Release on temporary licence (ROTL)
In 2014, a small number of serious and high profile offences committed by people on temporary release led to the introduction of additional restrictions on the use of ROTL, cemented soon after in PSI 13/2015 Release on Temporary Licence. Unfortunately, these restrictions created unnecessary barriers and delays for the vast majority who made good use of ROTL to maintain family ties, take part in work and improve their resettlement – all of which contribute to reducing reoffending.
Following a series of briefings by the Prison Reform Trust, advocating for better use of ROTL and a reversal of these restrictions, a new Policy Framework has now been published and came into force in May.
In this article for Inside Time, Advice and Information Manager, Ryan Harman outlines some of the changes, and what the new Policy Framework means for people in prison.
In 2014, a small number of serious and high profile offences committed by people on temporary release led to the introduction of additional restrictions on the use of ROTL, cemented soon after in PSI 13/2015 Release on Temporary Licence. Unfortunately, these restrictions created unnecessary barriers and delays for the vast majority who made good use of ROTL to maintain family ties, take part in work and improve their resettlement – all of which contribute to reducing reoffending. At the time of these tragic incidents the overall success rate of ROTL was 99.93%. In the four years that followed the new restrictions, use of this important rehabilitative provision dropped by a third.
Advocating for better use of ROTL and a reversal of these restrictions has been one of Prison Reform Trust’s main priorities in recent years. We made recommendations through our ‘Inside Out’ briefings—the first published in 2015, the second published with Clinks in 2016, and a third in 2018. Many of the issues we raised came directly from the contact we have with people in prison through our advice and information service, as well as from the voluntary sector’s experience of offering ROTL placements.
In 2018, we welcomed the announcement by Justice Secretary David Gauke to review ROTL provision as part of employment and education strategy. Alongside governors, employers and other stakeholders, the following consultation gave us an opportunity to reiterate our recommendations. We also consulted members of our Prisoner Policy Network (PPN) who fed their views on the proposals and draft document directly to members of the policy team at HMPPS.
The new policy, Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) Policy Framework, was published and came into force in May this year. It contains a number of very welcome changes which have the potential to really improve the use of ROTL.
Here we summarise some of the main changes;
- There is no longer a restriction on ROTL during the first 3 months following a transfer to open conditions – often referred to as a ‘lay down’ period. This means you will be eligible for ROTL after transfer once all necessary sentence planning and risk assessments have been completed.
- Eligibility for Resettlement Day Release (RDR) therefore starts from the point of transfer to open conditions, subject to sentence plan and risk assessment. For women, you will be eligible at the point of recategorisation as ‘suitable for open conditions’.
- You are also eligible to apply for Resettlement Overnight Release (ROR) from the point of transfer to open conditions (or the point of recategorisation for open conditions for women). However you will be expected to have completed a period of successful RDRs before RORs can take place.
- Eligibility for Resettlement Day Release from closed conditions remains the same – 24 months before your effective release date OR once you have served half your custodial period, whichever gives the later date. This applies to those eligible for Standard ROTL only, as those under Restricted ROTL still need to be in open conditions for RDR (or assessed as suitable for open conditions, for women).
- Eligibility for Resettlement Overnight Release from closed conditions also remains the same – 6 months before your effective release date OR once you have served half your custodial period, whichever gives the later date. But you may now apply for one ROR per month rather than being limited to two during the last six months.
- There is no longer a requirement to do unpaid work before you can apply for paid work. You are allowed to take paid work as soon as you are eligible for RDRs. However, unpaid voluntary work will still be available for those who will benefit from it. All placements, whether paid or unpaid, must still be approved by the governor.
- Previous guidance which limited the use of work opportunities, such as those in hospitality, due to proximity to the drinking of alcohol or gambling have been removed. However, these factors are still likely to be taken into account when assessing suitability of work placements for any individual.
- It is no longer a requirement that you have to spend at least 24 hours per week in prison.
Childcare resettlement licence (CRL)
- Primary carers are now allowed to apply for Childcare Resettlement Licence (CRL) as well as sole carers.
- Eligibility for CRL has also been extended to include if you have children under 18—rather than under 16 as it was previously. The policy goes further by saying that although CRL is primarily for benefit of children under 18, in some cases it may continue after the child has reached 18.
- CRL is also available more frequently for those who are eligible—a maximum of one day release per week including one period of overnight release per 28 days can be taken. The overnight release can be up to four nights.
The threshold for those subject to Restricted ROTL has been slightly reduced. It still applies to all Indeterminate Sentenced Prisoners (ISPs) and anyone currently assessed as high or very high risk of serious harm on OASys – but the ‘MAPPA Nominal’ category has been replaced by more specific categories. The list of people who are now subject to Restricted ROTL is therefore:
- Indeterminate sentence prisoners (ISPs);
- Prisoners serving Extended Determinate Sentences, or other legacy extended sentences;
- Prisoners serving sentences imposed under section 236A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (offenders of particular concern); and
- Any other offender who is currently assessed as high or very high risk of serious harm on OASys.
If you think your ROTL status may be affected by these changes you should speak to your offender supervisor at the prison to find out more.
Under the new policy all prisoners, including those on Restricted ROTL, can be considered for unaccompanied ROTL without having to complete accompanied ROTL first. However, the prison may still decide accompanied ROTL is necessary in individual circumstances as a way of managing risk.
History of escape, abscond or serious ROTL failure
Under the new policy, those with a history of escape, abscond, or serious ROTL failure can now be considered for open conditions and ROTL, provided that the it occurred more than two years ago and has only occurred once on your current sentence.
Other notable changes
- The policy is now clear that you can be granted Special Purpose Licence both to visit a dying relative and to later attend their funeral. Although this was not prevented by the previous policy, we had become aware of cases in which people had unreasonably been asked to choose one or the other.
- The policy suggests that ROTL could be used to help people who are due to be released on a Friday to access the many services which they may need before they close at the weekend. This is a sensible and welcome use of ROTL—if you are eligible for RDRs and think you would benefit from this we advise putting in an application to ask about this.
The policy also aims to streamline the process by reducing the need for repeated consultation with agencies and unnecessary ROTL boards. The aim will be to agree a likely programme of ROTL at the beginning of the process, consulting with offender managers and other relevant agencies about suitability and things like key dates or locations to be avoided. Once the prison has all relevant information for the programme of ROTL being considered they only need to consult again if there are significant changes in circumstances. These improvements to the way ROTL is processed could really reduce delays and improve people’s access to ROTL.
Of course, it’s not just about policy and we are yet to see how effectively the new guidelines are put into practice. The removal of a number of unnecessary requirements leaves Governors with some discretion as to how to apply the policy locally—we hope that this will result in some sensible decisions which increase opportunities for effective ROTL. You should be provided with information about how the policy will be delivered at the prison you are in. We are already aware that at least one open prison has been proactive by providing a copy of the Policy Framework and a summary of changes to every prisoner. We hope this good practice is reflected elsewhere as well but if this is not the case and you would like a copy of the Policy Framework please contact our advice and information service using the information below. We have also updated our information sheet which contains general information about ROTL as well.
Though the changes in the new policy are a welcome and significant step in the right direction, there are still ways in which ROTL could be improved further, and we will continue to advocate for this. PRT would like to see further reversal of restrictions brought in in 2014 by abolishing Restricted ROTL, so that all decisions are made on the basis of an individual’s risk, rather than their sentence. We would also like to see much better use of ROTL from Category C prisons so that the many people held in closed conditions can benefit from the rehabilitative value of this provision.