Analysis: Early release changes

Written by Alan Robertson on 22 May 2015

Members of the Justice Committee will return to the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill next week following the Scottish Government’s amendments at Stage 2. It would seem, though, that the controversy which dogged the bill at Stage 1 is not yet set to dissipate. 

MSPs last month backed the bill knowing that the proposed legislation was to be changed quite drastically as government ministers sought to extend initial plans to end automatic early release for sex offenders sentenced to four years or more as well as serious offenders sentenced to over 10 years to all prisoners serving four years plus.

Part of the revision involved setting a minimum 'mandatory control period' upon release, in effect to prevent what experts had termed ‘cold release’ whereby long-term prisoners would be released without supervision or support. Amendments now lodged by government put this mandatory period of licence condition supervision for all long-term prisoners leaving custody at six months.


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According to their policy explanation, the minimum necessary period of supervision for a prisoner who has served 10 years is “likely to be similar” to those who have served half this period “given both are long periods of time to be incarcerated”. However, there seems to be a lack of evidence underpinning why exactly this six-month period has been settled on.   

Pete White, national co-ordinator for Positive Prison? Positive Futures, has raised concerns that it is too short. “However, it is better than nothing,” he adds. Howard League Scotland has asked for “further detail on the empirical basis” for this proposed timeframe. And Dr Monica Barry, principal research fellow in the School of Law at the University of Strathclyde, has questioned whether it will be adequate without government putting additional resources into criminal justice social work.  

Perhaps, though, MSPs will be inclined to heed what the Risk Management Authority has to say most. For those who have not came across the RMA, the body deals in the minimisation of risk across the criminal justice field and has specific responsibilities when it comes to the Order for Lifelong Restriction, a sentence used for individuals who pose the highest levels of risk within Scotland. 

From their point of view, six months means the focus will have to be on “immediate resettlement issues, restrictions, monitoring and contingency measures”. 

“As such, the risk management will be intensive but its impact may be limited by the brief period available for monitoring individuals’ circumstances and behaviour, and the preclusion of meaningful rehabilitative efforts,” writes RMA chief executive Yvonne Gailey. “A period of 12 months statutory supervision would provide more opportunity for engagement in reintegration activities, and a more valuable period of monitoring.”

It looks like the Scottish Government isn’t on the home stretch just yet.

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