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Time called on automatic early release

20 June 2006

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson has announced major changes to the current system for releasing offenders from Scotland's prisons.

Giving the Executive's response to the recommendations in the Sentencing Commission's report on early release, published in January, Ms Jamieson announced that all offenders will be under restrictions for their entire sentence.

At present those sentenced to less than four years (other than some sex offenders and those subject to supervised release orders) are automatically released, without conditions, after serving half their sentence, though they can be made to serve the unexpired balance if they reoffend. Under the new system:

  • offenders will serve at least half of their sentence in prison - though the court will be able to order a higher proportion in the interests of punishment or deterrence in the individual case;
  • at the end of that period, offenders will serve the community part on licence. The licence could have conditions attached, such as a requirement to attend drug or alcohol treatment, restricted movement and travel, electronic tagging, or close supervision by social workers or police;
  • if at that point an offender is still considered to be an unacceptable risk to the public, their case will be referred to the Parole Board to consider an extension of the custodial period;
  • if an offender is released on licence but breaches the terms of their licence, they will be subject to immediate recall to custody; and
  • offenders will be assessed throughout their time in prison in relation to their risk of reoffending.

No assumptions

Ms Jamieson said: "The people of Scotland deserve a first-class justice system that is fair, swift and has public safety at its heart. But they have lost confidence in the current system where an offender's prison release is calculated by the length of sentence, rather than the risk they may pose.

Claiming that offenders would be effectively punished and made to face the consequences of their crimes, and not simply wait out their time in custody, she added:

"No longer will individuals be able to assume that they will be released half-way through their sentence. Anyone sentenced to more than 14 days will be given a minimum period in custody of 50% of their total sentence - a period which can be increased by the courts. Each offender's risk will also be assessed throughout their time in custody and wherever necessary their case will be referred to the Parole Board with a recommendation that they remain there for longer."

Offenders serving less than 14 days will serve the full period in custody.

The Sentencing Commission had put forward a proposal that offenders could earn early release before the mid-point of their sentence, but this has been rejected.

Full details of the new proposals can be read at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2006/06/20091637/0 .