Committee considers early release of prisoners

Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison. Picture: Robert Perry
Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison. Picture: Robert Perry
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An SNP plan to end automatic early release for some prisoners is being questioned by a Holyrood committee.

The proposal affects sex offenders sentenced to four years or more and other dangerous offenders jailed for at least 10 years.

Conservatives have already warned the revision to the rules still means people sentenced to less than four years qualify to get out after serving half their sentence.

Of the 14,748 offenders sentenced last year, 97% were given a term of less than four years. They include violent criminals and sex offenders, according to official figures.

Christine Grahame, the SNP convener of Holyrood’s Justice Committee, said she wants to know why some prisoners and not others would be covered by the changes.

“We want to hear from criminal justice social workers, representatives from the judiciary, penal reform and victims’ organisations, the Scottish Prison Service, the Parole Board for Scotland as well as relevant academics and members of the public about their views on this important public safety issue,” she said.

The limited scrapping of automatic early release from jail was announced by the Scottish Government last year.

The first steps affect violent prisoners serving 10 years or more for offences such as culpable homicide, attempted murder, serious assault and robbery.

It also applies to sexual offences such as rape, sexual assault and sexual offences against children when a prisoner is serving four years or more.

Although broadly welcomed in the Scottish Parliament, concern was raised that the initial change will only affect a tiny proportion of the prisoner population.

Under the old system, long-term prisoners - those serving more than four years - can be released on licence by the parole board between half-way and two-thirds through their sentence.

The Justice Committee will look into the proposals during scrutiny of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill later this month.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are introducing legislation through the Criminal Justice Bill to end automatic early release for the most serious and dangerous offenders.

‪”Sex offenders receiving sentences of four years or more and other dangerous offenders receiving sentences of 10 years or more will, for the first time since the current regime was introduced in 1995, no longer be released automatically at the two-thirds point of their sentence.

“Instead, public safety will be paramount with none of these offenders receiving early release if they are considered to pose unacceptable risks to public safety. This will help improve the safety of our communities.”


• 97% of Scots prisoners still being released early