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Big Debate: Prisoner day release

A prison officer opens a door at Wormwood Scrubs prison A prison officer opens a door at Wormwood Scrubs prison

Friday, May 9, 2014
12:27 PM

The government is putting the brakes on day release from prison after three serious crimes were committed by offenders who were temporarily let out of jail.

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Prisons Minister Jeremy WrightPrisons Minister Jeremy Wright

Tighter rules about who is eligible for day release are coming into force later this year, when prisoners will only be allowed out for a specific purpose such as work experience and will have to wear electronic tagging devices to track their whereabouts around-the-clock. But is it “justice” gone too far?

The Prison Reform Trust fears that the move will stop many long-term prisoners becoming law-abiding members of society when they are eventually released into the community.

But Mark Day, head of policy at the Prison Reform Trust, argues that the government should, instead, extend day release opportunities to help rehabilitation—the failure rate is so minute it almost doesn’t register

Mark Day, Prison Reform TrustMark Day, Prison Reform Trust

“We are not prepared to see the failures of last summer repeated and public safety being compromised. These new measures follow three serious incidents, which led to one prisoner being convicted of murder and another convicted of attempted robbery.

Day release from prison can be an important tool in helping offenders reintegrate into society. But it should not be an automatic right.

We must do all we can to ensure day release does not lead to a permanent blight on innocent members of society. The system has been too lax up to now — and that must change.

In future, when prisoners are let out on licence, I want to be sure they are tagged and strictly assessed for risk, so we know where they have been and can be sure they have been tested in the community under strict conditions before release. From now on, prisoners eligible for release on temporary licence have to earn it by demonstrating the right behaviour and a commitment to change.

It’s no longer an automatic right given when they are deemed suitable for open conditions.

They will also now need a clear case as to how temporary release will support their rehabilitation and help turn their backs on crime for good. This means they will only be allowed out for a specific purpose, like work experience, which will contribute to their eventual resettlement in the community.

There will also be a more thorough assessment of the risks before temporary release and a more-consistent and robust response for prisoners who fail to comply with their licence. But there will also be a new restricted level for prisoners with a history of serious crimes, where they undergo stringent risk assessments by probation and other professionals — with more robust monitoring.”

Mark Day, head of policy at the Prison Reform Trust

“The government should learn lessons from the overall success to date of the Temporary Release scheme and not just address the understandable concerns.

Day release opportunities should be extended to help rehabilitation.

Release on licence which enables prisoners to be let out temporarily for work, volunteering, family reunion and resettlement is a pivotal part of rehabilitation for those who have served long sentences.

It means long-term prisoners gain skills and experience in the community to help lead a law-abiding life on release.

The failure rate out of the 485,000 prisoner release days in 2012, when further offences were committed, was only five in every 100,000, according to the Prison Governors’ Association — that’s just 0.005 per cent.

Prisoners considered for day release are subject to a thorough security check and are only granted temporary licence if they show exemplary behaviour.

We at the Prison Reform Trust work with prisoners on day release who are valued members of the team and make a good contribution to our work.

Companies such as Timpson’s and National Grid employ people on temporary release, many of whom go on to work full-time for them.

Ministry of Justice figures show that just 26 per cent of prisoners found jobs on their release in 2012-13. Yet research shows that having a job, somewhere safe to live and family support are the three things that cut the risk of reoffending.

The government’s review of day release should extend opportunities for rehabilitation — not create unnecessary and burdensome restrictions.

Reducing numbers eligible for the scheme will mean fewer people have the chance to become law-abiding citizens and taxpayers.”

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