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Change to Friday Prison Releases comes closer

A Private Members Bill is the government’s chosen mechanism to implement the government’s pledge on Friday releases

Last week (ironically on Friday) Simon Fell MP, the Conservative MP for Barrow and Furness, spoke in parliament on the second reading of his Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Private Members Bill. The Bill, which is supported by the Government,  aims to introduce legislation which means that offenders scheduled for release on a Friday who also have mental health issues, substance misuse problems, or far to travel home will be released on Wednesday or Thursday instead, providing that strict security checks are followed.

The private bill is the government’s chosen mechanism to implement the government’s pledge on Friday releases which was contained in the Prisons Strategy White Paper, published in December 2021.

What’s the problem with Friday releases?

There are three main factors which contribute to additional problems with releasing people from prison on a Friday:

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.

The campaign

Provided the Bill passes into law, it will be a major success for the long running campaign led by Nacro, the social justice charity, to address this long standing problem. The campaign was launched over four years ago, in November 2018.

Nacro chief executive, Campbell Robb, welcomed the progress of the Bill, saying:

“Through this legislation, people with high resettlement needs will have that vital extra time during the working week to access the services they need – including securing housing, registering with a GP, meeting probation and accessing health services. This will give people the best chance at a second chance and play a role in helping to reduce reoffending.”

The next part of the process is the Committee Stage which does not yet have a date scheduled. If the Bill does become law, some time next year, it will follow the example of Scotland in coming up with a solution to this thorny problem. In Scottish law, the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Act 2015 states that prisoners due for release on a Friday can have their release brought forward by one or two days if it would be better for the prisoner’s re-integration into the community. This simple measure would give prison governors the power to give thousands of people released from prison every year a better chance of building a new life.

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