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Prisoners (Release on Temporary Licence)

Volume 577: debated on Monday 10 March 2014

Carefully managing prisoners into the community on temporary licence toward the end of their sentence is a key part of efforts to rehabilitate them back into society. But this should never be at the expense of public safety which remains our absolute priority.

In the summer of 2013, in separate incidents, three prisoners failed to comply with the conditions on which they were temporarily released from prison with terrible consequences. One of these prisoners has since been convicted of murder and another of attempted armed robbery. The case in respect of the third prisoner is still subject to the legal process.

Such failures should not happen and, as a result, I immediately commissioned two reviews. We have undertaken an internal review of the policy and practice of the temporary release of prisoners. I also asked Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons to examine circumstances around these three serious incidents. I have accepted the recommendations of the chief inspector’s report, which cannot yet be published due to those outstanding legal proceedings. The chief inspector’s report and recommendation was focused on the three specific incidents and I have incorporated these recommendations into a fundamental and wider reform of the policy and its procedures.

Release on temporary licence (ROTL) describes the arrangements under which prisoners can be released into the community towards the end of their sentences for rehabilitative purposes. It will continue to play an important role in public protection by ensuring that offenders are tested in the community under strict conditions before being released. It also provides a valuable means of helping prisoners prepare for their resettlement in the community by, for example, finding work or rebuilding links with their families, which helps to reduce reoffending.

In the vast majority of cases ROTL is used effectively and successfully. Prisoners fail to comply with licence conditions in less than 1% of cases. In 2012, around five in every 100,000 releases were recorded as resulting in failure due to arrest on suspicion of a further offence.

However, the failures of last summer have highlighted a number of weaknesses in current arrangements which I am determined to address.

I am making changes to all ROTL releases to improve the decision making across the system. ROTL is not a right. At all times during their sentence a prisoner will have to demonstrate the right behaviour and commitment to change. For ROTL to be granted, there will need to be a very clear benefit to how it will aid rehabilitation and increase the chances of an offender leading a crime-free life on release. There will also be a more thorough assessment of the risks before temporary release is authorised and a more consistent and robust response for prisoners who fail to comply with their licence.

I am also introducing a new scheme of restricted release on temporary licence for those prisoners who have committed serious crimes in the past. This new process will feature:

More stringent risk-assessment procedures carried out by highly trained probation professionals.

In addition to tagging, more robust monitoring arrangements when an offender is on temporary licence in the community

In the future, all prisoners who are allowed release on temporary licence will be tagged, regardless of the nature of their previous offences. The next generation of tagging contracts, which are due to come into operation next year, will improve the way we monitor prisoners’ whereabouts while they are in the community. The use of this new technology will also serve as a strong deterrent as prisoners will know that their location can be accurately checked.

These changes will be implemented in the coming months. The new restricted ROTL scheme will be operational by the autumn. We will introduce electronic location monitoring as the technology becomes available.

Taken together, this package of measures will improve the consistency, risk assessment and monitoring of releases on temporary licence, ensuring we make more effective use of this tool in safely preparing prisoners for permanent release and better protecting the public.