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03/09/13 15:09

Moves to end automatic early release

System ended for the most serious offenders.

Automatic early release is to be ended for prisoners who present the most serious potential risks to the public, First Minister Alex Salmond announced today.

The policy will bring to an end automatic early release for serious offenders, such as those convicted of violent crimes who are sentenced to ten years in prison or more. In addition, automatic early release will be ended for sexual offenders sentenced to four years or more. The move was set out in the Programme for Government statement.

The types of violent offending covered will include culpable homicide, attempted murder, serious assault and robbery, where an offender has received a sentence of ten years or more. The types of sexual offending covered will include rape, sexual assault and sexual offences against children, where an offender has received a sentence of four years or more.

If approved by Parliament, the changes will affect prisoners being sentenced after the legislation comes into force.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said:

“We have stated clearly our aim to end the system of automatic early release. The changes announced by the First Minister today show we are committed to fulfilling that pledge.

“This move will mean the safety of our communities is at the forefront of our system of early release for those prisoners who pose the most significant potential risks to public safety or of causing public harm. This will help reassure victims, witnesses and communities.

“We remain committed to completely ending automatic early release once the conditions set by the McLeish Commission are met, including a sustained reduction in the prison population through, for example, a greater use of community sentences.”

The overall effect of these policy changes will be that for the first time since the current regime was introduced back in 1993, the Scottish Government will be empowering the independent Parole Board to oversee decisions on a prisoner’s early release beyond the two-thirds point of sentence so that they will only be released when the Parole Board is satisfied that this is safe.

Notes to editors

Legislative provisions for the changes are planned to be introduced through a Stage 2 amendment to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill in early 2014. If approved by Parliament, they will end automatic early release for prisoners sentenced after the legislative provisions are brought into force.

In July 2008, the independent Scottish Prisons Commission made a series of recommendations in relation to the use of prison in 21st century Scotland. These included recommending an end to the current system of automatic early release once the other report recommendations had been implemented and the short sentenced prison population was reduced.

Scotland's Choice Report of The Scottish Prisons Commission

Currently, the automatic element of the system of early release operates in different ways depending on the length of fixed sentence imposed:

  • Prisoners who receive a sentence of less than four years are called short-term prisoners and are released automatically and unconditionally at the half-way point of their sentence, with the Parole Board having no role in the process
  • Sex offenders who receive a sentence of between six months and four years are subject to the above automatic early release rules at the half-way point, but are released on licence and liable to recall to custody for the remainder of their sentence if they breach their licence conditions
  • Prisoners who receive a sentence of four years or more are called long-term prisoners. They are entitled to be considered by the Parole Board for release between the half-way point of their sentence and the two-thirds point of their sentence. If a long-term prisoner reaches the two-thirds point of their sentence and the Parole Board has not directed release by that point, they are released automatically. Long-term prisoners are always released on a licence.

The effect of the announcement will be that dangerous offenders, such as violent offenders, sentenced to 10 years or more and sexual offenders sentenced to four years or more will no longer receive automatic early release at the two-thirds point of their sentence. In future, these prisoners will continue to have their case considered for early release by the independent Parole Board past the two-thirds point of their sentence. If the Parole Board considers that a prisoner poses an unacceptable risk to public safety, the prisoner will remain in prison for their entire sentence.