Offenders not 'properly risk-assessed' before release

Prison cell The review was carried out by probation and prison inspectors

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Some of the most dangerous prisoners in England and Wales are not being properly risk-assessed before they are freed, a report has found.

Probation and prison inspectors said two-thirds of the plans they examined to manage the release of those serving life sentences were inadequate.

They were "shocked" by the "lack of clarity" and "confusion" over the assessments.

The justice minister said offender management was being reformed.

The report focused on the preparations for release for some of the 13,000 offenders serving life and indeterminate sentences. In both cases a court sets the minimum term of imprisonment an offender must serve before becoming eligible apply for parole.

Life sentences can be handed to offenders for a range of offences including murder, manslaughter and rape.

Lifers are moved to an open prison towards the end of their sentences and it is then that prison governors use risk assessments to make a decision as to whether to allow them out on day release.

The report was most critical of the information available about the offenders at this stage.

Further risk assessments are seen by the parole board later in an offenders' sentence, when a decision is made about whether to release them on licence.


Lifers are the most dangerous prisoners - murderers, rapists and violent repeat offenders.

But for most of them a life sentence isn't a rest-of-life sentence. On average they can expect to spend 16 years in prison before being released, under certain conditions.

First, they need to be assessed for the risk they pose to the public, and this is where the report says the system is inadequate.

When they are released it's on licence - this means that at any point for the rest of their lives they can be returned to prison without trial.

Their release from prison should also be gradual - for example from high security to an open prison, through to day release and halfway houses.

And it's the job of probation officers to supervise them.

Chief Inspector of Probation Liz Calderbank said "quite basic elements" were often missing.

"Assessments in many instances weren't being thorough enough and weren't being completed adequately," she said.

"We were shocked at the fact there was a lack of clarity and confusion about who was responsible for completing risk assessments when in custody."

Inspectors found many assessments were "little more than a summary of the prisoner's account".

"Our main concern with this approach was that an over-reliance on the prisoner's account could lead to the assessor losing touch with the motivation and triggers for the original offence, or failing to focus on the impact on victims," the report found.

The report focused on "key transitional phases" in a life sentence - the transfer into open prison and from there into the community.

"Despite the time it took to reach the point of transfer to open prison, life sentence prisoners were not well prepared for this significant transition," the report said.

It said many prisoners suffered a "culture shock" on their arrival.

Ms Calderbank told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There is no point in leaving people in prison so long that they become so institutionalised that they then can't respond properly to open conditions, because they reoffend - and that's not safe release."

Inspectors found preparation for release relied heavily on the use of release on temporary licence, which can range from a few hours for a wedding to spending time overnight in a location the prisoners intend to live in.

Inspectors concluded this "was not always well planned or underpinned by robust risk assessment".

One unidentified prison changed its paperwork for releasing life sentence prisoners on temporary licence so the section dealing with risk of harm to others was removed to "simplify the process".

'Drift' in the system

Some decisions to grant temporary leave had been based on "out of date" and "poorly completed paperwork".

"In one case, the absence of both purpose and funding for the temporary absence from prison led to the prisoner being arrested for begging at the local train station," the report said.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said there was a sense of "drift" in the system.

"There are people who, on the whole, they're going to be compliant and they've learned how to be good prisoners," he said.

"What you're not testing is whether they're going to be a good prisoner, you're testing whether they're going to be a good citizen and those are two different things."

The general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, Ian Lawrence, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was "not surprised" by the report.

"I'm not surprised either at the reaction of the Ministry of Justice... that seeks yet again to lay the blame at my members for the shortcomings of the system," he said.

"Our members work hard to rigorously assess lifers or anyone else coming our of prison for that matter.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of NAPO: "The parole system is a very rigorous system"

"But that's against a backdrop of lack of resources, ridiculous timetables by parole boards and doing links by video - which is something we've been opposed to forever."

Despite the problems, reoffending rates for prisoners released after a life or indeterminate sentence remain relatively low, at between two and five per cent, compared to 46.9% of the overall prison population.

"The vast majority of those on life licence formed positive relationships with their offender managers, did not reoffend and, despite the stigma of the life sentence, were able to lead useful and productive lives after release," the inspectors said.

Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: "Though this is about a small group of offenders, it is essential we get it right to protect the public.

