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Connection failures delay prison releases

60% of prisons have no access to central database

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Parliament's Public Accounts Committee has said the release of prisoners on home detention curfews (HDCs) is being delayed because most prisons are not connected to the Police National Computer (PNC).

The Electronic Monitoring of Adult Offenders report, published on 12 October, recommends that the Home Office should implement a timetable for providing all prisons that release prisoners on HDC with access to the PNC, making all records available electronically.

It makes the point that 60 per cent of prisons in England and Wales are not connected to the PNC, and this is delaying the release of many prisoners. In turn this is contributing to the severe overcrowding problem: the prison population reached a record 79,843 this month with just 125 more spaces left, according to government figures.

A spokesperson for the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts report told GC News: "It is not currently statutory for prisons to be connected to the PNC, even though it is logical to do so."

The report says that HM Prison Service should transfer all paperwork associated with eligibility assessments with prisoners to prevent duplication of effort and to ensure they are released on their eligibility date.

Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the committee, said: "The system is stuttering along at present. Most prisons have no direct access to criminal records on PNC.

"Prisoners who are moved between prisons are not accompanied by their assessment records. These and other factors often delay the release of prisoners well beyond their eligibility date."

In addition, governors are not being given feedback on whether prisoners whom they have released early have successfully completed their curfew.

Leigh said: "The prison governors who take the final decision to release offenders on curfew are not told if their assessments turned out to be sound.

"It is of crucial importance to public safety that they are given the kind of information on outcomes which can improve their future decision making."

Meanwhile, the report suggests the Home Office should use its recently obtained real time access to its IT contractors to carry out independent monitoring and auditing of the contractors' performance and it should publish their performance.

The Home Office made ex gratia payments totalling some £8,000 to two offenders because it could not prove whether they had intentionally damaged monitoring equipment.

"The Home Office should instruct contractors to retain monitoring equipment when there is a dispute over the reason for the apparent breach, so the facts of such cases can be proven. It should incorporate it into any future contracts."

Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary Nick Clegg said: "Dealing with offenders means it is vital that we get tagging right. Once again, flaws in the system can be laid squarely at the government's feet for failing to implement the system competently in practice."

However, the report praised the Home Office for forcing contractors to improve their performance through financial deductions for failing to meet all the requirements of the contract.

"The Home Office negotiated a 40 per cent reduction in the price of the contracts when it renegotiated them in April 2005. The team responsible for the negotiations should produce a good practice guide to disseminate lessons learned from this experience to other contract managers within the Home Office," said the report.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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