A decision to end prison releases on Friday would help prevent released inmates from returning directly to the arms of criminal gangs, campaigners said.
Proponents of the change say it would tackle the ‘dreaded race against time’ in which former prisoners struggle to access housing, benefits and health services ahead of the weekend, leaving some temporarily homeless and increasing the risk of recidivism.
Backbench legislation has been proposed in parliament that would give prison managers the discretion to release those most at risk up to 48 hours early to ensure they can receive help.
The Ministry of Justice said he would “consider carefully” the Offenders (Day of Release from Custody) Bill, which is due to be introduced in the House of Commons by Tory MP Simon Fell on December 2.
The ministry had announced plans in June to introduce changes to limit Friday postings, although the decision now rests with the administration of Rishi Sunakthe Prime Minister.
Mr Fell said he was ‘confident’ his proposals would get government support, and he and his supporters are calling on ministers to approve the legislation as a matter of urgency.
Scotland already operates the 48-hour early release system if “it would be better for the prisoner’s reintegration into the community”, and the Labor Party has previously suggested making a similar change in England and Wales.
Mr Fell, a member of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, said: “Obviously this has to happen.
“Literally, every Friday that passes, there are people who are released without the duty of care that surrounds them that would really benefit them, so the sooner the better.
“We need to act very quickly on this.”
He added: “It’s an issue that I see locally in my constituency…dealing with the aftermath of Friday releases and releases before bank holidays and things like that, where people who have been put through the justice system are simply handed over to people who mean nothing to them.
“This [bill] just gives people that leeway and the ability to plan, the ability to access statutory services, and also should limit the ability of organized crime gangs and others to basically pick up people who have nowhere to go turn at that time.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Nacro, a social justice charity, said: “Friday’s statements make no sense, if we are committed to reducing recidivism.
“For those in prison, a Friday release is a daunting race against time to get supports in place like housing, benefits and health care, all of which make the key difference between potentially falling over the edge of a cliff and move forward in life.
“We welcome the government’s commitment to ending Friday releases for the most vulnerable, easing pressure on services, reducing recidivism and reducing crime.
“We need this bill passed urgently, so that people have vital extra time during the work week to find housing, register for probation and access health services.”
Government figures show around one in three offenders leave prison on a Friday.
According to activists, 35% of those released on a Monday are reconvicted within the year, compared to 40% on a Friday.
The government previously acknowledged that Friday’s releases “may result in ex-offenders spending their first days on the streets with little support, increasing the likelihood that they will commit further crimes”, and pledged to legislate when time permits.
Dominic Raab, who was justice secretary this summer when the government first announced plans to make a change, has returned to the post under Mr Sunak.
A Department of Justice spokesman said: “Changing the rules to ensure prisoners can access the support they need ahead of the weekend will reduce recidivism and make our streets safer.
“We will carefully consider the private member’s bill introduced on this issue.”