Prisoners in Scotland could be released after serving two thirds of sentence

Long-term prisoners in Scotland could be released after serving two thirds of their sentence under Government plans.

The Scottish Government has been wrestling with a rising prison population in recent months, with a programme of early release currently under way for more than 500 inmates.

But announcing the move earlier this year, Justice Secretary Angela Constance said more was needed to impact the population over the long term.

A consultation published on Monday showed some prisoners could be allowed out under licence after serving two thirds of their sentence; this would be a return to the policy from before February 2016.

Currently, prisoners are eligible to be released under licence six months from the end of their sentence.

Those who are given an extended sentence – where a court enforces a period in prison followed by supervision after release – will also not be eligible.

Ms Constance said: “Supervision is a commonly used element of custodial sentences – as part of efforts to prepare individuals nearing their return to the community to settle and ultimately to not re-offend.

“Our proposals would bring forward the point at which long-term prisoners are released so individuals spend more time under licence conditions in the community before the end of their sentence.

“Individuals would continue to serve their sentence but do so in the community under strict supervision, which can improve reintegration back into society and reduce the risk of re-offending.

“We are considering these measures to find a better balance between the time spent in custody and time supervised in the community, particularly following the recent increase in the prison population when Scotland already has one of the highest in Western Europe.

“Public safety will be paramount. Release under licence conditions means strict community supervision and specific support in place informed by robust individual risk assessments of prisoners.

“These measures would be introduced through legislation, requiring debate and the approval of Parliament. I invite people to share their views.”

But the Scottish Tories criticised the move.

“The SNP want to release dangerous criminals who have served just two-thirds of their sentence which, if enacted, would pose a serious risk to public safety,” a spokesman for the party said.

“The fact that these plans are even being proposed is systematic of the SNP’s failure to invest in our prison estate which is crumbling at the seams.

“The needs of criminals have yet again been put above the needs of victims in the SNP’s justice system.”

Scottish Lib Dem justice spokesman Liam McArthur said the issues facing the prison system were a “mess of the SNP’s own making”.

“On their watch we’ve seen the prison population spiral out of control, dangerous levels of overcrowding and cuts to schemes that would have helped people avoid reoffending,” he added.

The consultation will close on August 19.

The plans come as the Scottish Government released statistics showing an increase in the re-conviction rate in 2020-21 compared to the previous year.

The figures show a 2.6 percentage point rise to 26.9%, while the average number of re-convictions per offender increased by 8% from 0.41 to 0.44.

Despite the recent increase, however, re-conviction rates have been on a downward trend in the past decade, falling from 29.6% in 2011-12.

Men were more likely to be re-convicted than women, while offenders who committed crimes of dishonesty were most likely to do so again.

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