Tories say SNP custody changes would let 'rapists and killers back on streets after serving fraction of sentence'
The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on bail and custody which could eventually lead to fewer people being jailed.
Ministers say the impact of the pandemic has forced them “to look differently at how the justice system operates in Scotland.”
Currently, Scotland’s prison estate is under substantial pressure, with just under 8,000 people on remand.
The government has put forward a number of “transformative” proposals to try and bring this number down, including wider use of electronic monitoring tagging, and judges only being allowed to refuse bail if there are “public safety reasons for doing so”.
It also suggests adjusting the laws around early release, so “the points at which a prisoner is automatically released (for short-term prisoners) or considered for release (for long-term prisoners) could be altered in some or all cases”.
This could be a third of the way through a sentence rather than halfway.
Ministers are also asking for views on giving the government power to “direct the release of a specified, limited group of prisoners if certain conditions are met.”
Justice Secretary Keith Brown said: “Our overarching aim for the justice system in Scotland is to improve public safety, support victims and reduce rates of victimisation. The proposals in this consultation support that aim. We cannot simply keep using imprisonment to address wider societal harms. Indeed, in some cases such use can exacerbate the harm.
“This consultation asks important questions about how custody should be used in Scotland now and in the future, with a focus on reducing crime and reoffending and keeping people safe.
“Keeping our communities protected is our number one priority and these principles underpin the reforms we are consulting on.
“I would encourage as many people as possible to give us their views as we continue to shape a modern and progressive Scottish justice system.”
Karyn McCluskey, Chief Executive of Community Justice Scotland, said: “The total number of people on remand in Scotland is far too high, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic. There needs to be fewer people held on remand and for shorter periods.”
She added: “Remand is an essential tool but we should think carefully about how it is used. We need to look at different ways to keep people in the community and to support them to not reoffend.”
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Jamie Greene described the proposals “reckless soft-touch” which would make “prison sentences almost meaningless.”
He added: “If the SNP truly wanted to do something for victims, they would back the Scottish Conservatives’ calls to end automatic early release.
“Instead, they are intent on letting rapists and killers back on our streets after serving only a small fraction of their sentence.
“The SNP Government must stop stacking the odds in criminals’ favour and start putting victims first.”