Prisons should stop releasing inmates on a Friday because doing so fuels reoffending, drug addiction and homelessness, two Conservative peers have suggested.
More than a third of ex-offenders are currently set free just before the weekend, but as a result often struggle to access support services which are closed until Monday morning.
Campaigners claim many inmates, who do not have anywhere to stay when they are released, usually end up on the streets and are easily drawn back into crime.
Prisoners struggling with addiction can have difficulties getting prescriptions over the weekend and are therefore more likely to end up relapsing.
The release date of a prisoner is calculated in days from the point when they are sentenced.
If they are due to get out on a weekend, they will instead be freed on the previous Friday, meaning it is the most popular day for releases.
But the practice of Friday releases is regarded by many in the justice system as a major obstacle to rehabilitation.
Amendment would allow inmates out up to two days early
Lord Atlee and Lord Hodgson have tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill that would give prison governors discretion over when to let inmates out.
If accepted, the amendment – which has support from Lord Bird, founder of the Big Issue – would allow inmates to get out up to two days early.
Some justice campaigners have argued that for those on short sentences this could represent a substantial portion of their overall sentence.
But those backing a change in the law argue it would not be an automatic right and would only apply to those offenders whom the prison governor genuinely believes requires some extra support on release.
Lord Hodgson said: “So many people come straight out of prison with nowhere to live and go straight on the streets. They have nowhere to go, nothing to do and end up doing something stupid just to go back inside.
“And it is so much worse on a Friday, when everything closes earlier, which means that many of those leaving prison are left to fend for themselves over the weekend.”
Lord Attlee added: “We need to ensure that release occurs earlier in the week in order that ex-offenders can be safely and effectively re-integrated into society. Failure to do so would significantly increase the risk of further offending”.
Medicines for addiction difficult to acquire on weekends
In the first 24 hours after being released an ex-inmate will have to meet their probation officer, submit a claim for Universal Credit and if homeless will need to contact their local housing authority to sort out emergency accommodation.
Frustratingly many of these administrative processes cannot be started until the prisoner has physically been released and because a large number of inmates do not have valid identification documents such as a driving licences or passports, the system can be even more difficult to navigate.
Many of those being released will also need to see their GP in order to get medication to help combat addictions but this can be extremely difficult on a weekend.
Introducing his amendment Lord Hodgson, commented: “If this Government is serious about reducing reoffending, it should start with one of the simplest, and most cost-effective solutions: giving prisons the power to end Friday releases for those who need additional support.”
Lord Bird added: ‘I know from when I was homeless the deep and interconnecting link between prison and the streets. We need to break that link to have any hope of stopping this endless cycle of releasing people homeless, and seeing them go back into prison. Ending Friday releases, with the linked increased risk of homelessness, is one positive move towards that.”
Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of the justice charity Nacro said: “Being released on a Friday can quickly turn into a desperate race against time. Losing that race can mean a weekend sleeping on the streets or slipping back into old habits.
“Instead of placing unnecessary barriers in the way we should be equipping people coming out of prison with the skills to take up work, and fill one of the 1.2 million vacancies we currently have.
“Alongside ensuring they have a safe place to live. By doing this we can give everyone leaving prison a decent chance of turning their lives around, and create safer communities for us all.”