The government can help curb re-offending and drug dealing in closed prisons by letting more inmates leave jail for a day to take on jobs, according to a charity.
The Prison Reform Trust is calling on the Ministry of Justice to roll out its Release On Temporary Licence (ROTL) scheme – intended to help offenders through work placements in the community – more widely in closed prisons.
The call comes in response to the MoJ’s announcement on Tuesday (May 28) that it is relaxing the rules on day and overnight release to reduce re-offending, which it estimates costs society £15bn a year.
Peter Dawson, the trust’s director, told RightsInfo: “It is good that ministers are making this modest extension.
“Prisoners, employers, families and the public at large will all benefit from these changes, building on an exceptional track record of success.
But added: “There is much further to go.”
“Prisoners are serving longer sentences than ever before, and these changes will mainly benefit only the minority who have managed to get to an open prison towards the very end of their time inside.”
There were 366,868 releases on temporary licence in England and Wales last year, involving 7,724 people last year, according to figures reported by the Guardian.
MoJ figures show the UK’s prison population stands at nearly 83,000, around 5,000 of which are in open prisons according to Mr Dawson.
Open prisons have minimal security and allow inmates, who have been assessed as the lowest risk, to spend most of their time away from jail.
What Are The New Rules?
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The government’s new rules will allow for inmates in open or women’s prisons to undertake paid work immediately after they have passed a “rigorous” risk assessment.
Previously, only prisoners within 12 months of release were eligible to do so.
Restrictions on ROTL in the first three months after a prisoner has transferred to open conditions will be lifted and overnight leave can now be considered at an earlier stage.
Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “Broadening access to training and work opportunities is a vital part of our strategy to steer offenders away from a life of crime and ultimately keep the public safe.
“Many organisations are recognising the value of giving offenders a second chance, and we have carefully listened to their feedback before making these changes.”
The government also revealed that 230 new businesses – including Pret A Manger and Greene King – have joined a scheme to offer work placements to former offenders.
Can More Be Done?
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“We would like there to be more discretion for people to go out on day release,” Mr Dawson told RightsInfo.
“The way things are changing is that lots of people are serving longer sentences in closed prisons.
“They could be spending 20 years in a closed prison before they can get out to see what actual life is like and that is a shock to them straight out of prison.”
If enough prisoners feel they can benefit from this, it starts to put peer pressure on them to bring down the drug dealers and the bullies.
Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The Prison Reform Trust
ROTL will help them prepare for life in the community, he said, reducing their risk of re-offending.
He said that the main opposition to rolling out the scheme more broadly is that offenders may smuggle drugs or contraband into prison from temporary release.
But Mr Dawson said that this is only one of many others methods used – such as gifts from visitors or “corrupt staff” – and can be managed by searching inmates on their return.
He added: “If enough prisoners feel they can benefit from this, it starts to put peer pressure on them to bring down the drug dealers and the bullies.
“At the moment, the only reason we know who is dealing drugs is because of intelligence, which comes from conversations between prisoners and prison staff.”
ROTL makes prisoners more likely to have those conversations with prison staff, he said.