Offender release alerts for psychiatric hospitals

VICTIMS of crime are to be notified when offenders are released from psychiatric hospitals in a shake-up of Scotland’s mental health laws.

Public health minister Michael Matheson. Picture: JP
Public health minister Michael Matheson. Picture: JP
Public health minister Michael Matheson. Picture: JP

At present, victims are only informed about the release of an offender if the perpetrator is serving their sentence in a prison.

Now, the notification scheme will be extended to those who are detained in hospital under a mental health order, in a mental health institution, on a permanent or temporary basis, or if they have escaped.

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The move was welcomed by a victims’ group, which said the change would help prevent anxiety and offer reassurance to those affected by crime.

David Sinclair, of Victim Support Scotland, said: “We work with victims at all stages from when they first become a victim and beyond.

“The change in the law is extremely welcome news and will help victims with their recovery. It’s not so much about reoffending, but there is often an anxiety when a victim meets a offender on the streets and is unprepared for it.”

The information made avail-able to victims will cover those serving indictable offences punishable by a custodial sentence of 12 months or more.

Public health minister Michael Matheson said that the measure would be introduced as part of a series of amendments being made to the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, published at parliament yesterday.

He said: “It is right that all victims of crime should be told if the offender is released back into the community, whether that person is in a prison or a mental health institution.

“This bill will give victims the right to have access to that information.”

Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said that providing information to victims about those convicted of crimes would help improve public safety.

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He said: “There are many examples of people who bump into those who committed crimes against them, but who they didn’t know had beenreleased.”

Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, Neil Findlay, said: “Offenders with mental health problems deserve a second chance when they have completed their treatment, but those who have suffered as a result of these crimes deserve to be treated with sensitivity and respect, and this cannot be compromised. We would welcome this move.”

However, Green MSP Patrick Harvie called for safeguards to protect vulnerable patients themselves as part of the law change. He said: “Where somebody’s mental health is concerned, we should ensure that disclosure shouldn’t happen if it makes their condition become more vulnerable.”

Another proposal in the bill will mean that mentally ill patients can decide not to have a so-called named person assigned to them if they choose.

At present, all patients who do not nominate such a person – who can make decisions on their behalf if they are unable to – have one appointed for them.

However, feedback from patients has shown that not everyone wants this.