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15/08/14 09:48

Automatic early release

Bill published to end automatic early release for long term prisoners.

A Bill to end automatic early release from prison for the most serious offenders has been introduced to Parliament.

The system, which was brought in by the then UK Government in 1993, means prisoners serving four years or more have to be released at the two-thirds point of sentence if they are still in custody.

Under the new Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill, prisoners sentenced to four years or more for sex offences and 10 years or more for other crimes will no longer be entitled to automatic early release from prison at any point in their sentence.

Today’s Bill also includes proposals to reduce reoffending by improving prisoner release arrangements. It allows release dates to be brought forward by one or two days to ensure immediate access to support services in communities to help break the cycle of offending behaviour.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said:

“Recorded crime is at its lowest level in almost 40 years, but public safety is still our key priority. This Government is taking tough action to keep communities safe and reduce the likelihood of prisoners reoffending. Brought in by then UK Government in 1993, we are ending the entitlement to automatic early release for the most serious offenders.

“Under the proposals in the Bill, where long-term prisoners pose an unacceptable risk to public safety, they will serve their entire sentence in custody. This is an important move in the right direction to end the system we inherited.

“Meanwhile new prisoner release arrangements will allow more targeted access to health, housing and other services to help prisoners integrate back into the community and reduce the risk of re-offending. Agencies have confirmed that this can be a problem for people, leaving custody near the weekend when there can be limited access to services.

“There have been calls to improve access to support services and we have listened, taking direct steps to help offenders live a life free from crime once they leave custody and bring down reoffending rates even further.”

David McKenna, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, commented on the changes to automatic early release:

“It is a win-win situation for justice in Scotland and also a win-win for victims of crime and their families. This is a very important advance which will go a long way to improving the public perception of justice in Scotland and will provide far greater transparency in sentencing. We feel that decisions on early release based solely on the need for the protection of the public will improve public safety and also help in reducing reoffending."

Paolo Mazzoncini, Director of Operations at SACRO, said:

“Sacro welcomes this proposal, which enhances prisoner release arrangements and promotes community safety. The hours following release from prison can be critical in determining whether a person desists from offending or marches straight back into trouble. Being able to access important support services immediately following release greatly improves the chances of successful offender reintegration. By introducing a greater and defined flexibility to prison release arrangements, we believe this valuable access will be improved.”

Laura Mulcahy, Development Coordinator of the Criminal Justice Voluntary Sector Forum (CJVSF), said:

"CJVSF welcomes the proposal to offer greater flexibility for release arrangements. Our members tell us that Friday releases can create an additional barrier to reintegration, with individuals unable to access important services. Addressing this access issue should support people’s successful reintegration in to the community and make for more effective inter-agency working to improve the co-ordination and delivery of services.”

Notes to editors

Under the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill, prisoners sentenced to four years or more for sex offences and 10 years or more for other crimes will no longer be released early from prison automatically but will have their case considered by the independent Parole Board.