Dangerous Prisoners May Get Early Release

Hundreds of dangerous prisoners could be freed from jail because of “disastrous” failings by the Government when it introduced a new prison sentence, a High Court judge said yesterday.

Mr Justice Collins gave warning that many inmates could be released whether or not they are a risk to the public because ministers had failed to provide resources to the Prison Service.

The Government is also likely to face claims for compensation running into tens of thousands of pounds from prisoners held beyond the minimum term laid down by the courts.

Since 2005, courts have been able to jail criminals deemed a public risk to an indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP) — a prison term with a minimum time to be served in jail before they can be considered for release.

Mr Justice Collins ruled in a test case yesterday that a prisoner who has served longer than the minimum term should be set free. He added that the release of a large numbers of dangerous and violent prisoners — jailed for crimes such as causing grevious bodily harm — was “inevitable” if the Court of Appeal upholds his ruling.

A total of 3,101 prisoners are currently serving the IPP, which was introduced in 2005 and has proved very popular with the courts. The number has risen by 550 since April, and in May 173 prisoners given the sentence were still in jail having served beyond their minimum term.

“Because of the failings of the Government, a fairly large number of IPP prisoners are likely to be released if the Court of Appeal finds the detention is unlawful. This is very worrying,” Mr Justice Collins said.

He added: “It must be recognised that the consequences are truly disastrous because I think it is inevitable that short-term lifers will have to be released whether or not they remain a risk to the public.”

Brett James, the prisoner, will remain in Doncaster jail until his case is heard by the appeal court, which the judge said should take place as soon as possible.

Ministry of Justice over prisons, including rising numbers being sent to overcrowded jails, a demand that the Prison Service cut its budget by £60 million next year and the threatened collapse of a multi- million pound computer programme supposed to help to curb reoffending. The judgment is the second in three weeks focusing on the new indeterminate sentence for dangerous and violent offenders but it broke new ground by ordering the release of an offender.

James, now 21, was given the sentence in 2005 after being convicted of causing grievous bodily harm when he “jugged” another man with a beer glass during a fracas outside a public house in Normanton, South Yorkshire.

He was told he would have to serve a tariff — the minimum term — of one year and 295 days, which expired in July. release if he could persuade the Parole Board that he was unlikely to pose a further danger to the public.

But Doncaster prison does not have the courses that he must attend in order to present evidence to the Parole Board that he is no longer a risk. James needs to go on an enhanced thinking course and others to tackle alcohol abuse and his violent temper.

Mr Justice Collins said in the High Court that many prisoners serving the new sentence introduced in 2005 face similar problems of being unable to get on courses.

The judge said that in a judgement this month Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Mr Justice Mitting, had said: “To the extent that the prisoner remains incarcerated after tariff expiry without any current and effective assessment of the danger he does or does not pose, his detention cannot in reason be justified. It is therefore unlawful.”

But that case focused on two prisoners who had not completed the minimum term and Lord Justice Laws did not order their release, which provided the Ministry of Justice time to put in place the courses.

The overcrowded jail system has meant that many of those on IPPs are in local jails that do not run the courses.

The National Offender Management Service, which overseees both prisons and probation, now admits that the number of IPPs handed down by the courts has resulted in the need for increased resources.

Erica Restall, solicitor for James, said that he had been given the IPP for grievous bodily harm because he had a history of violent attacks linked to alcohol. She said she would tell his victim that James paid for his crime.

“In my view it is not right that he faces the prospect of detention indefinitely for something he has already paid the penalty for because of the failures of the Secretary of State to put adequate resources into prisons.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said that the Government was disappointed with the court ruling but would appeal.