Prisoners released by mistake show a system in chaos

The latest Ministry of Justice figures show 71 offenders were freed in error and violence in the prison estate is at an all-time-high

According to new figures revealed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), 71 inmates were released from prison by mistake over the past year – more than one a week.

It marks the highest number of people released in error since the figures began to be gathered a decade ago, and helps paints a picture of a penal system in chaos.

The Liberal Democrats accused the government of losing control over the prison estate.

The offenders in question are considered to have been mistakenly released if they are discharged from prison or court when they are supposed to remain in custody. But the MoJ said these released offenders would, “depending on the circumstances,” not necessarily be “actively pursued for return to custody.”

The strange errors aside, the latest annual statistical release by the MoJ makes for grim reading. There has been a record 26,643 assaults in prisons across England and Wales over the past year.

And an all-time-high in attacks on prison staff – 7,159 assaults over the course of 2016/17. This includes 805 serious assaults on staff.

The government has lost control of our prisons and urgently needs to get a grip

Self-harm in prison has also reached a new high – 40,414 incidents in the 12 months to March.

“It is beyond belief that 71 potentially dangerous prisoners have been released by mistake. What should be places of rehabilitation are now dangerous hotbeds of violence, self-harm and drug abuse,” said the Liberal Democrats’ chief whip Alastair Carmichael.

“No prison guard should have to go to work in fear of being seriously assaulted while being outnumbered six to one,” Carmichael. “The government has lost control of our prisons and urgently needs to get a grip.”

The Howard League for Penal Reform said lack of staff, overcrowding and poor conditions were causing a “rising tide of violence, human misery (and) chaos.”

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