First minister announces end of automatic early release

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Media captionPrisoners will no longer be eligible for automatic early release

The Scottish government has announced it is ending automatic early release for prisoners jailed for more than four years.

Prisoners are currently eligible to apply for parole after serving half of their sentence.

They are released automatically after two-thirds of their jail term.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that in future no-one will get automatic release.

Experts have raised concerns about prisoners being released "cold" after serving all of their sentence in prison, rather than spending some of it supervised on licence in the community.

However, the first minister also announced a guaranteed period of supervision for prisoners guilty of serious offences coming out of custody.

Ms Sturgeon said the provisions of the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, would be tightened to ensure that no prisoners serving time for serious offences would be automatically released on licence after two thirds of their sentence.

For non-sexual offenders, the bill currently applies only to prisoners sentenced to ten years or more.

'Public safety'

The announcement follows confirmation by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson of a "radical" new approach to offending, following the scrapping of plans for a female prison in Inverclyde.

The first minister said the new "dual approach" would ensure those who do not require to be in prison access community services, while offenders who should be in jail remain there longer.

Ms Sturgeon said: "The safety of the public is an absolute priority of this government, and we have made significant progress in recent years, with an additional 1,000 police officers on our streets and recorded crime now at its lowest level in 40 years."

Image copyright Scottish Prison Service
Image caption The proposed women's jail in Inverclyde will not now be built

She added: "But we are not complacent, and we recognise that tough action is required to tackle those offenders who commit the most serious crimes, ensuring that communities are kept safe while at the same time making efforts to reduce the likelihood of reoffending."

The bill already included proposals to end automatic early release for certain categories of prisoner but this announcement extends that provision.

'Soft touch'

Susan Gallagher, acting chief executive of Victim Support Scotland said: "For those who live in all of the communities in which we work this should be viewed as a step closer to achieving a system in which sentences are straightforward and understandable to the victim and those communities.

"We also support the guarantee of a period of post-release supervision for prisoners, as we recognise the significant role played by community supervision, not only in facilitating enhanced reintegration into the community, but also in supporting offenders to desist from further offending."

The Scottish Conservatives claimed that the plans did not go far enough.

The party's chief whip, John Lamont MSP, said: "This is clearly welcome news but it still falls short of what the SNP has been promising to do since first getting elected in 2007.

"It will still mean that 97% of prisoners will be automatically released from prison half way through their sentence, no questions asked."

He added: "Automatic early release of prisoners is an insult to victims and makes a mockery of our justice system. Despite the announcement today, the vast majority of offenders will continue to enjoy the benefits of our soft touch justice system."

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