Home UK News ‘Prisoners recommended for release are facing delays exceeding 100 days’

‘Prisoners recommended for release are facing delays exceeding 100 days’

  • The Ministry of Justice plans to keep most inmates in closed conditions

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The Ministry of Justice is blocking prisoners' movement to open prisons

Recently, information has surfaced which demonstrates the Ministry of Justice’s efforts to obstruct prisoners’ release into open conditions, despite the recommendation of the Parole Board. The information comes as prisons are expected to be ‘full by July’.

Last year, then-Justice Secretary Dominic Raab implemented a more stringent criteria for convicts serving life terms or Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences who seek to be released into the community. Since then, the number of cases in which the MoJ approved Parole Board recommendations for open conditions has dropped from 94% to 13%.

When a Parole Board recommendation is issued, the Justice Secretary is expected to determine whether or not to accept it within 28 days. However, convicts have noted an increase in decision-making delays.

The scale of the delays has now been revealed by MoJ numbers acquired by eminent prison lawyer Dr Laura Janes through a Freedom of Information request. It took an average of 36 days from the Parole Board’s recommendation to the Justice Secretary’s final decision in 2021/22. The figure was the same as the previous year.

However, the average time to make a judgement grew to 165 days in 2022/23, adding four months of uncertainty for each prisoner awaiting a decision. Since Raab modified the policy last year, the MoJ has denied more than 150 lifers and IPP convicts’ proposed relocation to open prisons. Officials have confirmed that the decisions are not made in person by the Justice Secretary, but rather by an official acting on his authority.

Dr Janes commented that since last year’s policy-change, “the well-established system whereby people serving long term sentences go through a gradual process of structured reduction in risk in closed prisons, followed by a period of testing in prisons with less security (known as open conditions) on the advice of the Parole Board, has effectively broken down”.

Open Prison
Open Prisons allow inmates great freedom; similar to that in the community but in a gated environment (Image: Prison Guide)

She added: “All of this at a time when the prison estate is under intense pressure and due to run out of space by July.  Surely, now, more than ever, the Secretary of State should be moving people on who the Parole Board have assessed can be safely moved on to open conditions and towards release.”

The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) said: “Excellent work by Dr Laura Janes uncovering shocking delays to prisoners receiving decisions from the Ministry of Justice on Parole Board recommendations on transfers to open conditions.”

PRT deputy director Mark Day said: “Our scrutiny of the changes suggests that we have gone from a system where the majority of decisions were made according to the transparent recommendations of an independent Parole Board; to one where they are decided by an unnamed and unaccountable official according to ill-defined criteria behind closed doors.”

Faced with a capacity problem in closed prisons and over 600 vacant seats in open prisons, the Prison Service changed its guidelines earlier this year to shift more men serving shorter terms – who, according to statistics, are more likely to reoffend than lifers or IPP offenders – to open prisons.

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