Law Society issues warning ahead of automatic early release debate

Law Society issues warning ahead of automatic early release debate

The Law Society of Scotland has expressed concerns about the “lack of evidence” to support Scottish government moves to end automatic early release for long-term prisoners.

The organisation issued its warning ahead of the stage 3 debate of the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow.

The bill, which originally restricted early release for certain categories of prisoners only, was amended at stage 2 to extend the provisions of the bill to end automatic early release for all long-term prisoners.

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.”

He criticised the lack of an inquiry into the proposals, similar to the 14-month review conducted by Lord Kincraig prior to the introduction of the parole system.

The Law Society said it was concerned about the length of time for prisoners to be reintegrated into society under the new system.

Current practice sees prisoners serving four years or more released after serving two-thirds of their sentence, with the remaining sentence served under supervision on licence.

However, Mr Thomson explained: “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.”

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