Domestic abuse survivors ‘put in danger by early prison release of perpetrators’

Domestic abuse survivors ‘put in danger by early prison release of perpetrators’

Survivors of domestic abuse have been put in danger by ministers’ failure to give notice of the early release from prison of their abusers, a Home Office adviser has said.

Nicole Jacobs, the independent domestic abuse commissioner, criticised the lack of warning of a new policy to free prisoners up to 70 days early from full jails.

The government’s early release scheme designed to relieve the pressure in overcrowded jails had initially involved inmates having their sentences cut by up to 18 days. That was increased to between 35 and 60 in March and will rise again from 23 May, it has emerged.

Jacobs said there had been no consultation and that many survivors would not even know that their perpetrator was back on the streets. She said: “Perpetrators of domestic abuse frequently receive short prison sentences and are likely to be among those released early.

“The government needs a safe and planned approach. Instead, they are letting potentially dangerous perpetrators out earlier and earlier with little oversight or evaluation of the scheme.

“That there has been no consultation and victims’ groups were not even made aware of these changes before their introduction is cause for serious concern.

“Many victims will not even know that their perpetrator is due for early release. This seriously undermines their ability to plan for their own safety, particularly as we know that perpetrators of domestic abuse often reoffend.”

The decision to increase the cut to sentences emerged in an email sent to probation and prison staff this week, which claimed measures introduced less than two months ago had failed to ease pressure in men’s prisons in England and Wales.

Jacobs, who has called for an exemption from the early release scheme for those guilty of domestic abuse, said the lack of capacity within the probation service to monitor perpetrators made the situation dangerous.

Violent offenders, including domestic abusers, sentenced to less than four years in prison are eligible for the scheme. Jacobs said: “Victims’ safety is being put on the line. I am calling again on the Ministry of Justice to ensure domestic abuse victims do not pay the price for prison overcrowding.

“We need a specific exemption of perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking from this scheme. Government must also ensure that the probation service is funded and trained to properly manage domestic abuse perpetrators and keep victims safe.”

The charity Refuge has also called for an exemption for those convicted of domestic abuse, claiming that such perpetrators are often given disproportionately short sentences.

Responding to an urgent question in parliament from Labour on Tuesday, the justice minister, Edward Argar, said that people should not have cause for concern, adding: “Let me be clear that only offenders who would soon be released anyway would be considered.”

Agar said public safety “will always be our number one priority” and all those released would be subject to supervision.

The prison population in England and Wales stood at 87,505 at the beginning of May, with the total usable capacity at 88,895.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “We will always ensure there is enough capacity to keep dangerous offenders behind bars. We are carrying out the biggest prison expansion programme in a hundred years, opening up 20,000 modern places, and ramping up work to remove foreign national offenders.”