In the Media

Paperwork errors sees violent criminals released by mistake

PUBLISHED August 21, 2012

An arsonist and a violent criminal are among prisoners who have been wrongly released from Strangeways prison.

They are among four inmates at the high-security jail who have been released in error in the past four years. Two were never put back behind bars.

The details, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that a prisoner jailed for arson was released in September 2008 because of incorrect records. He was not returned to Strangeways - now known as HMP Manchester - until 13 months later.

In December that year, an inmate who was inside for breaching bail was wrongly released due to a misfiled remand warrant. He was never returned to custody.

In August 2009, a court blunder meant that a prisoner who had been put behind bars for theft and handling stolen goods was released early, in error, and never returned to the jail.

The fourth blunder, in September 2010, saw an inmate jailed for violence released despite an outstanding remand warrant. He was returned to custody around three weeks later. It is understood paperwork in the case had gone amiss after further charges were added by the police.

HMP Manchester said a thorough investigation had been conducted on each occasion. A Prison Service spokesman said: "We take public protection extremely seriously and these types of errors are rare but regrettable occurrences.

"We have developed very robust procedures to deal with such situations and the majority of those who are released in error are returned to custody very quickly."

The prison, which has capacity for more than 1,200 inmates, is one of the largest in the country and has a high turnover of prisoners each week. Up to 15 men can be let out on a Friday - the busiest day for releases from the Strangeways estate.

Two weeks prior to release, a comprehensive review of a prisoner's warrants and custodial folders is carried out by a manager to ensure that they have the correct release date. A further check is then completed, by a separate manager, two days before release to ensure there is no other reason, such as further charges, that a prisoner should be detained. A third check is carried out the day before an inmate is sent home.

The Ministry of Justice said that not all wrongly released inmates would necessarily be returned to custody if, for example, they had been a remand prisoner and had surrendered to the courts but given no further jail term.

The National Offender Management Service Agency - which is responsible for managing offenders - has taken action to tighten up procedures across the country's prisons, according to guidance attached to the FOI response.

Governors are required to review procedures and all wrongful releases must be reported immediately as a serious incident and an investigation must also be carried out.

Almost a third of inmates at Buckley Hall prison in Rochdale tested positive for drugs last year, a government report has revealed.

Tests carried out in the second half of last year found traces of banned substances in 30 per cent of prisoners. The figure has fallen to an average of 14.5 per cent this year.