The MoJ has today announced that it will try to avoid releasing vulnerable prisoners on a Friday. Under plans announced by Prisons Minister Victoria Atkins, offenders with severe mental health needs or addiction problems, or who have mobility problems, likely to end up homeless or who have far to travel home, will be released on the Wednesday or Thursday before their Friday release date.
A wide range of criminal justice groups, led by Nacro, have long campaigned against Friday releases, identifying three main factors which contribute to additional problems with releasing people on a Friday, on top of the usual resettlement challenges:
1. Increased number of releases
National statistics, as well data from Nacro services, show that more than a third of custody leavers are released on a Friday. This is for the simple fact that anyone whose last day of their prison sentence is on Friday, Saturday or Sunday (or Bank Holiday Monday) is released on a Friday — it is quite simply (and quite properly) illegal for prisons to hold people past their release date. This peak in releases on Fridays adds pressure to Offender Managers and Responsible Officers, local housing authorities, other accommodation providers, Jobcentre Plus offices and other community services.
2. Fridays are busy days in prisons
On Fridays, as on other days, prison staff need to prepare outgoing prisoners for court in the morning and, in addition, need to process the higher numbers of people being released. Due to performance indicators, prisons will prioritise preparing for court over those due for release. This can result in people being released later in the day, having limited time to present to services before the weekend. People being released may also have to travel significant distances to reach the area they are being resettled to, arriving late in the day, reducing the likelihood of securing all the support they need. This issue is particularly relevant to women and young people due to the configuration of the prison estate and the distance they may be from their home area.
3. Services in the community can have reduced service on Fridays and reduced or no service over the weekend
In addition to the above, people leaving prison are left with a limited window of time in which to make vital arrangements before services close for the weekend. A number of appointments and practical issues often need to be sorted out or planned for immediately, such as those highlighted previously. Some of the most crucial resettlement agencies run reduced services on Fridays or close early and run little or no service over the weekend.
Currently, there are limited details about how the scheme will operate in practice. It is clear that these releases will not start happening for some time as the government will need to pass legislation to make them legal and needs to find parliamentary time in an already busy schedule to do so.
The MoJ press release makes it clear that the new early release provisions will also apply to prisoners due to be released before a bank holiday and that the ultimate decision on whether an individual person in prison will be eligible to be released one or two days early will be down to Governors, who will have the discretion to agree to an earlier release date.
The government has also announced a new £25 million investment in prison security to try to prevent mobile phones and drugs coming into prison. The funding will equip front-line staff with upgraded, cutting-edge phone detectors as well as increasing the number of special machines that can detect microscopic smears of illegal substances such as spice on prisoners’ mail.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.