"This government is introducing significant reforms to offender management, including setting up a new National Probation Service staffed by experts and dedicated to risk assessing and supervising our most serious offenders.

"We are also reviewing the way we carry out releases on temporary licence to learn lessons and see what changes are necessary."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Bring back Capital punishment.Problem solved!

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    What a surprise....

    .....Tory Government SLASHES funding for everything then claims it is not their fault that under funded services don't have the man power to fulfil their remit......

    .....the lies this Govt. tell would make even Tony Blair blush.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    MORALLY The bible gives a better response "Thou shall not kill".

    Bang go ham and eggs and bacon sandwiches, then not to mention steak and chips - or do we just wait patiently for an animal to die?

    Quoting the bible does nothing to advance an argument, as you can see (I hope!).

    Some killing is justifiable, but then, it's not classed as murder. It's self-defence or manslaughter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    272. Not in my lifetime but I get your theory. All you have to do is look at how much science fiction has actually become fact. I am thinking along the lines of Blade Runner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    274 therevolution666 (and others)
    First rule of thumb for forums like this. If you are thinking of posting something you would be wary of telling a complete stranger to his face down the pub then don't. Words like stupid and idiot aren't helpful and that stranger in the pub might even be a non-assessed recently released killer capable of more than giving you a bloody nose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    Yes I think you are probably right. Certainly, we can't go on as things are. Society these days will not be able to afford the presence of violent asocials in a crowded environment such as we have in the world.

  • Comment number 274.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    268. Ian
    Interesting statement. I know I had my monthly NIS contributions paid for me while working overseas for a charity for 2 years so I didn't miss out on my full pension but does the same apply to prisoners? Methinks I should be writing to my MP if it is true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    Death penalty will return one day, and when it does, we won't be going back again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    What is the point of a 'life' sentence which hardly ever means prison for life and often in practice is less than 10 years?
    The so-called experts supposed to assess prisoners' suitability for release cannot predict what will happen, as events have shown, repeatedly. The risk is not worth it.
    It's time to sack the sociologists & Howard League and restore proper punishment and deterrence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    3 Minutes ago
    Instead of serving time in prison, murderers should be drafted into the army, serving abroad with no leave. At least there, their "skills" could be put to use, and they'd learn some self-discipline.
    Black and Tans, anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    @253 I know, it's so annoying having to follow the rules they set on their own website. I'd start my own and report the news from around the world if only i had the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    I wonder what percentage of these prisoners re offend when released I would think it is low. I would imagine someone who has been in prison for murder may resort to petty crime as it is unlikely they will ever get a job upon release but there again they are likely to be over 65 and will pick up a full state pension.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    Agreed BUT
    If someone is trying to kill you and you retaliate, killing them you have not committed murder.

    The moral point of war (last political resort) is to kill or be killed.
    That is acting in self defense and is NOT murder.

    Soldiers act in defense of others lives so it is not "murder".
    MORALLY The bible gives a better response "Thou shall not kill".

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Instead of serving time in prison, murderers should be drafted into the army, serving abroad with no leave. At least there, their "skills" could be put to use, and they'd learn some self-discipline.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    Too many organisations making a 'pretty penny' from released offenders. The 'semi privatised' Probation Trusts .charitable organisations rehabilitating them, housing associations etc housing ex offenders, companies given incentives (bribes to employ ex offenders)
    Too much off a 'money go round' going on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    As I have said before the current system needs reform. Prisoners should be given a fixed sentence with parole working in reverse to the current set up (eg; model prisoners are released on the due date). That said there should continue to be whole life sentences for the worst crimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    Do you really expect anything else but confusion with the type of corruption we have seen for decades. We do not have an intelligent, and operative managerial structure anywhere throughout the UK Establishment, nor in any associated hierarchy either within the judicial system, or, within the punishment/discipline regimes in prisons. We are still living in the darkages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    One of the arguments against the death penalty is that mistakes are made. surely with DNA analysis and other forms of evidence, sentences can be given beyond reasonable doubt i.e 100% certain. "

    It isn't though. DNA evidence can be flawed, like the man guilty of a crime in Spain on DNA evidence - he had never been there in his life! Too much faith in DNA and CCTV today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    Camerons answer to repatriating foreign criminals is for the UK to build
    prisons in their countries at our expense!
    How many? who knows but I doubt its 11K
    Yep,gotcha,you certainly don't need educating,sorry if I inferred that.


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