Eight life sentence prisoners given temporary release in Scotland with wrong risk assessment

Eight prisoners serving life sentences were granted temporary release from prison with the wrong risk assessment score following a software glitch, the justice secretary has confirmed.

Keith Brown said all of the 285 ‘open’ cases of incorrect risk assessment scores – which inform decisions made by justice system professionals on whether to grant parole, early release or progression through the prison system – had returned no “live” concerns about public protection.

The justice secretary had told MSPs last week that up to 780 prisoners received incorrect risk assessment scores due to an IT systems glitch, with around 500 being linked to ‘closed’ cases, and the open cases covering those who were still being managed by professionals within the system.

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Cabinet Secretary for justice, Keith Brown, announced the IT glitch last week.

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Speaking to Holyrood’s criminal justice committee, Mr Brown said the minister for community safety had approved temporary release of eight prisoners serving life sentences.

Under regulations put in place in 2011, those on a life sentence, who are otherwise barred from temporary release, can apply for a “first grant of temporary release” (FGTR) to the Scottish Government and must receive the consent of the community safety minister, currently Ash Regan.

Mr Brown said: “Having carried out a reconciliation of the SPS [Scottish Prison Service] system with the identified affected cases, eight cases where first grant of temporary release have been granted were found.

"These have all been looked at again and I’m able to confirm there are no immediate or concerning public protection risks highlighted, although these eight cases will be further reviewed by the risk review group, which I mentioned last week in a statement to provide further assurance.”

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The justice secretary sought to reassure MSPs of the lack of immediate risk to the public, stating of all 285 ‘open’ cases “not one is giving us rise for any issues in terms of public protection”.

The Government said it could not break down the nature of offences which other cases were linked to.

Mr Brown was asked whether any prisoners had been released earlier than they should have been under normal circumstances, and asked whether any did pose a public protection issue or went on to reoffend.

He said: “If you go through 285 cases and not a single one gives you cause for public protection concerns in the views of the experts that have looked at it, that is a good sign, a good indicator of where we are at. But it is not definitive and I am not trying to pretend that it is.

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"The LSC/MI is almost like a general triaging tool whereas over and above that, if somebody is a sexual offender or at high risk because of violence, there are separate tools that deal with that.

"LSC/MI may be involved, but it won’t be the end, there will be other things which deal with that.”

Scottish Conservative community spokesperson Russell Findlay said it was “shocking” that eight life prisoners were released with incorrect risk assessments.

He said: “These are among the very worst criminals in our society, and it is unacceptable that this grave error was ever allowed to happen.

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“The SNP ministers who approved these releases must apologise. Their decision to approve wrongly-assessed life prisoners for release undoubtedly put members of the public at risk."

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