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Prisoners held after release date

Up to 6,000 prisoners are being held in jails beyond their release date, racking up tens of millions of pounds in unnecessary costs, a report has warned.

A lack of resources at the Ministry of Justice and the Parole Board leads to "virtually all" offenders who are recalled to jail after breaching their licence serving longer than expected behind bars, the family court and probation union Napo said.

The cost of holding these prisoners unnecessarily could reach £90 million, and hundreds of other offenders could claim compensation for being held past their expected release date, Napo said.

The Prison Service said the backlog was "unacceptable" and added that it was working with the Parole Board to tackle its increased workload.

Up to 6,000 prisoners, most of whom are held in local jails, are being delayed by an average of three to four months, the Napo report said. The average annual cost of a prison place is £45,000, meaning a four-month delay would cost £15,000 per prisoner, leading to costs of £90 million.

Union members at local jails in England and Wales reported that some 20 to 25 former prisoners are recalled each month, with "virtually all" of them experiencing a delay, Napo said.

A lack of resources, along with delays caused by paperwork being "routinely" lost or misplaced, and a record prison population earlier this month of 88,179, have all contributed to the problem, the union said.

Harry Fletcher, the union's assistant general secretary, said: "A mix of fewer staff, more prisoners and delay means the prison service faces meltdown. It appears that thousands of prisoners are being held beyond their release date because of a lack of resources at the Parole Board and Ministry of Justice. This is costing the taxpayer millions in unnecessary incarceration."

Mr Fletcher added that most of the prisoners affected were "deemed low risk to the public". "It is ironic that cuts to the Ministry of Justice prison budget are actually costing more in unnecessary incarceration," he said.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "Excellent progress is already being made - the backlog has decreased substantially, and the number of hearings held for prisoners on indeterminate public protection sentences or serving life sentences rose in 2010/11 by 40% compared to the previous year. Staffing levels in prisons are proportionate to the operational and security demands of the prison estate."

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