Release on Temporary Licence 

A summary of evidence relating to the impact on reoffending of Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL).

What impact does ROTL have on reoffending?

Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) enables participation in activities outside of the prison establishment, directly contributing to community resettlement and development of a purposeful, law-abiding life.

There is no entitlement to ROTL. It is discretionary and only allowed following a robust risk assessment.

There are four types of ROTL:

  1. Resettlement day release for activities linked to sentence plans, for example, paid and unpaid work, training or education, maintaining family ties.
  2. Resettlement overnight release allows prisoners to spend time at their release address. This is to re-establish links with family and local community. Release is for a maximum of four nights.
  3. Childcare resettlement licence for prisoners who are sole carers for children. Helps maintain the parent/child relationship and prepare for parental duties. Release is for a maximum of three days.
  4. Special purpose licence allows prisoners to respond to exceptional, personal circumstances. For example, for medical treatment and other criminal justice needs. Release is usually for a few hours.

ROTL is either ‘standard’ or ‘restricted’. Restricted ROTL applies to prisoners:

  • with indeterminate sentences
  • subject to Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA)
  • assessed as high or very high risk of serious harm

What do we know?

Temporary release from prison is used extensively in England and Wales, and internationally.

There is promising evidence from North America that temporary leave from prison helps to reduce recidivism. By recidivism we mean return to custody, re-arrest and re-offending. Temporary release for family reasons may bring better outcomes than work release. However, there is insufficient evidence to be definitive.

There is also evidence of a ‘dosage effect’ from Canada, Ireland, and a very large study from England and Wales. More experiences of ROTL are associated with better outcomes than fewer experiences ROTL. However, it is not possible to know whether more ROTL experience is directly responsible for better outcomes. Or whether those who have more ROTL were already more likely to do better on release because of other factors.

What impact does ROTL have?

On reoffending

Internationally there are different definitions for temporary leave from custody:

Home leave US evidence is that home leave may decrease return to custody and re-arrest, but there is insufficient evidence that home leave reduces reconviction for other crimes. Irish evidence is that family leave was associated with significantly lower re-imprisonment two years after release.

Work leave The evidence suggests that work release may have a promising impact on return to custody, post-release arrest and reconviction rates.

On employment

There is evidence from the US and Canada that:

  • work release can effectively enhance employment prospects - this found significantly higher employment rates for prisoners who had completed work release
  • intensive house building release programmes significantly increased likelihood of employment - but this effect was limited only to employment in construction

What about the amount of ROTL?

A recent large-scale study in England and Wales examined the impact of ROTL on reoffending outcomes. This study compared people receiving different amounts of ROTL. This looked at approximately 197,000 ROTL incidents for about 6,000 people. This found that having more ROTLs within six-month pre-release was associated with:

  • a small but significant reduction in proven reoffending
  • fewer reoffences being committed

It also found that:

  • each additional ROTL reduced reoffending rates (after one year, and similar results were seen after two years) and the number of incidences of future crime
  • each day release had a small effect on reoffending, but overnight release had a larger effect
  • the closer the ROTL recipient got to release, the greater the effect of increased numbers of ROTLs on reoffending (particularly for overnight release)

What don’t we know yet?

Research is not yet sophisticated enough to compare the impact of ROTL on outcomes for different groups of people, like older and younger people, or men and women. It cannot conclusively identify the most effective time in a person’s sentence for ROTL, although English and Welsh research suggests that the effect of ROTL may be larger the closer the person is to release.

Further reading

The reoffending impact of increased release of prisoners on Temporary Licence Analytical Summary (MoJ 2018)

Results of this analysis are consistent with the conclusion that ROTL reduces reoffending. Once an individual had been granted at least one ROTL, increasing their number of temporary releases in the six months prior to their release was associated with slightly lower odds of reoffending on release and fewer reoffences. This finding would generally support the use of ROTL, and is in line with international evidence of the benefits of temporary release.

Prison Service Instruction 13/2015 Release on temporary licence Operational policy guidance for prison and probation providers on process, eligibility, and risk assessment.

Custody to Community How Young People Cope with Release Research Report Hazel, N and Bateman, T (2015) highlights the benefits for ROTL for dealing with the stress of transitioning into the community.

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This page summarises the available evidence base and is informed by independent academic peer review. It does not represent Ministry of Justice or Government policy.

Published 15 May 2019