Thousands of prisoners vulnerable to addiction, mental health issues or homelessness will no longer be released on Fridays as a new Bill to reduce reoffending becomes law this week.
Around one in three leave custody on a Friday – giving them just a few short hours to access critical support, such as finding a bed for the night, registering with a GP and signing up with the job centre, before services shut for the weekend.
The Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill received Royal Assent today and gives prison governors the power to release prisoners with mental health issues, substance misuse problems or who have far to travel home, on a Wednesday or Thursday instead.
This will end the damaging race against the clock for prison leavers to get the help they need before many support services close for the weekend – which in turn increases their risk of reoffending and puts the public at risk.
Research shows that an offender’s release day can make a difference to that person’s likelihood of reoffending, and those with stable accommodation lined up are 50 per cent less likely to commit further offences.
Only prisoners who pass security checks will be considered eligible for release, with the final decision taken by prison governors when the Act comes into force in the coming weeks.
Prisons Minister Damian Hinds said:
Cutting crime and protecting the public is my top priority and ending Friday releases is a significant but common-sense change that will do exactly that.
By maximising the time people have when they leave prison to get a job, a home and access drug treatment we can continue to drive down reoffending rates.
The Bill was brought forward by Simon Fell MP and Lord John Bird MBE, before gaining vital government support. It also delivers on the government’s pledge in the Prisons Strategy White Paper, published in December 2021.
This White Paper has already seen the ongoing creation of a new Prisoner Education Service to raise levels of literacy, numeracy, skills and qualifications, bolstered links between prisons and employers and new dedicated Incentivised Substance Free Living Units and Drug Recovery Wings to help prisoners recover from addiction.
Simon Fell MP, sponsor of the Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Act, said:
This Bill makes a small change in the law that will deliver a huge difference to the lives of those released from prison, cut reoffending rates, reduce the pressure on prisons, and cut levels of crime.
It’s been my pleasure to work with the MoJ, brilliant charities like NACRO, and prisoners themselves, to secure passage of the Bill. I’m delighted that we’ve got it over the line and can finally end the cycle of Friday releases that help absolutely no one.
Campbell Robb, Nacro Chief Executive, added:
Today is an important day for all our service users and staff who shared their experiences and highlighted the problems with Friday releases. For too long Friday releases have been setting people up to fail, but no more.
This legislation gives people with the highest needs, that vital extra time after they leave prison to access housing, GP services and probation before the weekend. This will all serve to give people the best chance at a second chance and reduce reoffending.
Anne Fox, Clinks Chief Executive said:
We are pleased to see this Bill passed, significantly restricting the practice of releasing people from prison on a Friday.
This will allow providers within the voluntary sector greater breathing room to deliver vital services to people released from prison – crucial to ensuring continuity of care through-the-gate – ending that race against the clock faced by so many people released on a Friday.
Tyler, an ex-offender and Friday release prison leaver added:
If you’re released on a Friday and there are issues, then they are not likely to be resolved until the following Monday, leaving the weekend to panic, stew and worry which could easily lead to reoffending – this change could prevent that.
The government has already made considerable progress in tackling reoffending rates, which have decreased over the past 10 years from 31.6% in 2010/2011 to 24.4% in 2020/21.
Since April 2022, the proportion of prison leavers finding work within six weeks of release has increased from 15% to 19%, with 30% in work after 6 months, up from 23%.
Alongside this, prisons have also rolled out tough new security measures which have thwarted over 28,000 plots to smuggle drugs, phones, and weapons into prisons over the past two years – keeping prisons safe so more time can be spent on rehabilitation.