Prisoners should 'earn' their release

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has announced plans to scrap the automatic early release of prisoners and introduce a new system of ‘Earned Release’ in prisons in England and Wales.


Mr Herbert, who is the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, was speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham last Tuesday (30 September).

He said that currently, all prisoners on fixed-term sentences are automatically released after serving half of their sentence, regardless of how they have behaved, whether they are likely to reoffend, whether they have complied with any rehabilitation programmes and whether they have been on drugs while in prison.

Thousands are released even earlier on the End of Custody Licence scheme, introduced in June 2007 as a ‘very temporary' measure, but now planned to continue indefinitely.  Under this scheme, in just over a year 36,000 prisoners have been released from jail before serving half their sentence - 7,000 of whom were violent offenders. 

Mr Herbert said that a new Conservative Government would immediately scrap the End of Custody Licence and introduce a new system of ‘Earned Release' based on minimum and maximum sentences.  No prisoner would serve less than the minimum sentence and release beyond this point would be conditional and at the discretion of the prison governor.  An offender would have to ‘earn' his release by complying with prison rules, coming off drugs, taking the right courses and showing that he is not a danger to the public.

Mr Herbert, speaking to the audience without notes or an autocue, said: "I think that this is the right way to help reform our prisons, because we'll be putting power back into the hands of prison governors, we'll be demonstrating to the prisoners that actually it matters what they do, what their attitude is, when we come to decide whether or not they're ready to be released into the community. 

"And above all it will restore public confidence in the system, because the public need to be reassured that when a court says something, that's what the court actually means."

Mr Herbert talked about his plans for establishing independent Prison and Rehabilitation Trusts, under which prison governors will be charged with the task of reducing reoffending, with the authority to contract services run by the private and voluntary sectors.

At present, two thirds of adult prisoners are reconvicted of another crime within two years of release from jail.  For young offenders, the figure is higher - 75 per cent.

Mr Herbert said: "It really does matter to us that prisons can perform a role, not just as places of incarceration, but where we can turn the lives of offenders around." 

He said it was important that prisoners were given purposeful activity, not simply shut in their cells for long periods - and that this may involve help with reading and writing, learning new skills to prepare them for work outside and treatment for drug addiction and mental illness.

Mr Herbert also promised to tighten up the bail laws to put public safety first, to strengthen community sentences and to create more prison places to ease overcrowding.



Notes for Editors

1. For the full text of Nick Herbert's speech, visit

Alexander Black