Convicts could be released years earlier to relieve pressure on prisons

Convicts could be released from prison for the last third of their sentences under new proposals from the Scottish Government.

It would see inmates spend more time under community supervision as part of their prison sentence.

The plans to change the point of release have been revealed in a consultation published by the Scottish Government after prison capacity across the country reached critical levels.

Views are being sought on changing the point of release under licence conditions for people serving a custodial sentence of four years or more.

The consultation says this would provide “a more managed return” to the community and be “a proportionate way” to reduce the pressure on the prison estate.

However, the proposals, if implemented, would not apply to those who are serving an extended sentence for violent or sexual offences.

This month, more than 500 prisoners are being released early due to overcrowding. The Scottish Government said “urgent action” was needed to address the impacts of an unprecedented rise in the country’s prison population.

It has increased by around 400 in the past few months, and 13% since the beginning of 2023.

Point of Release

Currently most people serving long-term sentences, unless previously recommended for parole at an earlier stage – are released under community supervision six months before the end of their sentence.

Consultation proposals suggest this could be done for a third of their sentence. This would return the position to that prior to February 1, 2016 for most long-term prisoners.

Under the proposals, those released would be subject to licence conditions, supervision, and ultimately recall to custody.

The convicts would be subject to individualised risk assessment ahead of release, with licence conditions reflecting the conclusions of that assessment and being set on the recommendations of the Parole Board.

Victims would continue to have the right to receive certain information about a prisoner in their case, including their release dates, and to make representations under the Victim Notification Scheme.

Justice secretary Angela Constance 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.”

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