News In Focus
Commission calls for sentencing reform
23 January 2006
The Sentencing Commission for Scotland has published its recommendations on the early release and supervision of prisoners.
The Commission's report includes a proposal to end the automatic early release of prisoners, though separate new schemes are proposed for those sentenced to more than 12 months and those to 12 months or less.
Lord Macfadyen, the Commission's chairman, said the package of proposed reforms was an opportunity to bring much-needed clarity and transparency in sentencing. However, he warned that the proposals were not intended to increase the severity of sentencing.
The key recommendations include:
- those sentenced to more than 12 months serving the whole of a minimum period to be fixed by the court, followed by a further part of their sentence in the community - provided the risk from their being returned to the community is assessed as acceptable;
- those sentenced to 12 months or less to be subject to discretionary release from prison after at least half the sentence has been served, and placed on electronically monitored home curfew;
- custodial sentences should continue to reflect the gravity of the offence;
- sentencers should explain what a sentence means in terms of the minimum time to be served in custody and what may be served in the community; it should be explicit that the custodial period should be the minimum requiring to be served to satisfy the purposes of punishment, deterrence and public protection.
The report is the second to be published by the Commission since it was set up by the Executive in 2003 as an independent advisory body. Ministers are due to publish their proposals in the late spring, ahead of the introduction of a Sentencing Bill later this year.
Lord Macfadyen said: "As our consultations showed, the public - including victims of crime and their families, the media and some criminal justice practitioners - find it difficult to comprehend some of the existing statutory provisions and their practical effect. Our recommendations are designed to put forward a system in which the sentences imposed by the courts will mean what they say."
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said it had always been clear that the current system was confusing for the public and needed to be reformed. She welcomed the emphasis on ensuring that when a sentence is handed down it is widely understood exactly what it means; and the Commission's wider view of a sentence as "a managed process in which jail and tough community options work in tandem to both punish and rehabilitate".