550 prisoners set to be released early from Scottish prisons due to overcrowding crisis

The crash was reported near HMP Edinburgh on Wednesday
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More than 500 prisoners are set to be released early from Scottish jails due to an overcrowding crisis.

The Scottish Government has brought forward legislation to Holyrood which would release around 550 eligible prisoners in four blocks from the end of June 2024.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance announced the threshold for “emergency release” had been reached earlier this month.

Violent criminals serving under four years are among those who could be released but prisoners who are serving a life sentence and those on the Sex Offenders Register will not be eligible.

Those who have non-harassment orders or an unspent conviction for domestic abuse will also not be released.

The current prison population in Scotland is 8,313, which has risen by around 400 over the last two months.

Constance had previously said the rise was curbing the Scottish Prison Service’s ability to deliver rehabilitative schemes and making prison visits difficult.

The minister said: “Emergency early release has become necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Scottish Prison Service staff and those in their care as a result of the rapid rise in the prison population, creating an unprecedented situation. This rise of around 400 prisoners over the last two months is significant and could not have been anticipated, and it cannot be ignored, it is also similar to challenges faced across the UK.

“Protecting the public remains my number one priority, which is why there are significant and robust safeguards in place. Releases will also be completed in tranches so the necessary support can be provided to safely resettle released prisoners in their communities.

“I recognise concerns victims may have which is why, named victim support organisations will be given information about the release date of a prisoner under the emergency release process, where requested by the victim they are supporting, to enable a more trauma informed approach.

“This is part of a significant package of measures we are taking in both the short and long term to deal with rising prisoner numbers and I will continue to engage with Parliament, victims organisations, local authorities and other key partners as we progress these proposals.”

Scottish Labour Justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill said: “This shameful move is a direct result of the SNP’s failure to modernise the prison estate and tackle the courts backlog.

“It’s clear that 17 years of SNP mismanagement has left our justice system at breaking point and our streets less safe.

“The SNP must set out clearly how it will protect communities and victims of crime if they are to plough ahead with these reckless plans.”

The SNP was accused of "sneaking out" the announcement while the public's attention is on the Michael Matheson data roaming scandal.

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay said: “In a matter of days, the SNP government has increased the number of prisoners it wants to release early by 10 per cent.

“Sneaking this out while all attention is on their expenses-fiddling MSP is shabby, even by their standards.

“The public deserve to know the full extent of how many criminals are going to be set free, when this will happen and what measures are being taken to protect the public.”

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