|Cat-D: no more locked gates|
Broadly speaking ROTL comes in two main varieties: Resettlement Day Release (RDR) and Resettlement Overnight Release (ROR). I’ve written a little about ROR (‘home leave’) in my recent posts on coming home for temporary leave at Christmas. However, I haven’t yet shared my own experiences of RDR or ‘townies’, as many cons call them.
When I was eventually granted my Cat-D status – after quite a long process of applications and appeals – I still had to wait for around six weeks before I was offered a place at the nearest open nick. That was actually pretty good going as I’ve know lads wait many months for a transfer since Cat-D jails are short of available spaces.
Shortly after my arrival at the new prison I was granted Special Purpose Leave (SPL) to go into the local town, along with a couple of fellow cons and a senior officer. Three were lifers, while the other lad and I were fixed-termers. To be honest, we were pretty much left to our own devices for a couple of hours.
|No more handcuffs|
We walked around the town – which was one I’d never visited previously – and had a coffee. I think that it was getting used to crowds in shops and dealing with the busy traffic that I found most difficult. Imagine if it had that effect on me after my relatively short period of incarceration, what it must be like for a lifer who has been in a closed prison for 20 years or more?
|The magic 'ROTL 7' licence to go on temporary leave|
Was I tempted to do a runner? Well, I think that every con, at some stage, must fantastise about seeing an open gate. Human beings are not made to be locked up in small boxes and many prisoners do think about escape. However, if such a stupid idea did cross my mind momentarily while I was out in town on my own, that was where it very definitely stayed.
|HMP Kirkham: open gate at Cat-D|
To be honest, I was still a little nervous as I waited at the meeting point. What if the others failed to turn up? Fortunately, nothing went awry and after some more tourism and a bit of shopping we went back to the nick. All very painless, really. Of course, the fact that I’d had a successful accompanied ROTL in town stood me in very good stead for the rest of my prison stretch.
Following that first day out, I had to wait about another three months before I finally got my first unaccompanied day release. I’d applied almost as soon as I arrived in the Cat-D jail, but the processing of my application was delayed because my offender supervisor (inside probation) was on extended leave. This particular open nick has serious problems with staffing its Offender Management Unit (OMU), so there was no cover available to deal with his caseload while he was off work.
Eventually, however, my application was processed and I received the memorandum from OMU calling me to attend a ROTL Board. This is a bit like an inquisition during which a governor grade and your offender supervisor cross-examine you about why you have applied for temporary leave. They also ask questions about how you would cope with certain stressful situations while out of the prison. A few days later I had a note via the internal post – a ROTL 5 form – informing me that my application had been successful and I had been approved for my first townie.
|Notification of a ROTL Board from OMU|
|Sandwiches in the park|
To be honest, although ‘townies’ were welcome breaks from the dreary routine of prison life, they weren’t essential for me personally. I’d not been away for all that long (some of my fellow cons had been in jail for 20 or even 30 years), so even if my application had been rejected, it wouldn’t have altered the fact that as a fixed-termer, I’d be going home eventually. However, for the lifers these day trips were absolutely essential.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts about open prisons, about half of those who make it to Cat-D will be serving indeterminate sentences – either life or an Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP). In both cases, their eventual release will depend entirely on a recommendation by the Parole Board which will be looking for evidence of manageable risk if the prisoner is released back into the community on licence.
|Standard ROTL licence conditions|
In a closed prison inmates’ behaviour is closely controlled. They often spend a considerable proportion of their day locked behind a heavy steel door. However, as anyone with experience of the prison system will know all too well, good behaviour in custody does not necessarily mean that a prisoner will behave well when freed from these constraints. So before important decisions about granting parole can be made, there needs to be a degree of risk-taking by the prison authorities and that is where Cat-D nicks are important.
In recent years, the process of allowing prisoners in open prisons to access ROTL has been tightened up. What often used to be an almost automatic rubber-stamping of applications has now become a complex process that can involve regular psychological assessments and constant risk management, particularly when it concerns prisoners who are considered to present a high risk of harm should they reoffend. Following a small number of very high profile ‘ROTL failures’ in 2012 and 2013, the government intervened and in August introduced temporary new rules for granting ROTL.
|Consequences of ROTL failure|
In fact, many ROTL failures are more to do with arriving back late. This can be caused by transport delays, traffic problems or other mundane hitches, rather than actual absconding or because a prisoner on leave has committed new offences.
Whenever there has been some incident of a con absconding on a temporary licence or committing some new offence the tabloid media seems to have a feeding frenzy demanding that ROTL be stopped or cut back. In fact, the new ROTL guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice effectively prohibits temporary release – or even Cat-D status – for any prisoner who has previously attempted to escape or abscond, or even arrived back late at the gate when on ROTL – for which he or she will already have been punished at an adjudication.
|Trying to make a silk purse...|
I foresee that we will have all manner of costly legal challenges to the new ROTL policy, as we have with all sorts of previous knee-jerk reactions in our criminal justice system. However – as with all the other disasters and rebuffs Team Grayling have experienced in the Court of Appeal and the High Court in recent months – I doubt if Calamity Chris will allow the question of lawfulness, or indeed the rule of law, to get in the way of a quick headline in the Daily Mail.