'Scandal' of released sex offenders
AN EARLY release scheme for violent criminals and sex attackers was last night branded a risk to the public after it emerged one in six freed offenders had to be sent back to jail last year.
Scotland on Sunday can reveal that of the estimated 60 prisoners granted early release under extended sentences last year, 15 breached the terms of their licence, 10 of them seriously enough to be returned to prison.
The revelation follows the shocking case of James Campbell who tried to rape a two-year-old girl while out on licence for the attempted rape of a 91-year-old woman. He had been given an extended sentence which allows offenders out under strict conditions.
Last night critics called for the halt of such schemes for sex offenders and the reintroduction of tougher prison sentences.
Extended sentences were introduced in 1998 and allow the judge to set a period in conventional jail followed by a term spent under strict supervision in the community.
Ministers agreed the move in an attempt to ensure dangerous offenders were closely monitored for a set time after their release. Normally, prisoners sentenced to fewer than four years are automatically freed at the midway point of their sentence and those serving four years or more can be eligible for parole halfway through. In neither case is supervision guaranteed.
Under the extended sentence scheme social workers and police monitor the offender.
A total of 58 violent and sex offenders, all of them men, were being supervised in the community under extended sentences by local authorities last year. Figures from the Parole Board of Scotland show that 15 were referred to them for examination because their behaviour outside prison was "giving cause for concern".
As a result of these investigations, 10 of the 15 were sent back to prison to serve the rest of their sentences, only one of whom successfully appealed. Three remained in the community but received written warnings. In two of the cases no action was deemed necessary.
Last night senior justice insiders warned that the high "failure rate" of the scheme was making a mockery of the whole system and potentially putting members of the public at risk from serious offenders.
A parole board source also revealed that in some cases it was taking police up to two years to track down offenders and return them to prison, again calling in to doubt the safety of the system.
The source said: "These are guys who cocked a snook to supervision. They are reported because they have failed to comply with supervision or have committed further offences. But it is not easy to track them all down because they keep such a low profile. They can leave the country. The police have more than enough to do so you can find that it can take two years for them to be found."
The maximum length an offender can have their sentence extended to in the community is 10 years for sex offenders and five years for violent offenders.
Last year a teenager who shot a policeman on duty was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a five-year extended sentence. PC John Cunningham is unlikely to work again after he was shot by Paul Murray.
However, Murray’s sentence was later increased to life by an appeal court.
All cases where it is believed an extended sentence prisoner should be recalled are referred to the parole board.
It can revoke the offender’s licence in order to protect the public from serious harm, although the offender can appeal the decision at a tribunal.
Last night critics said the high proportion of breaches showed it was time for ministers to end early release schemes and return the courts to imposing tougher sentences. Early release is being re-examined by the Executive as a top priority.
Norman Brennan, the director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: "One breach is one breach too many and 15 is an absolute scandal.
"These types of offenders are in general not given the sentences their crimes really deserve yet we find any and every excuse to release them early."
SNP justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill said the time had come to consider banning serious sex criminals from the early release scheme.
"Early release does not mean early re-offending and we need to review the criteria to ensure that only those where there is some justifiable reason to believe will behave themselves are released on licence," he said yesterday.
"And we need to improve the supervision to ensure the public is protected and also to assist those that can reform."
Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman, said: "It is a shocking statistic. This needs an urgent review, as does automatic early release because the two combined are attacking the problems from the wrong end, assuming everyone walks free as soon as possible, while the safety of the public demands the opposite."
Last night, a Scottish Executive spokeswoman said it did not know the grounds for the 15 cases recalled to the parole board but insisted many would have been for non-criminal breaches.
She added: "The public is always concerned about the long-term management of offenders who have committed serious violent and sexual crimes. For their serious crimes, the public rightly expect that to mean serious time in jail.
"However, when the punishment part of their sentence has been completed and they are released back into the community under statutory supervision we need to do more to reassure the public that their safety is of paramount concern to the criminal justice services.
"That’s why we are also bringing in a raft of new measures to tighten up the system - from the establishment of a Risk Management Authority to the new legislation we will bring forward to protect children from sexual predators."
James Campbell appeared in court last week and admitted abducting, detaining and attempting to rape a young girl.
He moved into homeless accommodation on his release and snatched the child from her bed, in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, on July 10. She was quickly discovered after a frantic search, bleeding and shocked.
He had been sentenced to three years’ detention in February 2003, with a further two-year extended sentence, for the attempted rape of a 91-year-old woman.
The sentence was backdated until November 2002 and although his full sentence was not up until November 2007 Campbell, was released on licence on May 17 this year.
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