Law Society calls for more research into custodial sentencing and better resourced rehabilitation programmes
Releasing prisoners a mere six months before the end of their sentence, is not enough time to reintegrate prisoners into the community and reduce the risk of reoffending, the Law Society of Scotland warned today 22 June.
The Law Society was speaking ahead of the stage 3 debate of the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament on 23 June. The Bill seeks to end automatic early release for long-term prisoners, releasing them on licence six months ahead of the end of their sentence.
Douglas Thomson, Solicitor Advocate and member of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee said: “We are of course supportive of the policy intentions behind this Bill which are to enhance public protection and encourage the engagement of prisoners with rehabilitation programmes. However, this is potentially the most radical change in custodial sentencing for 22 years, and we are concerned at the lack of evidence supporting the need to end automatic early release.
“Prior to the introduction of the parole system 22 years ago, Lord Kincraig conducted a 14-month review, and it is concerning that no similar inquiry has been undertaken in this case.
“For example, under the new legislation, a long-term prisoner serving a twenty year sentence would be released at 19 years and 6 months, to serve the last six months in the community on licence. This in our view is a wholly inadequate length of time to facilitate a successful reintegration into society and the sanction of being returned to prison if they breach any of the conditions, for a matter of a few weeks, is, in our view not necessarily a deterrent to reoffend. In order to reduce the risk of re-offending, a properly resourced rehabilitation programme, followed by a proportionally substantial period of reintegration into the community, is the best way to deter people from a return to criminal offending.”
The Bill was substantially amended by the Scottish Government at stage 2, extending the provisions of the Bill to end automatic early release for all long-term prisoners. As introduced, the Bill restricted early release for certain categories of prisoners only.
Under current legislation prisoners serving four years or more are released after two thirds of their sentence has been served, with the remaining sentence served under supervision on licence, with the aim of facilitating their reintegration into the community and to reduce the risk of reoffending.
Notes to editors
The Society’s full evidence and briefings are on our website at /for-the-public/law-reform-consultations-and-bills/bills-201415/prisoners-(control-of-release)-(s)-bill/
Long term prisoners are classed as those prisoners serving a sentence of 4 years or more under the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993.
The present provisions contained in the 1993 Act were enacted following two reports, the Scottish one under Lord Kincraig, which conducted its deliberations over a period of 14 months, and the Carlisle Committee in England and Wales. At the same time, the Scottish Prison Service conducted two consultations, Custody and Care (March 1988) and Opportunity and Responsibility (May 1990). The issue of prison reform was therefore the subject of full debate.
As introduced the Bill provided to end automatic early release for all long term prisoners who were sentenced to ten years or more, or four years if the offence was a sexual offence.
Under the terms of the Bill as amended at stage 2, automatic early release would be ended for all long-term prisoners.
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