First minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the change to the current criminal justice system for automatic early release of all prisoners serving more than four years.
It was stated that where a parole board deemed it necessary, those serving a long-term sentence (one of four years or more) will be kept in prison to serve their full term, as opposed to being automatically released.
The changes are outlined in the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill, that is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. The changes tighten rules relating to release of prisoners to ensure that no prisoners who have carried out serious offences will be eligible for automatic early release after serving two thirds of their sentence.
The new rules apply to those convicted of violent crimes serving more than ten years and to those who have committed sexual offences serving four years or more.
The types of applicable violent offending will include culpable homicide, attempted murder, serious assault and robbery, where the sentence attracted by the offender is 10 years or more. The types of sexual offending applicable will include rape, sexual assault and sexual offences against children that have attracted a sentence of more than four years.
This change will be accompanied by a guaranteed period of supervision for prisoners guilty of serious offences who are released early. The idea behind this is to maintain public safety by encouraging rehabilitation and integration of offenders into society.
The changes allow for a more discretionary system that allows those who do not need to be kept in prison access to community services and support and supervision during the rehabilitation and reintegration period. It also however, means that those who must be kept in prison are not arbitrarily released because of automatic early release rules.
Nicola Sturgeon said:
“Prison remains the most appropriate place for serious offenders, and we had already included proposals in the Prisoners (Control of Release) Bill to end automatic early release for certain categories of prisoner.
How will this benefit the justice system?
Having a system of automatic early release for those who behave well potentially undermines the justice system entirely. When a judge hands down a sentence, they are doing so because they believe it is proportionate to the crime committed. The automatic early release system has the potential to skew sentencing – as judges are aware criminals could be released early and thus may be inclined to hand out longer sentences than they would have otherwise.
The new system also allows for a safer and more discretionary system of release. Whilst a prisoner may have been on their best behaviour, this does not necessarily mean they are no longer a danger to society. This is where the proposed community supervision will also be greatly beneficial as it is a period of observation of the individual to see how they behave in regular society.