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Automatic Release Changes in Parliament

How Does It Affect Offenders?

Custodial sentences for the most severe crimes will be increasing following a bill being set before Parliament.

The Ministry of Justice has introduced the bill, ostensibly to retain prisoners of serious crime to remain in custody for a new minimum of two thirds of their sentence.

Currently the system allows offenders automatic release after half of their standard determinate sentence, as stated in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The offender will then complete the remainder of their sentence on licence.

This new bill will modify the automatic release for certain offenders to two-thirds of their sentence, extending their time in custody. Offenders that will be affected are:

  • Those convicted of a relevant violent or sexual offence, for which the maximum penalty is a life sentence in custody
  • Where the offender has been sentenced to a standard determinate sentence of seven years or more

This Order will not apply to those convicted before it becomes law, ensuring those already in custody will retain automatic release as it stands.

Changes to the 2003 Act has been touted to ensure that serious offenders are not released back into the general population when they may not have been fully rehabilitated, and still represent a threat to the public. 

Automatic release from a fixed-term sentence was first introduced in the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, although originally intended for short-term prisoners, sentenced to less than four years rather than serious offenders. The Act also allowed for Parole Boards to release serious offenders at the half way point if they felt that rehabilitation had been successful, although the parolee was then required to stay on licence.

There are no modifications being made in regards to the Sentence for Offenders of Particular Concern (SOPC), introduced in the Criminal Justice & Courts Act 2015.

The European Convention on Human Rights has been considered by Secretary of State, Robert Buckland QC MP, and he has made the following statement: ‘In my view the provisions of the Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2020 are compatible with the Convention rights.’  
 

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