Early release scheme 'can only succeed if social work better funded'
THE automatic early release of prisoners from Scotland's jails is to be scrapped, Cathy Jamieson the justice minister, announced yesterday.
But penal experts warned the proposals - which mean that councils and new criminal justice authorities will have to supervise thousands more offenders when they are released from jail - will fail unless social workers are given more funding.
The changes mean offenders sentenced to more than two weeks will have to spend half of their sentence behind bars, although the court will be able to make this "custody part" longer.
The remainder of their sentence will be served out in the community on licence, with offenders subject to monitoring and conditions, which they could be jailed for breaching.
Currently, short-term prisoners are freed automatically half-way through their jail term, usually without conditions. Criminals serving four years or more must be released after serving two-thirds of the jail term, subject to licence conditions including supervision. Restrictions on movement, such as electronic tagging, could also be used.
Ms Jamieson hopes the change will help cut the rate of re-offending. She said: "These reforms are about offenders but they are for the public.
"They will ensure more effective management of all prisoners in custody and on release, and better target those who continue to pose the greatest risk."
The justice minister said the proposed system could lead to more prisoners in already-overcrowded jails in the short term. But she said she hoped it would cut the number of persistent offenders who regularly spend short periods of time in prison.
Roger Houchin, a former governor of Barlinnie prison, said the Scottish Executive must invest heavily in social workers and other agencies who will have the task of supervising the majority of prisoners released.
Mr Houchin, now a co-director of the Glasgow Centre for the Study of Violence, said focusing on scrapping early release was "a red herring".
"Local authorities do what they can with the money they have but they have very small budgets. Criminal justice social work receives about 70 million a year, but the prison service receives about 700 million.
"If we wish to have more effective supervision of people to finally break the cycle of offending, there will have to be a massive shift in funding towards community supervision."
An Executive spokesman said the cost implications of the measures were under consideration.
Sentencing changes end 'discredited' jail system
THE changes announced yesterday end the automatic release of prisoners at certain stages in their sentence - scrapping what the justice minister, Cathy Jamieson, called a "discredited" system.
Judges and prisons are powerless to prevent most criminals sentenced to less than four years from being released half-way through their jail term without any further supervision.
Those sentenced to four years or more can be released at the half-way point if it is agreed by the parole board. Long-term prisoners are automatically let out two-thirds into their sentence, subject to licence conditions. But under the new system, every offender sentenced to more than 14 days will spend a minimum of half that time behind bars.
Offenders will be released at the end of this "custody part" - set by the judge at sentencing - only if prison authorities are satisfied they do not pose a serious risk to the community.
After custody ends, the offender will be on licence for the rest of the sentence.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West