In the Media

Weekend prison scheme axed after drunkenness exposed

PUBLISHED November 3, 2006

A controversial weekend jail sentence for violent criminals and thieves has been axed by the Government in a humiliating U-turn.

John Reid decided to dump so-called intermittent custody, which has swallowed ?4 million of taxpayers' money, after the policy descended into farce.

It comes less than two weeks after the Daily Mail revealed convicts were regularly turning up drunk on Friday nights after binge drinking sessions in local pubs.

They were then allowed to sleep off their hangovers in en-suite rooms before being released back onto the streets on Sunday afternoon.

It has now emerged criminals - including violent thugs, drink drivers and thieves - were also turning up high on drugs or smuggling them into prison to take over the course of the weekend.

An independent report by London's King's College, released on Thursday, said there were "disciplinary issues relating to alcohol and drugs, and people taking drugs into the prison centre".

Mr Reid has axed the scheme only two years after the sentence - supposed to allow convicts to keep their jobs during the week - was first introduced.

The sentence will be withdrawn from the courts on November 20, with special wings set aside to jails for housing weekend prisoners certain to return to regular use.

Home Office minister Baroness Scotland said: "All of our attention, energies and resources must go on to protecting the public from the most and more serious offenders.

"Although there were some benefit to this pilot, people dealt with under the scheme did not fall into the priority category and so it does not fall to be implemented at this time."

The decision will provide around 50 extra full-time prison places at a time when the system is officially in crisis.

Convicts are currently being housed in police cells after a surge in numbers sent the total rocketing to more than 79,800.

But it will also put an end to a controversial idea which has proved a fiasco from day one.

It was dreamt up by then Home Secretary David Blunkett to allow criminals with jobs to continue to pay taxes and national insurance.

They are behind bars from 6pm on Friday until 4pm on Sunday.

Criminals without jobs stay at the two jails - HMP Kirkham in Lancashire or HMP Morton Hall in Lincoln - during the week.

This is justified on the grounds a criminal in jail during the week but free at weekends will not lose contact with his family.

A person sentenced to three months by the courts who would have served six weeks in full-time prison spends a total of 42 nights in Kirkham, a man's jail, or Morton Hall for women.

This could be spread over 21 weekends or every weekday for eight-and-a-half weeks.

This is because offenders punished for less serious crimes automatically serve only half their sentence. But the policy has been dogged by incompetence.

A report by prison inspectors published last year said that during the week the Kirkham unit had only a single inmate - guarded by up to 18 staff.

Due to a Home Office blunder, any criminal who opted to go there during the week lost their benefits so could not pay their rent.

As a result, they refused to go and instead begged to be sent to full-time custody.

Yesterday's King's College report, due to be published in full later this month, confirmed: "The male intermittent custody centre rarely reached capacity."

Only 447 inmates have been through the two prisons in two years, 323 of them men.

As revealed by the Daily Mail earlier last month, one in 10 inmates were failing to complete their sentences. They either failed to turn up, re-offended during the week or behaved so badly they had to be sent to full-time prison.

King's College said that, while it was most often used for fraudsters, violent offenders and thieves were sent to intermittent custody by the courts.