A prisoner is released in error if they are wrongly discharged from a prison or court when they should have remained in custody, where the prisoner has not deliberately played a part in the error (i.e. the prisoner had no intent of escaping). Figures from 2016-17 showed there had been a rise in prisoners released by mistake to 71 – the highest number in any year since current records began in 2006-07.
Releasing a prisoner from custody in error, that is, to release an offender who should still legally remain in custody is unfortunately something that happens from time to time. PCS members who work in offender management units (OMUs) or Hubs in our prisons do a fantastic job, day in day out under real pressure. Releases in error occur mainly due to errors with sentence calculation, existing warrants to keep a prisoner in custody not being available or mislaid, confusion over an offender's immigration status or errors regarding eligibility for home detention curfew (HDC), otherwise known as electronic tagging.
I speak from personal experience when I say that a release in error can cause huge distress for staff and offenders alike, I remember being sick with worry about what the consequences would be for me after one of my cases that was due for deportation was allowed to be released from custody on HDC. I felt guilty for the heartache this would cause the offender, their family and potentially their victim. I was lucky to be spared a formal investigation but I know many members are not so lucky.
Preventing releases in error should be a priority for HMPPS but it seems it is accepted as an occupational hazard, from a purely trade unionist point of view maybe that would be no bad thing if it weren't lower grade staff and middle manager staff who are hauled over the coals at local level. HMPPS need to invest in staff, ensure they have the right training and support and increase staffing numbers. A good start would be to introduce the band 4 business administrator specialist role into OMUs in all prisons. The job description now is primarily for local prisons (prisons that deal with offenders directly from court and hold remand and civil prisoners), but the statistics show that it's not just local prisons that have releases in error.
PCS HMPPS Branch will continue to press for this job role to be introduced in all prisons in England and Wales and will support all members who find themselves subject to investigation because of this and other so called "efficiency" savings.