New MoJ research confirms that release on temporary licence (ROTL) reduces reoffending and more ROTLs reduce reoffending more.
Reoffending impact of ROTL
Release on temporary licence was an integral part of the new prisoner education and employment strategy launched in May 2018; setting out a vision of prisoners working in the community in the last months of their sentence, maximising their chances of finding a job immediately on release.
The authors, Joseph Hillier and Aidan Mews, assess the impact of Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) in England and Wales from a “dose-response perspective”. The effects on individuals’ reoffending outcomes of increasing numbers of temporary releases in the period leading up to release from prison on individuals’ reoffending were examined for all those released from prison in 2012 and 2013.
What is ROTL?
Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) is:
“the mechanism that enables [offenders] to participate in necessary activities, outside of the prison establishment, that directly contribute to their resettlement into the community and their development of a purposeful, law-abiding life”
National Offender Management Service (NOMS), 2015
Decisions on whether to grant ROTL are taken by the prison governor or a delegate (acting on behalf of the Secretary of State) following a risk assessment process, although some prisoners are expressly prohibited from getting ROTL. In practice, many prisons operate ROTL boards to which prisoners apply for temporary release. There are four main categories of ROTL:
Special purpose licence: Visits to dying relatives who are close family members; going to funerals of close family members; marriage or religious services; medical treatment – for as long as the hospital appointment or treatment lasts; going to court, tribunal or an inquiry.
Resettlement day release: Working out / taking part in community service projects or other things offenders have to do outside prison as part of their sentence to get ready for release; keeping in touch with family; training or education courses about life and work skills.
Resettlement overnight release: Similar to the day release, but also to spend time at the place the offender will be living once they are released from prison.
Childcare resettlement: For certain prisoners who are the only parent or carer for a child under 16.
How often is ROTL granted?
There have been a number of changes to ROTL policy following three instances of serious offending on temporary release in 2013. In response, the then Justice Secretary commissioned an internal review of the policy and practice of ROTL and reviews of each of the cases by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. These reviews found three main weaknesses in the use of ROTL in England and Wales:
A uniform approach to managing all prisoners meant risk management was no more robust for the highest risk cohort.
Confusion about the purpose of ROTL meant that granting ROTL had become ‘a presumption’ in open prisons.
There were inconsistencies in the way ROTL was operating across the prison estate.
As a result, eligibility criteria and assessment practice were made much tighter and the number of ROTLs fell substantially (by around 37% in 2015 compared to 2013).
Despite a fall in numbers of ROTL given following the revised guidelines, ROTL is still used very frequently in England and Wales. In 2016, there were around 7,000 individuals released on ROTL (an average of around 47 incidences of ROTL per individual), with most ROTL incidences being resettlement day release.
ROTL failures (i.e. returning late, failing to return, alleged offending, or other breaches of licence conditions) were relatively rare – less than 0.1% of ROTL incidences ended in a recorded release failure in 2016, an overall failure rate of 75 per 100,000 ROTL incidences.
The impact of ROTL on reoffending
The key findings of the MoJ analysis are reproduced in full below:
Results suggest that increased use of ROTL overall was associated with reduced reoffending for those to whom it was given prior to release from prison in 2012 and 2013. This was after controlling for offenders’ characteristics, offending history and ROTL failure.
For those given at least one ROTL, additional ROTLs in the six-month period leading up to release were associated with small but statistically significant reductions in rates of proven reoffending and frequency of reoffences.
The reoffending effects associated with increased ROTLs became larger the closer individuals were to release.
The categories of ROTL were associated with different impacts. For example, after controlling for other variables, in the six-month period leading up to release:
Each additional Resettlement Day Release was associated with a 0.5% reduced odds of reoffending over a one-year follow-up period.
Each additional Resettlement Overnight Release was associated with a 5% reduced odds of reoffending over a one-year follow-up period.
Further analysis comparing those with under 25 ROTLs within six months prior to release with similar offenders with 25 or more ROTLs confirmed that the higher ROTL group had a 3.1 percentage points lower reoffending rate over a one-year follow-up period (and 0.1 fewer reoffences per offender on average).
While the approach taken in this study involved adjusting for offenders’ characteristics, offending history and ROTL failure, it cannot definitively control for all factors that may influence the findings. In particular, the available data do not include ROTL release duration or contextual details such as the quality of the ROTL release.
After the rather rushed parole review in the wake of the Worboys case, it is reassuring to see the Justice Secretary base his new prisoner education and employment strategy on a robust evidence base.