Crackdown will end routine early release from prison
Key quote "We are committed already to ending automatic early release and replacing it with a new regime that the public - particularly victims - can understand." - Scottish Executive spokesman
Story in full MINISTERS pledged yesterday to scrap Scotland's controversial automatic early release system, under which some prisoners are freed halfway through their jail sentences.
A powerful independent body has already recommended that prisoners should be jailed for the length of time decided by the court, not only to make the sentence clearer but to reassure victims of crime.
At a cabinet meeting yesterday, Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, presented her ideas for how the system would be reformed in time for next year's Holyrood elections.
The measures are likely to be introduced through a bill due to be unveiled later this year. It follows recommendations made earlier by the Sentencing Commission, which suggested sentences of more than 12 months should be clearly divided into a minimum time in prison and a period of community service.
Under present rules, prisoners sentenced to less than four years are freed after serving half their sentence. Those serving more than four years are freed on licence after serving a maximum of two-thirds of their jail terms.
Under the new measures, there would be no automatic early release. Instead, judges who impose a sentence of more than 12 months would specify a minimum stay in jail. If the prisoner was ruled to be safe, he or she would then serve a similar time in the community. Criminals sentenced to less than 12 months would be eligible for release under "home detention curfew" midway through their term.
A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "We are committed already to ending automatic early release and replacing it with a new regime that the public - particularly victims - can understand.
"Ministers will consider carefully the various ways we might bring an end to automatic early release, before supporting legislation is introduced later this year. Legislation will take account of the Sentencing Commission's recommendations."
Ministers are keen to be seen to be cracking down on crime before next May's elections. A Labour source said: "The most important thing is the need to introduce legislation before the end of this session and before the next election."
The charity Victim Support hoped that the new measures would boost confidence in Scotland's criminal justice system.
A spokesman said: "If the safety measures are going to remain the same, and this is here to help people understand better what is going on and give better expectations, then that is not a bad thing.
"We have to remember victims do not necessarily want long punishments for crimes - they want people to stop being bad."
Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Tory leader, was more cautious. "I sincerely hope the Executive will not use community sentences, such as tagging, as a way to empty our prisons, at the same time placing the public at risk," she said.
"If this is the beginning of the Executive ditching their rhetoric and actually getting tough, then it is very welcome. However, recent history shows us that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are more interested in letting people out of jail even earlier than they are in protecting the public, making punishments fit the crime and introducing honesty in sentencing."
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