Temporary release scheme hailed as aid in fight against drugs in prison

Releasing more prisoners on temporary licence could help tackle the drugs crisis in jails, a new report suggests.

The scheme does not feel like a real possibility to most inmates, meaning they have little incentive to stay clear of illicit substances, the paper says.

Under the release on temporary licence (ROTL) mechanism prisoners can be let out for short periods, normally towards the end of their sentence.

The programme was designed to help prepare offenders for life on the outside by allowing them to take part in work or training and firm up family links.

A briefing to be published on Friday by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) says use of ROTL has fallen “markedly” in recent years.

In 2017 there were 351,290 incidences of release on temporary licence from jails in England and Wales.

This was up compared with the previous three years but well below the level of more than half a million incidences in 2013.

A key reason for the “underuse” of ROTL by prisons is the fear of “disproportionate criticism” in the few cases that go wrong, according to the PRT’s assessment.

In addition, it adds, a common concern is that prisoners granted release will come under pressure to bring drugs back into the prison.

ROTL is a “huge incentive to good behaviour as well as an aid to resettlement”, the report argues.

It says: “To counteract the pressure on drugs, ROTL has to be a real possibility for a much larger number of prisoners, so that the majority understand that they have something to lose if they allow the drug dealers to subvert it.

“As it stands, ROTL does not feel like a real possibility to most prisoners, there is no incentive to keep clear of drugs in order to get ROTL, and no flow of intelligence about the dealers who put prisoners and their families at risk.”

The charity is proposing a number of measures to boost the use of ROTL, including a “presumption” that inmates in resettlement establishments should benefit from the scheme and monthly “benchmarking” of its use.

PRT director Peter Dawson said: “ROTL has the potential to be a massive incentive for good behaviour as well as an effective tool for resettlement.

“But to work, governors need a clear and unequivocal message that they will be supported and encouraged in its use.

“Carefully managed risk in the short term will deliver a long term dividend in better resettlement and public protection.”

Earlier this year Justice Secretary David Gauke announced plans to look at the “availability and use” of ROTL.

In a speech in March, he said: “Specifically, I want to see how we can use ROTL to allow those prisoners, who have earned it, to have a routine where they, with close monitoring, leave prison each day to go to work nearby.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “As the Justice Secretary has made clear, release on temporary licence is a crucial tool in reducing reoffending.

“We know that stable employment, accommodation and family ties aid prisoners’ rehabilitation.

“Targeted use of ROTL helps with each which is why we are looking at how we can use it more effectively, giving offenders the opportunities they need turn their backs on crime.

“This will form part of a wider strategy we will be bringing forward to improve education and employment in prisons along with job prospects on release.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Barry Batchelor / PA Wire.