Michael Wheatley

Justice written question – answered at on 17 June 2014.

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Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Shadow Minister (London), Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice

(1) whether approval was sought from Ministers for the decision to move Michael Wheatley to an open prison;

(2) on what grounds Michael Wheatley was moved to an open prison.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

It would not be appropriate to place in the public domain information specific to the parole review and advice received by the independent Parole Board in respect of an individual prisoner.

However, an indeterminate sentence prisoner is transferred to open conditions only after a robust risk assessment and, in most cases, upon the recommendation of the independent Parole Board. In making its risk assessment, the Parole Board is provided with reports from a range of professional staff from within the National Offender Management Service, all of whom can be required to attend the Parole Board hearing and give evidence directly to the board if required to do so. In making its recommendation, the board’s overriding priority at all times is the safety of the public.

For many prisoners, open prisons provide a controlled environment, more closely akin to the outside community, in which to support resettlement and assess risk, in order to inform decision-making on potential eventual release. Open prisons provide such prisoners with an opportunity to establish stronger links with their family and to develop suitable employment and accommodation plans in time for their eventual release. Indeterminate sentence prisoners who fail to comply with the regime or whose behaviour gives cause for concern are swiftly returned to secure conditions.

Decisions as to whether to accept a Parole Board recommendation to transfer an indeterminate sentence prisoner to open conditions or to direct the transfer of such a prisoner without a Parole Board recommendation are taken by officials within the National Offender Management Service on behalf of Ministers, in accordance with the Carltona principle. Such decisions are not referred to Ministers—this is in line with 1994 and 2006 guidance.

The public have understandable concerns in the light of this case of a failure to return from temporary release from open prison, which led to a further offence. Keeping the public safe is our priority and we will not allow the actions of a small minority of offenders to undermine public confidence in the prison system. The number of temporary release failures remains very low— less than one failure in every 1,000 releases and about five in every 100,000 releases involving alleged offending— but we take each and every incident seriously. The Government have already ordered immediate changes to tighten up the system as a matter of urgency. With immediate effect, prisoners will no longer be transferred to open conditions if they have previously absconded from open prisons or if they have failed to return or reoffended while released on temporary licence.

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