Plans to end automatic early release could be further weakened

Michael Matheson

The Scottish government’s plans to end automatic early release of prisoners may be further diluted after an MSP put forward an amendment to proposals which would see prisoners released when they have 12.5 per cent of their sentence remaining.

Originally, the government had pledged to bring an end to they system in which criminals are released early – which would mean some would spend the full term in prison.

But this was widely criticised, with experts saying this would actually make them more dangerous as they currently enjoy supervision after release.

As such, the Justice Secretary Michael Matheson (pictured) revised the government’s proposals to bring about automatic release six months early in the Prisoners Control of Release (Scotland) Bill.

However, this plan was also criticised, with experts saying the release time should be calculated based on the length of the sentence.

Now, Labour MSP Elaine Murray, deputy convenor of the Parliament’s Justice Committee, has proposed an amendment that would result in early release for prisoners when they have 12.5 per cent of their sentence remaining.

For example, someone serving a ten year sentence would be released after having served eight years and nine months.

Ms Murray said: “It stands to reason that if you’re in prison longer, it takes longer for reintegration.

“The recommendation from the committee was that the period should be proportional to the length of sentence.

“It’s important to acknowledge that the government is no longer getting rid of automatic early release. I think Michael Matheson has been left with a mess in what was always Kenny MacAskill’s bill.”

Ms Murray’s amendment will be included in the bill if she wins a vote in the committee today.

The government, however, will have the opportunity to alter the bill at stage three.

Last week, at an evidence session for the bill, academics Cyrus Tata Professor of Law and Criminal Justice at Strathclyde University and Fergus McNeill, Professor of Criminology and Social Work at Glasgow University agreed at least one quarter of sentences ought to be served in the community – arguing this was necessary for proper reintegration.

In respect of the proposed automatic release when prisoners have 12.5 per cent remaining, Professor McNeill said: “I think 25 per cent would be much better, but this would at least mean that the reform was proportionate across the full range of determinate sentences.

“That is better both from the point of view of justice and resettlement.”

Professor Tata said: “It’s good to see a move towards proportionality, which is important in terms of justice and public safety.

“But there is a real danger that 12.5 per cent will be insufficient to supervise a long term prisoner released into the community.”

A government spokeswoman said: “Our position on the Control of Release Bill will be set out at the Justice Committee, when the Cabinet Secretary for Justice speaks in support of our policy of guaranteed mandatory supervision of six months.”