Sturgeon gets tough on early release for prisoners

SERIOUS offenders will continue to be monitored after leaving jail under plans to scrap automatic early release for long-term prisoners.

It means no inmate serving a sentence of four years or more will be eligible for for automatic release after two thirds of their sentence. Picture: TSPL
It means no inmate serving a sentence of four years or more will be eligible for for automatic release after two thirds of their sentence. Picture: TSPL

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday announced moves to tighten up proposed legislation which will end the current system of early release for anyone serving more than four years.

Under the controversial Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill, which is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament, sex offenders and anyone sentenced to ten years or more will no longer be eligible for automatic early release two-thirds of the way through their sentence.

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However, the First Minister yesterday said the legislation would be extended to anyone serving more than four years.

Concerns have repeatedly been raised about the legislation amid fears that dangerous offenders could be left unsupervised after seeing out the entirety of their sentence behind bars.

Yesterday, however, Ms Sturgeon said a guaranteed period of supervision would be put in place for prisoners guilty of serious offences. She said: “Prison remains the most appropriate place for serious offenders, and we had already included proposals in the Prisoners (Control of Release) Bill to end automatic early release for certain categories of prisoner.

“Today I am announcing that we will go much further, ending automatic early release at two-thirds of their sentence for all long-term prisoners in Scotland – which are defined as those sentenced to four years or more. That means every prisoner serving a sentence of four years or more will remain in jail for much longer than is currently the case if deemed necessary by the parole board.”

She added: “As an additional safety measure, I can also confirm that we will introduce a guaranteed period of supervision for these long term prisoners, to be set out as part of their sentence, which will aid their rehabilitation and help them reintegrate into communities.”

Criminologists have repeatedly warned the Scottish Government that ending early release, where offenders leave prison on licence, risks putting dangerous criminals back on the streets unsupervised.

Last month, Dr Monica Barry told the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee that the bill was “flawed” and had “no merit” in terms of reducing offending or increasing re-integration of offenders back into the community.

Despite changes to automatic early release for the most serious offenders, anyone sentenced to less than four years will still qualify to get out after serving half their sentence.

Commenting on the changes outlined yesterday, the Scottish Conservatives’ chief whip John Lamont MSP, said: “This is clearly welcome news but it still falls short of what the SNP has been promising to do since first getting elected in 2007.

“It will still mean that 97 per cent of prisoners will be automatically released from prison half way through their sentence, no questions asked.

“Automatic early release of prisoners is an insult to victims and makes a mockery of our justice system.”