Scottish Tories to vote against plans for releasing prisoners early

Picture: Danny Lawson/PAPicture: Danny Lawson/PA
Picture: Danny Lawson/PA
The party’s Russell Findlay warned the proposals would ‘put public safety at risk’

The Scottish Tories have confirmed they will vote against proposals to release prisoners early to ease overcrowding in jails.

The party’s justice spokesman Russell Findlay warned the plans would “put public safety at risk”.

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Justice secretary Angela Constance previously told MSPs the number of prisoners in Scotland had increased by 400 since March 18.

This had left ministers with “no choice but to act if we are to avoid an unprecedented crisis developing,” she said.

Ms Constance said she would bring proposals to Holyrood in the coming weeks, with those serving sentences of less than four years being eligible.

Under the terms of the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Act – which allows for the emergency release of prisoners to preserve the “security and good order” of the estate – prisoners sentenced to life, those who have not been tried or anyone convicted of a terror-related, sexual or domestic violence offence are not eligible for early release.

Mr Findlay said his party would not back the plans, adding: “If the SNP Government set free hundreds of prisoners before they’ve done their time it will put public safety at risk with high rates of re-offending, as happened during the pandemic.

“Crime victims already feel let down by soft-touch sentencing and this would be compounded by artificially reducing the time a judge has decided that criminals should spend behind bars.

“The SNP are wringing their hands and talking about a crisis. But it is a crisis of their making, primarily by failing to build vital new prisons on time.”

There have been delays to the building of two new prisons, HMP Glasgow and HMP Highland. On Friday, Ms Constance said the design for the replacement for Barlinnie would be available in the summer despite previous assertions it would be completed by April.

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Mr Findlay said: “They must consider an alternative short-term approach that would prioritise public safety and protect the integrity of Scotland’s justice system. This could include the installation of temporary accommodation, but all options should be considered.

“Longer term, they need to build the new prisons and if they don’t want to jail criminals, provide judges with robust, trusted and effective community sentencing options.”

Holyrood’s other opposition parties are yet to decide whether to back the SNP plans. The Greens said they “acknowledge that prisons are not safe and are supportive in principle, but we’ll be carefully considering the details of the Scottish Government proposals”.

A spokesman added: “We must make sure that the necessary post-release support is available for the former prisoners as well as the communities that receive them.”

Labour MSP Pauline McNeill said the Government had ignored “countless warnings about prisoner overcrowding and allowed things to reach crisis point”.

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said the announcement “will have caused widespread public anxiety”, adding: “In truth, though, the worrying signs have been there for some time in a prison system that has been operating at and beyond capacity over recent years.

“I am expecting an urgent meeting with the justice secretary to discuss these proposals.”



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