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13 January 2016

Restrictions on ROTL are “squandering the goodwill” of charities and businesses

Charities and local businesses are struggling to fill volunteer and work placements as a result of strict rules on the temporary release of prisoners introduced by the former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.

The changes to release on temporary licence (ROTL) are squandering the goodwill of voluntary and private sector organisations and preventing prisoners from getting jobs and training in the community to help them turn their lives around, a joint briefing published today by Clinks and the Prison Reform Trust reveals.

Ministry of Justice statistics show that the number of people released from prison on temporary licence has fallen by 41% since a review of ROTL policy was announced in 2013.

The joint briefing is based on a survey of 39 voluntary and private sector providers of community placements for prisoners on temporary release.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents to the survey had seen a decrease in ROTL, with some organisations reporting that placements had “completely stopped” or become “almost impossible”. One respondent said: “We have had to stop working with women on ROTL as the process takes too long and it has affected our relationship with employers.”

Respondents to the survey reported increasing problems communicating with prisons, longer delays in getting placements confirmed and inconsistencies in the application of the new policy.

  • Four-fifths of respondents (79%) said that it now takes longer for prisoners to get ROTL placements confirmed.
  • 68% of organisations said that people on ROTL placements with them had reported difficulties getting their applications approved.
  • More than half (51%) said that their experience of contact and liaison with prisons about ROTL placements had got worse.
  • 37% said that the changes to ROTL were not explained at all while a further 29% said that the explanation was unclear.

One respondent said: “The process has become much longer and more complicated and has meant that we are unable to send candidates forward for jobs because we cannot be sure that NOMS will process their ROTL in time for their interview.”

Another said: “The prison does not communicate with us sufficiently. We offer a placement and then we have to chase the prison … The prison forget we are operating a business and that the offenders are fully integrated [within the workforce]. We rely on their presence.”

Many charities and companies, such as Sue Ryder and Timpson, play a vital role in the rehabilitation and resettlement of people in prison by providing volunteer, training and work placements for prisoners on release on temporary license (ROTL). Around 60 prisons in England and Wales provide opportunities for the temporary release of prisoners.

Less than 1% of releases on temporary licence fail and, of these, only 6.1% involve an arrestable offence. This is the equivalent of five arrests per 100,000 releases.

The existing ROTL policy was introduced in March 2015 following a review commissioned by the former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in 2013, after three high profile and serious failures in quick succession. The changes, most of which were first introduced as interim measures shortly after the review was announced, include more stringent assessment and monitoring arrangements and strict rules governing who is entitled to ROTL and the start, frequency and duration of placements.

The current Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, has indicated scope for greater use of ROTL under proposals put forward as part of the government’s review of education in prisons. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has announced its intention to conduct a review of ROTL policy in early 2016.

The briefing calls for the review to reverse the decline in the use of ROTL, to focus on reducing unnecessary restrictions on eligibility and delays to placements, improving communication between prisons and providers, and greater coordination and consistency in the application of the policy.

Commenting, Peter Dawson, Deputy Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This is the law of unintended consequences at work. Changes made in a hurry by Chris Grayling to respond to high profile failures are actually squandering the goodwill of employers who are willing to help prisoners go straight. Michael Gove’s promised review is the perfect opportunity to restore a balanced approach, with less bureaucracy, more discretion for governors, and more prisoners putting something back into society.”

Anne Fox, Chief Executive of Clinks, said:

“Providing opportunities for prisoners to undertake work placements in the run up to their release is vital to effective rehabilitation and resettlement. The voluntary sector has a strong track record in providing these opportunities. However since the policy was changed our members have reported significant challenges to providing placements. Clinks and Prison Reform Trust have taken this opportunity to make some practical suggestions to the Ministry of Justice which we hope can turn the situation around.”

James Timpson, Chief Executive of Timpson, said:

“The best way to secure a great colleague, who won’t ever go back to offending, is to employ them on release on temporary license. At Timpson this is our preferred way to find talented people in prison.”

Carol Davis, Sue Ryder’s prison and community justice manager, said:

“Sue Ryder has worked in close partnership with the prison service for the last ten years providing work experience for people in being preparing for release from prison.

“Not only does this help us raise vital funds for our healthcare, but it provides valuable opportunities to those wanting to break the cycle of crime and help make a positive contribution to the community.

“In the last two years we have seen a significant reduction of the numbers of people that are able to take part in our programme.

“We are keen to work with the Ministry of Justice in examining the impact of recent changes to enable ROTL to support rehabilitation of a greater number of prisoners.”