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Social Justice

This small change in the law will give prisoners the best chance to rebuild their lives

“If you’re released on a Friday, you’ve got Friday, Saturday and Sunday when you can’t do nothing.”

prisoners sleeping rough

Former prisoners who are released into secure housing are 50% less likely to break the law again. Image: Community Justice Scotland / Flickr

Prisoners will no longer be given Friday release dates, which severely limit their chances at finding stable accommodation, thanks to new legislation passed by parliament. 

The Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill will allow prison governors to release prisoners on Wednesday or Thursday if they have mental health issues, substance abuse problems or a long distance to travel home. 

The change is expected to make a huge difference not only to the lives of former prisoners, but also cut reoffending rates and reduce the pressure on prisons. 

“Cutting crime and protecting the public is my top priority and ending Friday releases is a significant but common-sense change that will do exactly that,” said prisons minister Damian Hinds. “By maximising the time people have when they leave prison to get a job, a home and access drug treatment we can continue to drive down reoffending rates.”

Around a third of prisoners are released on a Friday, but they are statistically more likely to reoffend than those released on any other day of the week. This is because charities and council services that offer housing, drug rehabilitation and mental health support often close for the weekend, leaving former inmates in the lurch. 

Former prisoners who are able to get safe accommodation are around 50% less likely to reoffend.

The new law, presented by Simon Fell MP and supported in the House of Lords by the founder of the Big Issue, Lord Bird, will allow an offender’s release date to be brought forward by up to two days if it falls on a Friday or the day before a bank or public holiday.

Lord Bird, founder of the Big Issue and crossbench peer, said: “This bill will help a significant number of people leave prison without being vulnerable because they leave on a day, not a Friday, when support services are available to see people over the weekend.” 

“This Bill feeds into part of my preventative agenda, so that people leaving prison are more likely to be prevented from getting back into trouble because there is a safety net for them in those crucial days following being de-institutionalised,” he continued.

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Jay Harrison*, 35, was released from prison on a Friday but had nowhere to go. 

“I was homeless on my release and they just said ‘off you go’,” he told the Big Issue. 

“If you’re released on a Friday, you’ve got Friday, Saturday and Sunday when you can’t do nothing,” he added. “I know people that will go take drink, drugs, they’ve got nothing to do, and they’ll be back in prison on Monday.”

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After two weeks of sofa-surfing with friends and family, Harrison was referred to housing and social justice charity Nacro, which found him a place in supported accommodation.

MP Simon Fell, who brought the bill to parliament, said it will “cut reoffending rates, reduce the pressure on prisons, and cut levels of crime.”

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Nacro, called on organisations in the prison sector to now “work to ensure prison governors make good use of this power to help people who are leaving prison. This will all serve to help give people the best chance at a second chance, and reduce reoffending.”

*Names have been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

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