What is ROTL?

Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) allows prisoners to be released temporarily into the community for specific purposes such as to engage in employment, to maintain family ties or to receive medical treatment.

According to the Ministry of Justice’s Policy Framework, ROTL facilitates the rehabilitation of offenders by helping to prepare them for resettlement in the community once they are released.

Not every prisoner is eligible to be released on temporary licence. Some, such as those posing the highest security threat are barred altogether.

Controversy and reform 2013/14

There was controversy concerning the policy on ROTL in 2013/14 when there were a number of serious incidents in which prisoners released on temporary licence committed offences. This led to a review undertaken by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. In response to these incidents, the then Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced that the rules for ROTL would be tightened. A new scheme of “restricted ROTL” for those prisoners who had committed serious offences in the past, with more stringent risk assessment and more robust monitoring arrangements was introduced.

Revised rules 2019

In May 2019 the Government revised the rules on ROTL to allow more prisoners to become eligible for ROTL, earlier in their sentence. The Ministry of Justice said that the changes would give prison governors greater autonomy and would allow prisoners more opportunities to work and train with employers while serving their sentence.

Changes made to the previous policy included:

  • Changing the threshold for restricted ROTL to focus on the most serious offences;
  • Removing the restriction on ROTL in the first three months after transfer to open conditions, subject to individual progress and risk assessment; and
  • Allowing offenders with a prior abscond history (if it occurred more than two years ago and only once during the current sentence) to be risk assessed for open conditions and ROTL.

This briefing paper covers England and Wales. Information about the various temporary release schemes which operate in Scotland and Northern Ireland can be found on the websites of the Scottish Prison Service and the Northern Ireland Department of Justice:

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