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Social Justice

Yes, some prisoners will be released early before Christmas – but it can actually make victims safer

Rules prevent prisoners being released on Christmas day. Experts say this helps everyone

Prison is no picnic - but for some rough sleepers, it at least provides a 'safe' place to stay. Image credit: Piqsels

Image credit: Piqsels

Letting prisoners out early might seem like a surprising idea. But thanks to the way Christmas falls this year, any inmates with release dates between Friday 22 December and Boxing Day on Tuesday 26 December will be released on Wednesday 20 December.

What you might not know is this reduces reoffending and the risk to victims – instead of putting prisoners out on the streets when support services are closed.

It’s something the Big Issue has campaigned on, with our founder John Bird using his seat in the House of Lords to change the law this year.

“It’s well established that making sure ex-offenders are set up with the support they need on release is critical when it comes to preventing re-offending – it’s why I sponsored legislation in parliament to end Friday releases,” said Bird.

The government is meeting a pre-existing legal requirement that means prisoners are let out early if their release date falls on a weekend or bank holiday, like Christmas Day – but that hasn’t stopped a tabloid frenzy.

“FIENDS’ EARLY RELEASE” raged The Sun, warning those serving sentences for violent and sexual offences will be freed up to six days early.

Last time this happened at Christmas it resulted in 505 prisoners being released early, The Sun reported.

But if somebody has served their time and is ready for release, then handling it well can help reduce risk and vulnerability, Bird added: “Mitigating that risk is the best way to protect victims – not putting prisoners in a situation that increases desperation and the chances of them making another bad decision.”

Early releases give people coming out of prison the building blocks to turn their lives around, said Helen Berresford, director of external engagement at criminal justice charity Nacro.

“For people released from prison on a Friday and the day before a public holiday the day of release can be a race against the clock as they try to find somewhere to stay, get health support, apply for benefits and see their probation officer before the weekend,” Berresford said. 

“This stress is compounded when services are shut for even longer. Too many are left sleeping rough, without medication or enough money. Without the right support in place, we are simply setting people up to fail.”

As well as helping with the rehabilitation process, it also means victims are safer, Berresford added: “Giving people the resources to start again when they come out of prison is the best way to reduce reoffending, meaning less crime, less cost to the public and most importantly less victims.” 

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