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Riot alert over jail release delay

Prisoners could start rioting unless more money is made available to deal with the increase in the Parole Board's caseload, its former chairman has said.

Sir David Latham said prisoners were having to wait longer for decisions on their release as the number of reviews of inmates serving life or indeterminate (IPP) sentences for public protection has increased.

The delays create instability and disaffection which can lead to incidents like the Strangeways Prison riot in 1990, the former Court of Appeal judge said.

He told BBC News: "If you have more people in prison who simply do not know when they are going to be released, then you've got the risk of disaffection, you've got problems of management. That has all sorts of consequences which people like me, who remember the Strangeways riots and so on, will want to avoid if we possibly can."

Sir David, who retired as chairman of the Parole Board of England and Wales in April 2012 after three years in the job, said the delays could also lead to offenders being awarded compensation if they had to wait too long for a decision.

The warning comes as the number of reviews for prisoners serving life and indeterminate sentences are increasing, an update to the board's 2011/2015 business plan showed last week.

Review hearings for prisoners serving life sentences are projected to increase from 1,604 in 2010/11 to 2,240 in 2012/13, while the number of reviews for inmates serving the controversial IPP sentences is expected to rise from 2,212 to 3,750 over the same period.

Claire Bassett, the board's chief executive, said the number of indeterminate sentence cases referred to the Parole Board could touch "a new record high" by 2012/13.

"The board has a real challenge ahead of it this year," she said. "The long-term trend for our caseload to move away from less labour intensive paper hearings towards much more resource intensive oral hearings is set to continue over the next 12 months. We will continue to see an increasing number of oral hearings, driven by the expanded population of indeterminate sentence prisoners."

A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman said: "We have managed to maintain the Parole Board's budget for this financial year in the face of significant spending cuts across Government. The board's funding is kept under regular review and we will carry on working with it to ensure it is able to meet its responsibilities. The MoJ is also working closely with the Parole Board on ways to minimise the existing backlog of IPP cases."

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