Prisoners in Scotland on long sentences could be released after serving just two-thirds of their time

Scottish prisons are bursting at the seams
-Credit: (Image: SNS Group)

SNP ministers have been slammed after it was announced long-term prisoners in Scotland could be released after serving just two-thirds of their sentence under controversial plans.

The Scottish Government has been forced to consider early release due to chronic overcrowding in the country's crumbling jail system.

Scotland locks-up more people per head of population than almost every other country in Europe despite repeated pledges to reduce the prison population.

Around 500 prisoners on short-term sentences are already in line for early release to free-up capacity.

But a consultation launched today could lead to even more non-violent and non-sexual prisoners allowed out under licence after serving just two-thirds of their sentence.

Prisoners are currently eligible to be released under licence six months from the end of their sentence.

Those who are given an extended sentence – where a court enforces a period in prison followed by supervision after release – will also not be eligible.

The plans were criticised yesterday by opposition parties and support groups for victims.

Liam McArthur, Scottish Lib Dem justice spokesman, said: "This is a mess of the SNP’s own making. On their watch we’ve seen the prison population spiral out of control, dangerous levels of overcrowding and cuts to schemes that would have helped people avoid reoffending.

"We want to see prisons capable of turning peoples’ lives around, meaning they get new skills and the help they need to make a positive contribution after release. But that’s just isn’t happening under the SNP, making our communities less safe and undermining any bid to ease the pressure on prisons.

"Ministers now have big questions to answer about whether this plan will fix supervision and support, reduce reoffending and boost public safety."

Ann Marie Cocozza of the FAMS charity, which supports adults affected by trauma, said: "Victims and their families are not responsible for sorting out the prison service.

"The government's responsibility is to ensure that if someone commits a crime against another person, they should do the full time. If they don't, where is the deterrent, where is the justice?"

Angela Constance, the Justice Secretary, said: “Supervision is a commonly used element of custodial sentences – as part of efforts to prepare individuals nearing their return to the community to settle and ultimately to not re-offend.

"Our proposals would bring forward the point at which long-term prisoners are released so individuals spend more time under licence conditions in the community before the end of their sentence.

"Individuals would continue to serve their sentence but do so in the community under strict supervision, which can improve reintegration back into society and reduce the risk of re-offending.

"We are considering these measures to find a better balance between the time spent in custody and time supervised in the community, particularly following the recent increase in the prison population when Scotland already has one of the highest in Western Europe.

“Public safety will be paramount. Release under licence conditions means strict community supervision and specific support in place informed by robust individual risk assessments of prisoners.

“These measures would be introduced through legislation, requiring debate and the approval of Parliament. I invite people to share their views.”

A Scottish Conservative spokesperson said: "This is yet another broken promise from the SNP to victims of crime. Nicola Sturgeon promised to end automatic early release for all criminals, but never fulfilled that pledge.

"Now the SNP want to release dangerous criminals who have served just two-thirds of their sentence which if enacted would pose a serious risk to public safety."

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