AHEAD of the expected expansion of the End of Custody Supervised License Scheme, which could see prisoners being released up to 70 days early, a coalition of organisations working to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG) wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC, urging the exemption of domestic abuse and VAWG perpetrators from the scheme.

The fifteen organisations are all concerned about the impact the early release of perpetrators can have on the physical safety and mental wellbeing of survivors, and urge the Government to maintain the commitments it has made to protecting women and girls by exempting perpetrators.

Conviction rates for those found guilty of domestic abuse and other forms of VAWG are low, and those who do receive custodial time may often be given short sentences, making them among those who are eligible for early release under this scheme. While the Government has confirmed that anyone convicted of serious sexual, terrorist or violent offences would not be eligible for release, this would not stop domestic abusers convicted of offences such as coercive control from being eligible to be released early.

The coalition of VAWG organisations are particularly concerned about the scheme because it relies on the underfunded and under-resourced Probation Service which they say has continually failed to adequately protect women and girls. They worry that the Probation Service will not be able to effectively monitor the increasing numbers of offenders being released from custody under the scheme.

Recent findings from the inspection into HMP Lewes, which took place immediately after the introduction of the early release scheme, found that its implementation was undermining ‘good, safe release planning and risk management’ of offenders and that a prisoner with a history of domestic abuse was released early. Such reports have left the group seriously concerned about the Prison and Probation Service’s ability to effectively assess the risk of perpetrators when making decisions about early release.

It is essential that perpetrators of domestic abuse and other forms of VAWG are exempt from this scheme, so survivors can be properly protected from further victimisation and to stop further abuse from perpetrators. The group calls for the Secretary of State to engage with the sector and listen to the concerns being raised.

Abigail Ampofo, Interim CEO of Refuge, said: “While Refuge recognises the need to ease pressure on prison estates, this should not come at the expense of survivors’ safety. There is a disturbing disconnect between the Government’s claims to treat violence against women and girls with the same seriousness as terrorism, and this announcement – which places survivors, and women and girls more broadly, at immediate risk of dangerous perpetrators.

“It is deeply disappointing, that there has been no consultation with our sector, or evaluation of the scheme’s impact on survivors, ahead of the announcement about it being expanded. This further brings into question the seriousness of the Government’s commitment to protect women and girls.

“Sadly, we are all too aware of the grave consequences that occur when the criminal justice system fails to recognise the real risk abusers pose to survivors’ safety. The government must act now to prevent this reckless measure from endangering the lives of more women and girls.”

Farah Nazeer, CEO of Women’s Aid Federation England, said: “Alongside our sector colleagues, we are immensely concerned about the End of Custody Supervised License Scheme and the impact of early release of domestic abuse perpetrators on survivors. While we know that some domestic abuse offenders could be classed as ‘lower risk’ than those serving sentences for other crimes, they nonetheless can pose a real and often life-threatening danger to women and children.

“Domestic abuse does not end when a relationship ends and survivors continue to face significant and long-lasting risks and harms from perpetrators and without appropriate safeguards in place, those released early will have increased opportunities to continue post-separation abuse. While overcrowding in prisons is a real and serious issue, releasing potentially very dangerous perpetrators could have devastating consequences to those who are only beginning the process of rebuilding their lives.”

Liz Mack, CEO of Advance, said: “It is profoundly disappointing that survivors of abuse will be placed at heightened risk, particularly given the acute pressures in the Probation Service. The Government has implemented crisis response to prison capacity, which could have been avoided with long-term planning and investment in a justice system that works for survivors of abuse.

“We hear time and again from the women we support that they are not kept safe or informed when their abusers are released from custody. These changes will likely lead to more women being kept in the dark, and subsequently being placed at further risk of harm. The Government should urgently commit to exempting domestic abuse perpetrators from this scheme.”

The signatories to the letter include; Refuge, Women’s Aid, EVAW, SafeLives, Advance, Respect, Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse (STADA), Agenda Alliance, Solace, The Drive Partnership, IDAS, Al Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid, and Juno Women’s Aid.

* Read the letter to the Secretary of State here.

* Source: Refuge