On 24th April 2020, the Prison Service published some detailed information about who can be released from prison to help manage the spread of COVID-19. You can read the full details in the End of Custody Temporary Release document here.

The official documents are very detailed and contain lots of jargon. So we’ve tried to make the information easier to understand by answering some of the most common questions below. If you have any questions that are not answered here, or if you would like some more information about what all of this means, please get in touch with the Prisoners’ Families Helpline on 0808 808 2003 or via email.

Are people in prison being released early?
To help manage the spread of COVID-19, the government has introduced something called End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR). This means that some people in prison can be temporarily released, as long as they meet strict criteria (conditions). Not all prisoners will be suitable for early release.

Who cannot be released early?
The End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR) scheme does not apply to all prisoners. Prisoners who are not suitable for early release are:

  • Prisoners whose sentence is subject to Parole Board release. This includes prisoners who:
    • have an indeterminate sentence (i.e. IPP or life)
    • have an extended sentence
    • have a sentence for a ‘serious offence of particular concern’ (known as a SOPC)
    • have been convicted of terrorism.
  • Prisoners who are registered sex offenders (including those who are currently on the register and those who will sign the register on release).
  • Category A prisoners
  • Restricted Status prisoners
  • Prisoners held on remand and awaiting trial or sentencing (i.e. people who are not yet serving a prison sentence)
  • People who have committed a crime while on Release on Temporary Licence (RoTL).

Who can be released early?
The prisoners who can be considered for early release under the End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR) scheme have to meet a set of strict criteria (conditions).

The first of these are:

  • Prisoners must be serving standard determinate sentences (which means that their sentence must have an end date and an automatic release point).
  • Prisoners must be within two months of their release date.

There are then extra conditions set out by the Secretary of State. Any prisoner who is being considered for early release must meet all of the following standards – there are no exceptions:

Prisoners being considered for early release must:

  • Be assessed as having a low or medium Risk of Serious Harm level.
  • Not be subject to MAPPA management on release.
  • Not be serving a sentence of any length for a violent or sexual crime*.
  • Not be serving a sentence of four or more years in prison for possession of a weapon*.
  • Be within 61 days of their conditional release date.
  • Have already served at least half of the prison term they were sentenced to.
  • Not be serving a fixed term or standard recall.
  • Not be identified as posing a risk of domestic abuse or a concern related to child safeguarding.
  • Not be assessed as posing a risk to national security if released.

*Please see the official guidance for details about the specific crimes that these standards apply to.

What about the release of children and young people?
The standards for the release of children and young people are the same as for adults except:

  • Where someone is serving a Detention and Training Order (DTO) rather than a determinate sentence. Then, they must be within 61 days of the halfway point of the term of the DTO.
  • They must not be serving a sentence for one of a specific list of serious drug-related crimes*. This is because children and young people are subject to a different system of security categorisation from adults.

*Please see the official guidance for details about the specific crimes that these standards apply to.

Is there anything else to consider?
On top of these standards, there are some additional general standards set out by policy. Prisoners being considered for early release must:

  • Not be serving a sentence for a COVID-19-related crime.
  • Have suitable accommodation to be released to (including the property owner accepting any conditions of the prisoners’ release, for example, the installation of electronic tagging equipment).
  • Not be subject to any outstanding charges or have been referred to the police or the Independent Adjudicator.
  • Be able to safely manage their healthcare, including any COVID-19 considerations, after release.
  • Not present a level of risk of harm, reoffending, failure to return or other significant challenge that cannot reasonably be managed in the community.

There is a very strong presumption that prisoners who do not meet these conditions will not be suitable for End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR) unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Who decides who might be suitable for release?
A central Offender Management Hub will consider adult prisoners who might be suitable for release and work with local prisons, probation services and the police to assess people against the criteria (standards) set out above.
The Youth Custody Service Release and Resettlement Teams will assess children and young people, working with Casework and Social Work teams.

