Rapists and burglars to be 'spared jail' after judges told 'prisons are full'

11 October 2023, 19:26 | Updated: 11 October 2023, 21:04

Prisons in England and Wales are nearing their capacity
Prisons in England and Wales are nearing their capacity. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Convicted rapists and burglars are to be 'spared jail' next week after judges were told the country's prison system is nearly at full capacity.

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Judges have been told delay sentencing hearings, as the England and Wales' prison population nears breaking point, The Times reports.

The senior presiding judge for England and Wales, Lord Edis, has ordered judges to delay sentencing of convicted criminals currently on bail from Monday.

Crown court judges have also been handed with guidance that indicates some prisoners will be released early from next week.

There are just a few hundred places left in prisons in England and Wales
There are just a few hundred places left in prisons in England and Wales. Picture: Getty

Meanwhile, cells in magistrates' courts will be used to hold suspects who are accused of more serious crimes.

Magistrates courts typically deal with what are known as 'summary offences', which include motoring offences, minor criminal damage and common assault.

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A senior judge told the publication: "We have been told that this is a ‘short-term measure’, but nobody knows what that means."

It means that defendants charged with historic rape, or the rape of a child under 13, are 'likely to remain on bail'.

"What am I going to do if a jury finds someone guilty [of rape]," the judge said.

"Do I release that person who is now convicted back into the community, where the victim might see them? What will the victim think?"

HMP Wandsworth, south west London
HMP Wandsworth, south west London. Picture: Getty

Commenting on the issue, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our first priority is to keep the public safe from dangerous criminals.

"That is why we have ended automatic halfway release for serious sexual and violent criminals and increased the average time spent in prison by 3 years – cutting violent crime by nearly 50% since 2010.

“However, the criminal justice system has seen unprecedented growth in the prison population, following the pandemic and barristers’ strike, particularly among those awaiting trial, with 6,000 more prisoners on remand than pre-pandemic.

“The Prison Service has already put in place measures such as rapid deployment cells and doubling up cells to help manage these pressures, and the Government is carrying out the biggest prison building campaign since the Victorian era to build 20,000 new places, making sure we always have the places we need.”

The prison population in England and Wales stands at around 88,016, as of last Friday, Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show.

This is just shy of the 88,670-space capacity across prisons in England and Wales.

A report published by the MoJ shows prison numbers are expected to soar past 94,000 by 2025.