Ministry asks for more time

Government officials have requested more time to consider whether or not to withhold key documents about the management of offenders in the community - despite having already taken more than double the amount of time permitted by law.

Government officials have requested more time to consider whether or not to withhold key documents about the management of offenders in the community - despite having already taken more than double the amount of time permitted by law.

The newly formed Ministry of Justice is dealing with a Freedom of Information Act request from the EDP asking about the number of offenders who breached their sentences by removing electronic tagging devices.

The EDP had hoped to discover what, if any, improvements have been made after it was revealed thousands of convicts had ripped their tags off, making it impossible for the authorities to track their actions in 2005.

As well as asking for the latest figures on criminals removing their tags, the request also asks for any correspondence about the problem between the government and Serco, the private operator which managers thousands of offenders in the east of England.

It also asks what steps have been taken to improve monitoring systems after the Home Office, which was previously in charge of offender management, admitted it had no accurate data on the true extent of the problem.

Under the Freedom of Information Act all requests are supposed to be dealt with in 20 working days. The ministry has already taken 40 and yesterday officials said they needed at least another 20 before reaching a decision.

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In a letter, Janet Preston, of the National Offender Man-agement Scheme's Open Government Unit, said the extra time was needed to determine whether or not it was in the public interest to release the information. This is despite the fact the Home Office has already released similar information for the previous year.

Ms Preston added: “In order to consider the public interest fully we initially extended our response date to July 20 but I much regret to say this has not been possible. We now aim to respond by August 20.”

If this deadline is not met - or if the ministry decides to refuse the request - the EDP will ask for an internal review and if this is unsuccessful the matter will be referred to the information commissioner.

Earlier this month the ministry launched an investigation after a BBC documentary alleged there were still serious failings at the Norwich headquarters of Serco, which is in charge of the government's £100m Home Detention Scheme.

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