secretary David Gauke called for short sentences to be scrapped.

Speaking last month, Mr Gauke appealed for the next prime minister to “follow the evidence” rather than pander to populist rhetoric on crime and punishment, adding: “I don’t want to see softer justice – I want to deliver smarter justice.”

Early release on parole is a longstanding feature of the penal system in England and Wales.

David Gauke describes shocking videos emerging from UK prisons

Until 1991, inmates could be freed on licence after serving just a third of their sentence but the bar was later moved to half for terms of four years or more and release was made automatic.

For those serving an indeterminate prison sentences, such as for public protection, courts set a minimum term before they are considered for parole.

The description of release on licence as “early release” in news reports has sparked a series of scandals over the process, including on grooming gang members and the black cab rapist John Worboys.

Potential changes will be discussed at a Downing Street meeting bringing together leaders from the police, probation and prison sectors on Monday.

The government has also announced a “pilot” that will increase the use of blanket stop and search powers, and the recruitment of 20,000 police officers.

Following questions of how the wider justice system would cope with a potential increase in recorded crimes, the government pledged to award the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) an extra £85m.

Downing Street said the funds would build capacity and manage caseloads over the next two years, amid concern over declining prosecution rates for rape and other crimes.

Max Hill QC, the director of public prosecutions, said the investment came at a “crucial time” as the CPS responds to a surge in violent crime and explosion in digital evidence.

“Today’s announcement means the CPS can deal effectively with the increasing complexity of our caseload, and any increase that comes as a result of the cash injection for policing,” he added.

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