More prisoners 'to be freed on temporary licence'
More prisoners are set to be released into the community on temporary licence after Michael Gove insisted it is not a "soft option".
The Justice Secretary said it would be wrong to allow "a very few" high-profile cases to "distract us from the long-term advantages for society" of the scheme.
Two years ago - before Mr Gove held the post - the Government introduced changes to tighten the rules after the system was thrust into the spotlight by a number of crimes.
In one in 2013 a killer given day release went on to murder a Good Samaritan. Ian McLoughlin stabbed to death Graham Buck, 66, while away from HMP Springhill in Buckinghamshire, on temporary licence.
McLoughlin, who had killed twice before, was later sentenced to a whole-life order.
Under the temporary licence system inmates can be let out for short periods towards the end of their sentence.
In a speech on Thursday, Mr Gove said the number of prisoners benefiting from release on temporary licence (ROTL) has fallen by 40% since 2013.
" So I think now is the time for a change," he said.
Speaking of a need to enable governors to release more prisoners on temporary licence, he said: "It can only enhance public safety if prisoners can gain experience of work and life on the outside prior to full release, learning how to conduct themselves properly and contribute effectively so they can integrate successfully back into society."
When properly used the scheme can "do a huge amount to improve a prisoner's chances of finding a long-term job", he argued, saying it removes the "cliff edge" between custody and liberty and " enables prisoners to adjust to the expectations and demands of society".
He went on: "Allowing a prisoner out on temporary release is not a soft option - it is a preparation for the hard choices that life on the outside demands.
"ROTL requires prisoners to commit to proper work, the discipline of new routines and respect for new boundaries set by others."
The scheme also helps prisoners strengthen family ties which are "crucial to rehabilitation", Mr Gove said.
It has made "useful citizens - social assets" out of people who "once generated only pain, injury and trouble", he added.
Mr Gove conceded that the system is not infallible, saying: " Mistakes in the past led to an understandable tightening-up of the rules. When individuals abuse freedoms, regimes will be tightened.
"But ultimately, public safety is better served by allowing prisoners to develop the skills and characteristics they need to succeed on the outside through extensive use of ROTL than it is by keeping too many prisoners inside and then releasing them ill-prepared and unready for life outside - more likely than ever to go back to a life of crime."
He added: "Although it will take time for confidence in the system to return fully, I believe that it would be wrong to allow a very few high-profile cases, appalling though they were, to distract us from the long-term advantages for society of ROTL.
"With the help of careful assessment processes, I am confident that our reform-minded governors can identify the most promising candidates for a successful, safe, ROTL."
The new approach is the latest strand of the Government's ambitious and wide-ranging agenda for penal reform.
Mr Gove also highlighted the issue of prisoners who have received Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences.
He said: " There will always be some prisoners whose behaviour and attitudes render them a continuing danger to the public and who need to remain in custody for a significant time.
"But there are also - clearly - some prisoners who have served their tariff, who want to prove they are ready to contribute to society and who have been frustrated by failures in the way sentence plans have worked and bureaucracy in the parole system."
Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said: "ROTL plays a vital role in the safe management and supervision of offenders in the community. We welcome Michael Gove's commitment to reversing the dramatic decline in its use since 2013."
Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer said: "This is a welcome speech with some good ideas but until Michael Gove addresses key issues such as the dramatic rise of violence, self-harm and overcrowding which plague our prisons he will barely begin to scratch the surface of the reform he talks about.
"If more prisoners are to be released on licence then it is even more important that prisons are places where education and purposeful activity are possible.
"Instead the current conditions, which have been getting worse for five years under the Tories, make it even harder for a prisoner who to achieve the skills they need to make a success of themselves on the outside.
"This simply is not good enough and it is time for Michael Gove to deliver the radical reform that the prison service so sorely needs."