Sentencing Commission for Scotland publishes report on early release of prisoners.

The Sentencing Commission for Scotland today published its recommendations on the early release and supervision of prisoners. The Rt Hon Lord Macfadyen, chairman of the Commission, said that the report recommendations allowed for more transparency and clarity in the sentencing system.

The current procedure, set out in the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 (as amended), provides that prisoners sentenced to terms of less than four years be automatically released after serving half of their sentence, unless that sentence has been extended or they have a supervised release order. If the individual is sentenced to a period greater than four years, he or she will be able to have their sentence reviewed by a Parole Board, also half-way through their term. If it is decided not to release that individual half-way through their sentence, then he or she is automatically released after two thirds of it has been spent, with supervision on licence until the end of their sentence period. These provisions have led to confusion for members of the public, victims, and the media.

The Sentencing Commission was set up in November 2003 with one of its remits being to review prison sentencing in Scotland. It's key recommendations include:

  • For sentences less than 12 months, there should be a discretionary release regime, which involves an offender being released on electronically-monitored Home Detention Curfew once at least half of their sentence has been served.
  • For sentences greater than 12 months, there should be a minimum period to be spent in jail, fixed by the court, which is not subject to early release. Once this period is over, the risk presented by releasing the prisoner will be assessed. If it is deemed acceptable, most offenders would serve an additional part of their sentence in the community.
  • In an effort to clarify the sentencing process for the offender, the victim and the media, it is proposed that the sentencer explains precisely what the minimum time to be spent in jail is, and what time is to be spent in the community.

Simplicity, transparency and clarity are the main themes running through the proposals. Worries about extra expense due to an increased number of inmates may be unwarranted as Lord Macfadyen explained: "We do not intend our proposals to involve an increase in the general level of time spent in custody, unless the offender presents a particular risk on release."

Ministers are expected to publish their proposals on early release in the late Spring, with a Sentencing Bill to be introduced later in the year.

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