Release on temporary licence (ROTL) is an important part of the process for the resettlement and rehabilitation of prisoners. For many prisoners, especially those serving long sentences, the opportunity to access ROTL is a key element for the preparation of their safe release. This gives them the chance to organise work, housing and re-establish relationships with families and their communities. This following information is for prisoners aged 18 years old and above.

The decision to allow ROTL is made following rigorous risk assessment and there is no presumption that it will be allowed. This assessment will include investigation on previous release on temporary licence, criminal history, child safeguarding, probation assessment, the position of the victim, the prisoner’s behaviour during custody and police information. Each prison should have information on their policies for ROTL available to prisoners.

When a prisoner can apply for ROTL

You can find information below on the different types of ROTL and who is eligible outlined below. The length and frequency of ROTL depends on many factors and will be determined locally.

Types of ROTL

Resettlement day release licence

This licence allows a prisoner to go out during the day for a specific purpose, for example:

  • To go on a training course to help them find work once they are released
  • Community service projects or other things you have to do outside prison as part of your sentence to get ready for release
  • Training or education courses about life and work skills

For prisoners serving sentences at designated resettlement prisons, the following additional reasons may be considered too.

  • To undertake driving lessons or car maintenance
  • To carry out paid employment

The prison Governor will make the decision as to how long each resettlement day release will last. For Category C prisoners and Closed Condition prisoners, if the resettlement is going well they may well be transferred to an open prison where they can access ROTL. For prisoners eligible for Home Detention Curfew, also known as tag, they will receive at least one day release prior to their release on tag.

Resettlement overnight release licence

This is similar to the day release licence, but allows the prisoner to spend overnight time at the place they will be living once they are released from prison. This helps prisoners towards their resettlement and rehabilitation. Prisoners who are eligible for overnight release may apply for this once every 4 weeks after their date has been granted.

Special purposes licence

This license is widely used for:

  • Compassionate leave including visiting close family members who are dying, attending funerals or emergency issues with the children
  • Marriage
  • Medical treatment
  • If you have to assist the police with further queries, attend courts or hearings.
  • If the circumstances are religious requirements, this should be considered as a matter of urgency and dealt with accordingly.

The maximum length of release for this type of license is four nights. but this is at the Governor’s discretion.

Childcare resettlement licence

This allows a prisoner to spend time with their child. Prisoners can only apply for this if they will be the sole carer of a child, under the age of 16, when they finish their prison sentence. The prisoner also needs to be:

  • Subject to open conditions or is being considered eligible
  • Resident in a mother and baby unit and have other children outside of prison being cared for by others.

For the Childcare Resettlement release to take place, the carer’s permission must be sought. If the child is in care of the Local Authority, then permission is required by them. The maximum time allowed is three nights in every two months.

Eligibility for ROTL

All prisoners, except those who are excluded from ROTL and those subject to restricted ROTL (more below), may apply for temporary release on Special Purposes License at any point of the sentence. There is no minimum eligibility period.

However, not everyone can get ROTL. The prisoners excluded from ROTL are:

  • Category A or those on the escape list
  • Remand and convicted unsentenced prisoners
  • Sentenced, but on remand on further charges or waiting to be sentenced for other convictions.
  • Those subject to extradition proceedings and wanted by another country because they may have committed an offence there.
  • Prisoners held on behalf of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCLS) or the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Additionally, Category B prisoners are not eligible for resettlement day or overnight release but may be considered for any other form of ROTL.

How a prisoner is granted ROTL

There is no automatic entitlement for ROTL to be approved. A prisoner will have to be eligible for release and undertake a stringent risk assessment before ROTL is granted. Determinate sentenced prisoners become eligible towards the end of their sentence, either 24 months before the release date, or once they have served half the custodial period, less half the relevant remand time, whichever gives the later date.

Indeterminate sentenced prisoners cannot be considered for ROTL until their transfer to an open prison has been approved. Prisoners released on temporary licence must comply with a number of conditions whilst on licence and these may vary according to the needs and circumstances of the prisoner. This will be discussed with the prisoner in detail but will include information on returning on time from ROTL, consumption of alcohol, gambling, criminal behaviour and more.

Any breaches will be classed as a ROTL failure and a prisoner may then be recalled to prison and face prison disciplinary procedures. A person who fails to return from temporary release is guilty of an offence in accordance with Section 1 of the Prisoners (Return to Custody) Act 1995.

Recall from ROTL

A prisoner released under ROTL may be recalled to prison at any time whether the conditions of release have been broken or not (Prison Rule 9 and YOI Rule 5).

If a prisoner has breached their licence conditions, the governor will recall the prisoner if it is not appropriate for them to remain on licence. All decisions will be documented by the governor. Once this decision has been made, the governor will ask the police to take the prisoner into custody and hold them at the police station. The prisoner will then be transferred to a closed prison.

Further information

You can find out more about the full details of ROTL including the application process by reading the Ministry of Justice document on PSI  13/2015. Please also visit the Prison Reform Trust for more information.

This page was updated on October 2020