Criminologist Dr Monica Barry told the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee that the Scottish Government’s proposed Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill is “flawed”.
The bill seeks to end the current system, introduced in 1993, which allows prisoners serving four years or more to be released at the two-thirds point of sentence.
Under the legislation, prisoners sentenced to four years or more for sex offences and ten years or more for other crimes will no longer be entitled to automatic early release from prison at any point.
But Dr Barry, of Strathclyde University, told MSPs the plans had “no merit” in terms of reducing offending or increasing re-integration of offenders back into the community.
She said: “It’s vital you have a community part of any custodial sentence that allows people to be tested in the community. Only when they’re released is that potential for risk (of re-offending) there.”
Dr Barry said the longer a person stayed in prison, the more difficult it became for them to adapt to life outside.
She said that under the government’s plans, there would be no support for those leaving custody after serving their entire sentence.
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She said: “There will be no support for the most potentially high-risk people because once they’re out, there’s no statutory requirement to look after them”.
Lisa Mackenzie, policy and public affairs manager for Howard League Scotland, said the charity had “real concerns” about people leaving prison “cold” without support or supervision.
Under the proposed legislation, inmates no longer eligible for automatic early release will have their case considered by the independent Parole Board.
While the automatic element would be scrapped, an offender falling within either category would still be eligible for release after serving one half of their sentence, with any release prior to completion of the sentence being at the discretion of the Parole Board.
The largest group affected by the proposals are likely to be sex offenders given determinate custodial sentences of four years or more.
Were the legislation to have applied in 2012-13, 107 people convicted of sexual crimes would have been affected and 24 convicted of other crimes. The total figure of 131 would have represented less than 1 per cent of all people receiving a determinate custodial sentence in 2012-13.
The proposals would not affect those serving life sentences where the “punishment part” – the minimum number of years served – is set by the court.
The Scottish Government said courts already had powers to impose “extended sentences” under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, where those convicted of sexual or violent crimes are monitored for a period after completing their time in custody.
A spokeswoman said: “We believe best way to protect the public is for the most dangerous offenders to be kept in prison to serve their full sentences and our reforms will achieve this.
“Extended sentences, which ensure a period of supervision in the community once a custodial sentence ends, have long been available to our courts and it will remain an option for courts to use these sentences in the future.”
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