Bursting at seams, UK prisons contemplate releasing inmates early

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London, Feb 23 (UNI) As the number of prisoners rose to an unprecedented 82,068, jails in the UK have been declared absolutely full.

The government was contemplating to release thousands of burglars, muggers and other convicts serving terms for non-heinous crimes to help make some space in the over populated prisons.

The rush was so much that even the court and police cells were packed.

A Ministry of Justice statement revealed that the total operational capacity-- based on governors' advice on what is safe for ''control, security and proper operation''-- is only 81,972, including more than 350 places in police cells and courts.

The government was considering to extend the End of Custody Licence-- an early release scheme under which prisoners gets out of jail 18 days before their sentence reaches even the halfway point.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has urged magistrates to give fewer prison terms and prefer community punishments, wherever possible.

But, the magistrates have refused, saying they would continue to hand down whatever sentence they saw fit.

As many as 16000 inmates were released early under the ECL last June. An extension of the Licence would free space in the jails but was likely to hit the ruling Labour party's reputation on law and order.

''The prisons are not safe. We have increased numbers yet again with no change in regime and no increase in staffing. This is risk management at the highest level,'' the Daily Mail quoted Colin Moses of Prison Officers' Association as saying.

The government had promised to build an extra 14,000 prison places by 2014, including giant Titan jails holding 2,500 inmates, but prison population was already soaring above projections.

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