On 13th November 2017, new changes were made to the release licence regime.
Many people predicted that the changes would result in an increase in the number of offenders breaching their licence conditions and having to return to prison.
However, new figures show that the changes have had little effect and the prison population has even dropped slightly since their implementation.
What do the changes mean?
For many of our clients, a prison sentence is a terrible reality. It doesn’t impact just on the individual but in many cases it impacts significantly upon their families and in particular their children.
The day that somebody is released from prison is clearly a significant event and usually marks a turning point in the life of the individual. On the day of their release, many people draw a line under the event and make an attempt to move on with their lives.
However, we see many clients who are released from custody with extremely stringent license conditions which must be abided by. Any breach of the licence terms is likely to result in the individual being recalled on their license and being returned to complete the remainder of their sentence.
In planning for an offender’s release, a supervising officer creates a release plan and considers which additional licence conditions are appropriate. The conditions are then submitted to and reviewed by the Governor of the prison, on behalf of the Secretary of State.
If the Governor confirms the conditions, the prisoner is released and the conditions are legally enforceable.
Since the imposition of The Criminal Justice (Sentencing) (Licence Conditions) (Amendment) Order in November 2017, that regime has changed and now allows Release Licenses to restrict ‘specified conduct or specified acts’.
The government intended that conditions were to be imposed which would:
- Prohibit gambling
- Prohibit the drinking of alcohol
- Prohibit the use of some social media websites
Why are some prisoners prohibited from alcohol consumption?
In the explanatory note to the Order, the government says the following:
“The consumption of alcohol is a known factor in recidivism for some offenders. In 2004, the Prison Reform Trust published a paper which estimated that 63% of male offenders and 39% of female offenders within the England and Wales prison estate admitted to hazardous drinking before being imprisoned.
What conditions can be imposed to a prisoner released on license?
There are a variety of conditions that a prisoner must abide by upon their release on license. Typically, the most common types of conditions are as follows:
- Residence – to live at a particular address.
- Making or maintaining contact with an individual – for example a medical practitioner. There may be specific requirements to attend particular appointments, allow home visits or to cooperate fully with recommended care or treatment.
- Not to seek to approach or contact the victim.
- Not to contact or associate with particular persons – this is usually named individuals such as persons with whom it is believed that they have previously committed crime.
- Not to contact directly or indirectly any person who is a serving or remand prisoner.
- To participate or co-operate in a programme or activity – in order that the offender seeks to address their offending behaviour problems such as alcohol, drugs, sexual, violence, gambling, solvent abuse, anger, debt etc.
- Possession, ownership, control or inspection of specified items or documents – this is usually related to having more than one mobile telephone where it is believed that the offender is using multiple phones or SIM cards in an effort to conceal offending behaviour or contact which is disallowed under other conditions. It is used to prevent offenders’ access to cameras or mobile phones capable of taking photographs where a camera has been used in previous offences. Whilst this is mainly used for sex offenders, it could also be used against extremist offenders.
- Allowing inspection of any device capable of making or storing digital images by a supervising or police officer. It is also often the case that conditions restricting internet or computer use.
- Surrender passport.
- Disclosure of information – this is usually whereby offenders are forced to provide information on things like;
- Details of vehicles that they have access to.
- Details of any developing personal or sexual relationships.
- Curfew – to remain indoors at a specified address for up to 16 hours per day. The curfew may or may not be electronically monitored.
- Freedom of movement – this usually means being prevented from entering a particular area, perhaps where an offender has previously offended. An exclusion zone must be clearly defined and offenders are usually provided with a map clearly showing the boundaries of the exclusion zone. This condition can also be used to prevent an offender entering specific premises such as a swimming pool, school or nightclub.
- Reporting – this is a common license condition which ensures that the offender reports regularly, usually to their supervising officer but could be to police or another organisation.
Can license conditions be challenged?
To be lawful, any licence condition, standard or additional, has to be “necessary and proportionate”.
Necessary – this means that the condition is necessary to enable the supervising officer to manage the risks identified and no other less onerous condition will suffice. It must be needed to allow for effective management of the offender.
Proportionate – this means that any restriction or loss of liberty arising from the imposition of the condition is proportionate to the level of risk presented and that no other less intrusive means of addressing the risk is available or appropriate. The condition cannot go further than is necessary to manage the risk.
It is open to an offender to challenge the imposition of a licence condition by making an application for judicial review, where the offender considers that the condition is not necessary or proportionate to manage those risks.