Concerns had been raised about the impact releasing offenders would have on victims

A set of measures – including a dedicated helpline – aimed at informing and reassuring victims who may be affected by the Government’s early prisoner release programme has been welcomed by Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales.

The move comes after she raised concerns, along with other victim support charities, about the impact the early release of offenders could have on victims.

It was previously announced that the Government would be releasing a cohort, believed to be about 4,000 carefully selected low-risk offenders, who have served over half their sentence and are within two months of their automatic release dates from prison anyway.

They are understood to be prisoners principally convicted of drugs offences or theft.  Government believes the move to be necessary to avoid thousands of prisoners becoming infected with COVID-19 and overwhelming local NHS services.

Prisoners who will NOT be considered include:

  • any offender who received a sentence of 12 months or more for a violent or sexual offence;
  • any offender with a history of domestic violence
  • any offender convicted of stalking or harassment offences, coercive/controlling behaviour, breach of Restraining Order or revenge pornography  and
  • any offender who is of concern on the grounds of National Security.

Additionally, no offender convicted of COVID-19 related offences, including coughing at emergency workers or stealing personal protective equipment, will be eligible.

To enable victims (or those supporting victims) who want to know if the offender in their case has been released, the following now apply:

  • Victims who are not part of the Victim Contact Scheme, who wish to know if the offender in their case has been given early release, or if they have received unwanted contact from the offender, can contact Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service Victim Helpline on 0300 060 6699 (Monday – Friday 9.00am – 4.00pm) or email victim.helpline@justice.gov.uk
  • Victims support groups may ring the Helpline on behalf of individual victims.
  • Helpline staff will make enquiries and then notify the victim as to whether the prisoner is due to be released or has been released.

Reacting, Dame Vera said: “I understand the reasons why the early release programme is being implemented but it is vitally important the victims of these offenders are not forgotten.

“They must be kept informed, or be provided with the means of informing themselves, about how these changes will affect them.

“Knowing the person who committed a crime against you is being released from prison can be a worry. Hopefully these measures will help to give reassurance.

“I am pleased the Ministry of Justice has listened to our concerns and has made the helpline and email enquiry box accessible to victims and support groups which is a really positive move,” she said.

Victims can continue to access support during the Coronavirus outbreak. Further details are available on Gov.uk (www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-victim-and-witness-services) or by contacting their local Police and Crime Commissioner (www.police.uk).

As ever, anyone at immediate risk should call 999.