Scottish prisoners serving less than four years could be released due to overcrowding

HMP Edinburgh.
HMP Edinburgh. -Credit:SWNS

Scottish criminals serving sentences under four years could be released from prison due to a "critical" rise in people behind bars.

In a statement at Holyrood, SNP Justice Secretary Angela Constance informed MSPs that the prison population in the country had risen by 400 inmates from 7,948 to 8,348.

As the Record reports, Constance also said the threshold for "emergency release" had been reached, but sex offenders would not qualify, with the immediate cause of such a sharp increase being unclear.

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However Constance warned a "critical risk" was now posed to the bursting prison estate. She said the rise was curbing the Scottish Prison Service's ability to deliver rehabilitative schemes and making prison visits difficult.

One response will be activating the Ministerial power of releasing prisoners in emergency situations.

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She said: "My hope was that this would never need to be used. However, as things stand today, my view is that we have reached the threshold for taking emergency action.

"If the legal test for use of emergency release is satisfied when the provisions come into force on 26 May, I intend to bring forward a proposal for Parliament's consideration as soon as possible within the following two weeks."

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She added: "My intention is that those released would be serving sentences of under four years. Public safety will always be my priority, and I can reassure Parliament that there are protections in place so that no one serving a sentence for sexual offences or domestic abuse will be released, with a governor veto also available."

Constance also said another measure will be managing the release of long-term prisoners. She said there are "potential benefits" of increasing the time offenders spend on supervised release before the end of their sentence.