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Young offenders may be eligible for temporary release as a result of Covid-19

The Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service have introduced the End of Custody Temporary Release Scheme (ECTR) which applies to young offenders. The criteria governing the temporary release of young offenders has been set out in Rule 5A of the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000, ‘Coronavirus Restricted Temporary Release’.

 Details

The ECTR scheme is an attempt to limit the spread of Covid-19 in prisons, thereby helping to protect the health of staff and prisoners, as well as minimising the impact of the pandemic on the NHS. Measures include access to new buildings and the temporary release of prisoners to provide more space to isolate vulnerable inmates and new entrants to the prison.

Rule 5A, Young Offender Institution Rules 2000 sets out the criteria governing the temporary release of young offenders. The following factors will be considered in deciding which young offenders should be eligible for early release:

  • The need to minimise the risk to public protection meaning that those assessed as a high risk of serious harm are excluded.
  • The need to maintain public confidence in the justice system meaning only those inmates who are close to release and who have served over the majority of their time in prison will be considered.
  • The need to comply with government directions on Covid-19 meaning that only those with suitable accommodation and whose healthcare needs can be safely managed on release are eligible.
  • Whether a prisoner’s release is governed by a separate process which excludes them from the scheme.

All young offenders released must meet the conditions of the ECTR, which include good behaviour, not committing any offence and complying with all government Covid-19 guidelines. Young offenders will be subject to electronic monitoring and the usual level of statutory supervision taking into account adjustments in light of Covid-19. Inmates may be recalled at any time whether the conditions of their release have been broken or not (Section 5A(7), Young Offender Institution Rules).

Full details of the ECTR can be found in the Ministry of Justice policy document published on 24 April (link here).

Independently from the ECTR, some young offenders may be considered for Release on Temporary Licence if they meet the criteria for compassionate temporary release. For example, if a prisoner is extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 for health reasons or because they are pregnant. Assessment will be made on a case-by-case basis whether it is safe to do so.

Amendment of the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000 – Rule 5A – Coronavirus Restricted Temporary Release

Commentary

It is hoped that this legislation will help to limit the impact of Covid-19 on young offenders as a result of overcrowding in prisons. However, the following limitations should be considered. Under the scheme, not everyone who meets the eligibility criteria will be released, and prisoners can be recalled at any time regardless of whether they have broken their conditions. Furthermore, releases will be targeted at certain prisons and will be decided on the basis of operational needs rather than on an individual basis.

Prison reform groups have expressed concern that the ECTR scheme is too limited to successfully protect young people in prison from the virus. On 17 April, the Howard League and the Prison Reform Trust threatened legal action over the government’s failure to release more prisoners during the pandemic. In response to the ECTR, the charities have highlighted that the scheme is likely to release only a fraction of the 4,000 target publicised by the government, which is well below the 15,000 called for by the Prison Governors’ Association. Furthermore, there are worries that in practice, it is unlikely to include many children.

The charities have warned that the government’s current containment measures are unsustainable. In a letter to the Secretary of State, they have urged the government to extend the ECTR and to provide greater clarity on the process, progress and principles underpinning its response to the pandemic.