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End to automatic prison release

Published: 1 Feb 2016 10:00
Part of:
Law and order

Most serious offenders to serve more of their sentence in custody.

New laws ending the current system of automatic early release from prison for the most serious offenders have come in to effect today.

The change means no long-term prisoner in Scotland will be eligible for automatic release after two thirds of their sentence, and there will now be a mandatory period of supervision for the most serious offenders.

The measures are designed to maintain public safety by ensuring long-term prisoners can serve more of their sentences in custody while also allowing for the effective rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders returning to the community.

New powers of increased flexibility on release dates also come into force, meaning release can be brought forward by one or two days, to help reduce reoffending by ensuring people leaving custody can access support services immediately.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said:

"I am delighted that from today long-term prisoners who pose an unacceptable risk to public safety will now serve more of their sentence in custody. This is a huge step in the right direction to end a system introduced by the then-UK Government in 1993.

"Recorded crime is at its lowest level in 41 years, but public safety is still our key priority. This law is proof of our commitment to keep communities safe and reduce the likelihood of prisoners reoffending.

"We listened to feedback on the Bill throughout the process and as a result we increased the numbers of prisoners no longer eligible for automatic early release and also ensured that rehabilitation of offenders is key to the process by ensuring mandatory supervision.

"Prison will always be the right place for serious and dangerous offenders. This law is part of our aim to achieve a more balanced justice system in Scotland, protecting our communities from serious offenders while those at the lower of the scale receive community-based alternatives with targeted support to address the underlying causes of their offending behaviour."

Notes to editors

The current system of automatic release ends for long-term prisoners (sentenced to four years or more). Where a long-term prisoner has additional court imposed supervision e.g. an extended sentence, the reforms will mean they will not receive automatic early release at any point in their custodial sentence. Where a long-term prisoner does not have any additional court imposed supervision, they will receive early release if still in custody with 6 months left on their sentence. This ensures a mandatory minimum period of licence condition supervision of six months will apply for all long-term prisoners.

The provisions will apply to long-term prisoners sentenced after today (Monday 1 February). All long-term prisoners will continue to be able to be considered for discretionary early release from the halfway point of sentence through consideration by the independent Parole Board.

Flexible release dates – Release on a Friday, on public holidays or over the weekend can hamper attempts to access vital support such as housing, healthcare, employment, welfare, alcohol and substance abuse services, and can lead to reoffending. The change means release dates for those serving sentences of 15 days or over can be adapted by up to two days to the working week to improve access to services. The service is discretionary and not a blanket end to Friday liberations.