Early release plan: 'Get out of jail for free card has dangers'

Overcrowding in our jails may not be regarded as a top priority by some. Many see it as “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”.

And it is true that jails must have punishment as part of their remit. However, helping prisoners change their ways not only helps the prisoners, it benefits society as a whole.

That means providing prisoners with educational programmes, exercise, job advice and hope for a better future. This becomes so much more difficult when prisons are grossly overcrowded.

It is concerning that the prison ­population has risen past 8000, with watchdogs now declaring a “critical risk” from overcrowding in our jails.

The ­Scottish Government now says it will release hundreds of criminals early. But it is fraught with potential pitfalls. It is vital that it is carefully managed to make sure nobody comes to harm on the outside because of early release.

Violent prisoners are among those that could be released early. They should be excluded alongside sexual predators and domestic abusers.

Every person allowed to walk out early must be assessed to make sure they are not a threat to anybody else. And if they reoffend on the outside, they should be hauled straight back to jail.

In the longer term, Scotland needs to reappraise how we deal with offenders.We send more people to jail per head of population than most European nations.

The Scottish Government is trying to change this, reducing the number of short sentences dished out to young people and first-time offenders.

But alternatives to prison must be considered for those who pose no threat to the public – community service, home detention and financial penalties could be used more often. Not as a soft touch, but as a better way to rehabilitation.

Whatever happens, the safety of the public and victims of crime must be the absolute priority.

Ban the bangs

It used to be that fireworks would be on show around Bonfire Night and not seen or heard again for a year.

They now light up the sky from late summer to New Year, via Halloween and Christmas. More worryingly, fireworks have also become associated with a growing trend for youth disorder.

Instead of being used to add colour to celebrations, they have been deployed as weapons in our major cities by gangs.

That is why Edinburgh and Glasgow councils are now facing calls from the Scottish Greens for an outright ban.

The truth is, if fireworks continue to be used to create havoc by a tiny minority, they will be banned.

And it is hard to argue against such a move when they are misused with such a blatant disregard for the safety of others.

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