Prisoners snub chance of early release

DOZENS of Suffolk criminals are snubbing the chance to go free from jail before their scheduled release date, it can be revealed today.

DOZENS of Suffolk criminals are snubbing the chance to go free from jail before their scheduled release date, it can be revealed today.

New figures, which are sure to reignite the debate over whether British prisons are too cushy, show that 150 Hollesley Bay inmates have opted out of the early release scheme in the last five years.

Under the Home Detention Curfew scheme, introduced in 2000, offenders can leave jail up to 18 weeks early, spending the remainder of their sentence wearing an electronic tag.

The statistics in relation to Hollesley Bay come after the Prison Officers' Association (POA) claimed many prisoners did not want to leave because life inside is so congenial.

Glyn Travis, POA assistant general secretary, said last year that prisons had become saturated with drugs to the extent that they were cheaper in jail than in the outside world.

However, the Ministry of Justice suggested the numbers rejecting early release was due to offenders not having a suitable home address, or believing they would fail the necessary risk assessment tests.

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Nationally, on average almost 5,000 prisoners a year who are eligible for the scheme choose not to apply.

The figures, which can be made public following an Evening Star Freedom of Information request, also reveal that two people attempted to break in to Hollesley Bay in 2008.

Chris Bath, director of projects at prison charity Unlock, dismissed the POA's accusation that prisons were too comfortable.

“I certainly reject the idea that prisons are soft," he said.

“Even if they are soft, whatever that means, the reality is that prisons mean you have had your liberty taken away and human beings don't like that.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said data was not held as to why prisoners had opted out of being considered for Home Detention Curfew.

However, he added: “The most likely reasons are that the prisoner cannot provide details of a release address or will consider that they are unlikely to pass the risk assessment.

“Since the summer of 2007, the Bail Accommodation and Support Scheme has been available for suitable prisoners who are not able to provide their own address on release.

“It should be noted that prisoners who opt out would not necessarily meet all the eligibility criteria or pass the rigorous risk assessment.”

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PRISON charity Unlock believes many inmates opt out of early release because they fear being recalled to jail.

Chris Stacey, member services co-ordinator, said: “Often prisoners want to remain in prison, not because they like it but because they are fearful of the way they are treated when they are released and how they can be recalled for various breaches.

“Once they walk out of those gates, they want to be walking away from their past and they want to be free.

“It's very difficult to live on licence and Home Detention Curfew when you have other things to contend with. And there is such a high recall rate.

“Often, they may be doing a really useful activity in prison, like a course, which can really help them when they are released.”

The charity's director of projects, Chris Bath, said to many offenders, leaving prison was a daunting prospect.

“Most people come out of prison with no preparation. They have �46 in their back pocket and no proper preparation. They face a wait of two weeks, if not two months, before they get any benefits.

“They may be getting older and might have been in prison for a long time and know there's nothing for them on the outside.

“There is a debate around prisons as to whether they should punish or reform. I spoke to one ex-prisoner who said they do neither, all they do is warehouse.

“They are so overcrowded and with financial cut backs, all they can do is send people in the door one way and out the other, without making a difference.”

Numbers of prisoners who opted out of early release from Hollesley Bay

2004: 43

2005: 22

2006: 16

2007: 36

2008: 33 (January to June)

Total: 159