THE most serious offenders will no longer be automatically eligible for early release from prison under moves being introduced to make them see out the entirety of their sentence.
A bill being put forward by the Scottish Government will seek to end the current system, introduced in 1993, which allows prisoners serving four years or more have to be released at the two-thirds point of sentence.
Under the new Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill, prisoners sentenced to four years or more for sex offences and ten years or more for other crimes will no longer be entitled to automatic early release from prison at any point.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “Brought in by then UK government in 1993, we are ending the entitlement to automatic early release for the most serious offenders.
“Under the proposals in the bill, where long-term prisoners pose an unacceptable risk to public safety, they will serve their entire sentence in custody. This is an important move in the right direction to end the system we inherited.
“Meanwhile, new prisoner release arrangements will allow more targeted access to health, housing and other services to help prisoners integrate back into the community and reduce the risk of reoffending.”
David McKenna, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, said: “This is a very important advance which will go a long way to improving the public perception of justice in Scotland and will provide far greater transparency in sentencing.
“We feel that decisions on early release based solely on the need for the protection of the public will improve public safety and also help in reducing reoffending.”
Under the proposed legislation, inmates no longer eligible for automatic early release will have their case considered by the independent Parole Board.
While the automatic element would be scrapped, an offender falling within either category would still be eligible for release after serving one half of their sentence, with any release prior to completion of the sentence being at the discretion of the Parole Board.
The largest group affected by the proposals are likely to be sex offenders given determinate custodial sentences of four years or more.
Were the legislation to have applied in 2012-13, 107 people convicted of sexual crimes would have been affected and 24 convicted of other crimes. The total figure of 131 would have represented less than 1 per cent of all people receiving a determinate custodial sentence in 2012-13.
The proposals would not affect those serving life sentences where the “punishment part” – the minimum number of years served – is set by the court.
There are also proposals to allow release dates to be brought forward by one or two days to ensure immediate access to support services in a bid to help break the cycle of offending.
Paolo Mazzoncini, director of operations at the voluntary organisation Sacro, which helps rehabilitate offenders, said: “We welcome this proposal, which enhances prisoner-release arrangements and promotes community safety. The hours following release from prison can be critical in determining whether a person desists from offending or marches straight back into trouble.
“Being able to access important support services immediately following release greatly improves the chances of successful offender reintegration. By introducing a greater and defined flexibility to prison release arrangements, we believe this valuable access will be improved.”
But Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “These proposals just don’t go far enough. When a prisoner is handed down a sentence in court, the public expect that to be served in full. It’s no good just bringing this in for a handful of offenders – it should apply across the board.
“The truth of the matter is the SNP’s soft-touch approach on sentencing is an insult to victims across the country.”SEE ALSO