Temporary release and open conditions can be valuable tools in the resettlement of prisoners in the community but never at the expense of public safety. We conducted a fundamental review of the policy and practice of release on temporary licence (ROTL) after serious failures last year. We have already made significant changes, including the introduction in May 2014 of a ban on transfer to open prison or ROTL for any prisoner who escapes, abscond, fails to return from ROTL or commits an offence whilst on ROTL during their current sentence.
Absconds and escapes have reached record lows under this Government. There are also, thankfully, few ROTL failures; only around one in a thousand releases in 2013 resulting in failure. Between April and June 2014 (the latest period for which data are available), there were a total of 69 recorded temporary release failures, 40% lower than the same quarter in 2013.
The tables attached show the number of prisoners in open prisons on 30 May 2014 who had previously absconded, escaped or breached temporary release conditions, broken down by offence and length of sentence. It is not possible, except at disproportionate cost to give data for 31 May. The data in the table is derived from a one-off exercise to look in detail at those prisoners who were in open conditions on 30 May, which was conducted as part of the review of temporary release. It should be noted that the definition of “open prison” for the purposes of this exercise included some prisons operating both open and closed conditions on the same site to ensure that all prisoners with a previous abscond, escape or serious ROTL failure were identified and assessed. It is therefore possible that a number of prisoners included in the totals were actually in closed conditions at the relevant time.
The change in policy for eligibility for open conditions mentioned above was not applied retrospectively. Offenders already in open conditions at that time were assessed by NOMS and the majority were allowed to remain in open conditions because of their current compliance with the regime and favourable risk assessment. However, any prisoners who were assessed to present an unacceptable risk in such conditions in light of their previous non-compliance were returned to closed prisons.