If a prisoner meets all these standards, do they get automatically released?
No. The guidance says that ‘not everyone who meets the criteria…has to be released’ and that ‘prisoners can be excluded for other reasons’. There is no right to be released under End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR).

There will be a presumption that people who meet all the criteria should be released, but there will be further checks and assessments that:

  • They are willing to take part in the End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR) process.
  • They have not been mistakenly included in the group of prisoners suitable for early release.
  • They have not experienced any failures on previous Release on Temporary Licence (RoTL).
  • They have a verifiable, safe and suitable address to be released to.
  • They have completed a prison-based healthcare check.
  • The release would not put themselves or others at any health or COVID-19 risks.
  • Due consideration has been given to locally managing any expected further criminal charges or adjudications.
  • Due consideration has been given to an underlying safeguarding concerns and known risks to individuals or children.
  • Due consideration has been given to any behaviour that the Governor considers might demonstrate that the individuals can be trusted to complete the licence.

The final decision will be made by the central team on behalf of the Secretary of State.

How will prisoners find out about their release?
Individuals will be told about decisions by the prison they are in.

Is End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR) the same across all prisons?
Although the rules and standards for who can be released on ECTR are the same across all prisons, not all prisons have to use ECTR in the same way. Release can be targeted at specific prisons to ease particular pressures there in relation to the impact of COVID-19 – for example, on staffing levels.

What are the conditions of End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR)?
If someone is released on ECTR, they will be expected to follow some conditions.

They must:

  • Be of good behaviour.
  • Not commit any crimes.
  • Comply with all government COVID-19 announcements, directions and guidelines.
  • Keep their temporary licence with them at all times and provide it if a police or probation officer asks them to do so.
  • Stay at home between 7pm and 7am (unless there is a variation to their individual licence).
  • Not gamble.
  • Not drink any alcohol or go into any pubs/clubs/bars (or anywhere where the sale and consumption of alcohol is the primary purpose of the premises).
  • Not contact the media directly or through someone else.
  • Not upload, add or change anything on a social networking site or internet chatroom either directly or through someone else.
  • Not take illegal drugs or psychoactive substances.
  • Not return to prison with any unauthorised articles.
  • Not leave the United Kingdom.

More conditions can be added based on the individual circumstances of each case.

Prisoners released on ECTR will also be electronically monitored which means they must:

  • Allow an electronic device to be fitted to them or (if monitored by another device) carry that monitoring device with them at all times.
  • Allow any equipment related to the electronic monitoring device to be installed, or install it as directed.
  • Not tamper with the electronic monitoring device or associated equipment.
  • Make sure that the electronic device is charged up at all times.
  • Immediately report any damage or problem with the electronic monitoring device or associated equipment, including if any part stops working.
  • Allow any person nominated by the prison to check whether the electronic monitoring device or associated equipment is working.

How will prisoners who are released early be monitored?
Adults released on End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR) will be given an Offender Manager to keep in touch with until the temporary licence period ends. To help with this, they should be given a mobile phone before release if they do not already have one. They will not be monitored by probation as they are still considered prisoners in legal terms.

For children and young people, the Youth Offending Teams will provide the normal level of statutory supervision, taking into account any adjustments made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Can the End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR) licence be revoked?
If someone is released on ECTR, they can be returned to prison. Governors can revoke the licence is if it becomes unsafe or inappropriate for them to remain in the community. Police will then be told to arrest the individual and return them to prison.

What happens after the End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR) licence?
The ECTR licence will expire at the point that a prisoner would otherwise have been released automatically on licence. At this point, the person will move onto the standard probation licence. The prison should give someone both licences at the point of release, and explain the difference to them.

When did this start? How long will it last?
The early release of prisoners using End of Custody Temporary Release (ECTR) began on 7th April 2020. It will last as long as the ‘Transmission Control Period’ lasts – which is the time that restrictions are in place to control the spread of COVID-19. When the Transmission Control Period ends, those released on ECTR will not automatically have their licence revoked. There will instead be a review to decide what will happen next. If someone is not sure what this means in their case, they should speak to the Offender Manager they were given on release.

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