Outrage over SNP plan to set prisoners free (2024)

Up to 500 prisoners are set to be released early after SNP ministers announced they would use emergency powers to tackle overcrowded jails.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said she was taking the controversial step to release criminals serving less than four years in response to the ‘critical risk’ facing the country’s prisons.

The move comes after Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, warned that a prison population of more than 8,300 presents a ‘risk’, and a trade union said the situation was becoming so dangerous that ‘prison officers could lose their lives while at their work’.

The sudden announcement by Ms Constance sparked a furious backlash from victims’ groups, who warned of the risk of reoffending and the negative impact on those who have suffered at the hands of criminals.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said: ‘The SNP’s early release of up to 500 prisoners comes with a public safety risk.’

In a statement to MSPs, Ms Constance said she had hoped that emergency powers ‘would never need to be used’ but insisted she ‘had no choice’ after the severity of the crisis led to the warning from Ms Sinclair-Gieben. She said: ‘The 8,348 individuals in custody this morning represent one of the highest prison populations ever recorded in Scotland. There is now a critical risk to the continued safe and effective operation of the estate, with multiple prisons essentially full.’

Angela Constance said there is now a critical risk to the continued safe and effective operation of the estate, with multiple prisons essentially full.’

A trade union said the situation was becoming so dangerous that ‘prison officers could lose their lives while at their work’.

Gieben, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, warned that a prison population of more than 8,300 presents a ‘risk’, and a trade union said the situation was becoming so dangerous that ‘prison officers could lose their lives while at their work’.

The sudden announcement by Ms Constance sparked a furious backlash from victims’ groups, who warned of the risk of reoffending and the negative impact on those who have suffered at the hands of criminals.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said: ‘The SNP’s early release of up to 500 prisoners comes with a public safety risk.’

In a statement to MSPs, Ms Constance said she had hoped that emergency powers ‘would never need to be used’ but insisted she ‘had no choice’ after the severity of the

Ms Constance said MSPs have ‘no choice but to act if we are to avoid an unprecedented crisis developing’.

The measures come into force on May 26 and, if they meet the legal requirements, Ms Constance will seek approval from MSPs within the following two weeks. The Justice Secretary said there has been a rise of 400 incarcerations since March 18, with the total figure now 8,348.

She has claimed the reason for the increase is unknown, with government documents stating the crisis ‘could not have been anticipated and it places us in an unprecedented situation’.

Ms Constance plans to address the ‘spiralling’ crisis by ordering the phased early release of the around 300 to 500 inmates who are serving sentences of under four years and who have 180 days or less left to serve. Some of those who could be released have committed violent crimes.

They will be released over a six-month period. The only offenders who will not be considered are those with terror-related convictions or convictions for sexual or domestic violence. Prison governors will have the power to veto individual releases. Kate Wallace, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, said ‘the last time this was done in Scotland shows that we are only transferring this crisis to reoffending, drug deaths and further pressure on support services’. She said: ‘Rumours about emergency release plans have been rife for some time, and only confirmed today with little notice. Surely we could have spent that time planning for this and taking into account victims’ views?’

During the pandemic, 40 per cent of prisoners who were released early – 142 convicts out of a total of 348 – went on to commit further crimes.

Scottish Conservative deputy justice spokesman Sharon Dowey blamed the ‘spiralling situation’ on the SNP’s ‘abject failure’ to revamp the prison estate.

The Prison Officers’ Association said it was ‘clear that the minister recognises ... our prisons are in a state of crisis’, while the Community union, which represents prison officers in the private sector, including at HMP Addiewell and HMP Kilmarnock, said staff were at ‘breaking point’. Steve Farrell, the union’s regional officer in Scotland, said: ‘I’m not over-exaggerating when I say we could have prison officers who could lose their lives while at their work. It’s becoming that dangerous.’

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said: ‘Our population... has increased rapidly in the past few weeks, in a way which was not anticipated.

‘We stand ready to work with the Scottish Government, and our partners, to act upon the decisions reached.’

Rape victims blast sentencing guidelines

Victims of rape and sex assault have ­condemned soft touch sentencing guidelines for younger offenders in damning research – commissioned by the quango that devised the guidance.

The Scottish Sentencing Council (SSC), set up by the SNP Government, created guidance for sheriffs and judges which has led to a more lenient approach for offenders aged under 25, on the grounds their brains may not have matured.

A study commissioned and published by the SSC yesterday found that most victims of rape and sexual assault interviewed ‘were critical of perpetrator age, either young or elderly, as a mitigating factor in sentencing’.

It added that some ‘were critical of such an allowance being made when, as an adult, they would be deemed old enough to consent to sex, vote and buy alcohol’.

An SSC spokesman said: ‘This is an important piece of work and we will consider its findings.’

Outrage over SNP plan to set prisoners free (2024)
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