When a person found guilty of a crime in the UK is given a prison sentence, he will not necessarily be released on the date the sentence expires. His release date depends on the original length of the sentence, his behaviour in prison and the amount of time he spent on remand (time spent awaiting trial). Ascertaining the exact date of a prisoner's release is therefore extremely difficult.
Fixed term sentences
If a prisoner has a determinate or fixed term sentence, he is automatically released half way through that sentence, unless his sentence was for more than four years and given for a serious violent or sexual crime, in which case release is not automatic and the prisoner must apply for parole. If a prisoner's original sentence was for 12 months or more, the release is subject to probation.
Indeterminate sentences carry a tariff, which is a recommended minimum amount of time for the specific crime. Prisoners serving indeterminate sentences will have their cases automatically reviewed by the Parole Board six months before the end of the minimum tariff.
The Parole Board is independent of the prison service. It consists of three people who hear evidence from both the prisoner and experts regarding the prisoner's behaviour in prison, what he plans to do once released and whether he is likely to commit further crimes. The Board decides whether or not the prisoner should be allowed early release. If the prisoner is released, he goes on probation.
Probation is a method of serving out a remaining sentence without being in prison. A prisoner on probation will be subject to certain rules, such as undergoing treatment for addictions, and will be assigned an offender manager who will monitor whether the prisoner complies with those rules. If a prisoner breaks the rules of his probation, he could be taken straight back to prison, known as a "recall."
Victims of sexual and violent crime in England and Wales might be able to find out about a prisoner being released from prison via the National Probation Service (NPS). The NPS is legally required to contact victims and their families after someone has been imprisoned for 12 months or more after committing a crime of this nature. The NPS will ask the victim or her family whether or not they want to be told when the offender is going to be released. A similar system operates in Scotland via the Scottish Prison Service. For anyone else, data protection laws prevent information regarding prisoner release becoming available to the public. The prison service operates a prisoner location service which allows interested persons to enquire about the whereabouts of a prisoner (see Resources). This may extend to prisoners on parole. The prisoner must consent before any information relating to his whereabouts is disclosed.