When you get to prison, one of the most important things on your mind is figuring out exactly when you will get out. As a general rule, if this is your first time in prison you will be released when you have served 50% of your sentence. The remaining 50% will be served outside prison but with certain obligations and restrictions.

No matter how quickly you are going to reach the 50% of the sentence, you do not need to do anything to ensure that you are released (even the poorest prison admin will not mess up that release date).

There are two further ways (one permanent and one temporary) in which you may leave prison before you complete the 50% of your sentence, and these require application and input from you if they are going to happen as early as possible. They are:

Please note: this is intended as a rough guide to the criteria and processes for someone at an early stage in the sentencing and prison process. It is not a comprehensive guide to the rules and regulations, and given the importance of this area, everyone should read the relevant Prison Service Orders and Prison Service Instructions (POSs and PSIs).

Home Detention Curfew / Electronic Tagging

HDC, or release on tag, is the system by which you are released early and fitted with an electronic tag around your ankle to monitor your adherence to a specified curfew. You will be required to stay at your chosen address, normally for 12 hours each day (overnight), and a machine will be installed in your house which is able to verify whether the tag (and you) are within range.

A release on tag is available to prisoners with sentences between 3 months and 4 years and the eligible date for it is the later of 25% of the way through your sentence (equivalent to 50% of the way through your expected time in prison otherwise) and 4 months before 50% of your sentence. For example:
8 month sentence = 4 months in prison = tag date after 2 months in prison
30 month sentence = 15 months in prison = tag date after 11 months in prison

The process for getting a release on tag approved involves two key components:

Risk Assessment

The timing of your risk assessment is somewhat out of your control, but having your paperwork complete will ensure that you are not responsible for any delay. Each case will usually be dealt with in chronological order of eligibility date, and so if the prison is behind (which it frequently can be by up to a month) you will just have to wait. Be prepared for this and try not to let it distress you. It is worth making sure you have all the details of your sentence with you in prison along with anything which will help your case (for example, if you have a job to go to on release, then a letter from your employer is probably the most useful thing).

Assessment of the Curfew Address

In terms of making sure your address is suitable, it will help if someone at that address is able to liaise with your parole officer (and they should keep calling them rather than waiting to be contacted) and offer times for a visit to check its suitability and interview everyone at the address. If there is any violence in your history or in the crime you are inside for, be prepared to deal with issues around risk to other people there, especially if there are children (even your own). This could mean you need to get social services to do an assessment of the risk to children as well – if this is going to be necessary you should find out early otherwise it could eat up weeks, a large portion of your potential early release.

Eligibility for Electronic Tagging

In terms of your general eligibility for tag, there are four broad categories:

  1. Ineligible sentences – these are currently listed in Appendix 1 at the bottom of the page
  2. Ineligible except in special circumstances – current examples listed in Appendix 2 at the bottom of the page
  3. Presumptively eligible – anyone with a sentence under 12 months except for the sentences listed in Appendix 3 at the bottom of the page (if you fall in this category you may not even need to sit the board for your risk assessment)
  4. Everything else (including those under 12 months for which one of the sentences that excludes presumptive eligibility applies)

If you fall into category 4, you will be risk assessed and can only be turned down for one of the five following reasons:

  1. You present an unacceptable risk to the victim or to members of the public
  2. You have a pattern of offending which indicates a likelihood of re-offending during the Home Detention Curfew period
  3. There is a likelihood of failure to comply with the conditions of the curfew
  4. There is a lack of suitable accommodation for HDC
  5. The potential curfew would be too short

You can appeal against any refusal of tag if you do not believe the reasons fall in one of those above, but remember that you are the prison’s responsibility whilst out on tag, and so they are understandably nervous about any repercussions of an incorrect decision.

Release on Temporary License

In certain situations you may be allowed to leave the prison for day release, overnight release or some other situation – although you will be obliged to return to prison. The temporary releases all fall under the heading of ROTL (Release On Temporary License), and require you to have had a risk assessment in a similar way to the HDC process above. Again, it will help this not fall behind if you keep on top of it and speak to the Offender Management Unit (OMU) about starting the process, but even assuming you have done everything in a timely fashion, it will still be done chronologically on eligibility date, and so can slip weeks behind.

Your ROTL date, when you become eligible for these releases, is the later of 24 months before your release date, and 50% of the custodial time (so 25% of the sentence). So for sentences under 8 years, this is the latter criterion, for sentences of more than 8 years, it is the former.

There are several reasons why you could be excluded from ROTL, which you should check, but this list is far shorter than, for example, the HDC exclusions, and most prisoners will be able to apply for a risk assessment for ROTL.

There are four types of Release on Temporary Licence:

  1. Resettlement Day Release (RDR) – also known as ‘Town Visits’
  2. Resettlement Overnight Release (ROR) – also known as ‘Home Leave’
  3. Childcare Resettlement Leave
  4. Special Purpose License

Resettlement Day Release and Resettlement Overnight Release

RDR and ROR are intended to help prisoners reintegrate with life outside prison again. The terms of the RDR and ROR will vary by prison and prisoner and to a certain extent are at the discretion of the governor, but there will usually be a system whereby a number of RDRs need to be completed before any ROR, and there will be restrictions on frequency, length and days of the week/weekends. It is worth figuring these through early on and working out when your application will go in, as you may find that practically the first time you can take any overnight home leave is months after your technical eligibility date.

Childcare Resettlement Leave

In addition to the risk assessment, to be eligible for Childcare Resettlement Leave (CRL) a prisoner must show s/he has sole caring responsibility for a child under 16 and is:

Proof of primary carer status can be obtained from Social Security or through court documents, if available. A birth certificate is not sufficient. If CRL is to be taken at the address of the person currently caring for the child that person’s permission must be obtained. If the children are in Local Authority care the Authority must also agree. CRL is a maximum three nights every two months.

Special Purpose Leave

All prisoners, aside from those in the short list of excluded groups, are eligible for temporary release on a Special Purpose Licence. An SPL is usually only granted in response to a specific set of circumstances. Some common grounds are:

Applications should be considered as a matter of urgency in cases where religious requirements mean a funeral will take place within 24 hours of death. However risk assessment must have taken place and is difficult to accelerate.

The maximum period of release under an SPL is four nights. The length and frequency of ROTL is at the Governor’s discretion. In exceptional circumstances a Governor has the discretion to grant back to back licences.

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