Government plans get-tough stance on early release of prisoners in Scotland

A GET-TOUGH sentencing regime to restrict early release of prisoners is proposed for Scotland.

Reminiscent of Home Secretary Michael Howard's controversial pronouncements on sentencing last October, the Scottish regime was also first aired at the Conservative Party annual conference.

Scottish Secretary of State Michael Forsyth, in a consultation paper called Making the Punishment Fit the Crime, proposes an end to automatic release for prisoners at either half or two-thirds of their sentence.

It also proposes making prisoners on parole who reoffend liable to recall to prison to serve the whole of their remission period rather than just the remaining portion.

The tougher stance aims to “restore meaning and force to the sentences which courts impose and to promote public confidence in our criminal justice system,” said Forsyth.

Remission and parole would be cut to possibly around one sixth of the sentence, said the Scottish Office.

Seith Ireland, former president of the Glasgow Bar Association and a member of the Law Society of Scotland's criminal committee, called the proposals “dramatic” and “a cynical political move”.

“It's effectively importing the American doctrine of 'just desserts' – it's all retribution and little rehabilitation,” said Ireland.

He added that it was also surprising that such a toughening comes so soon after the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act was introduced in 1993 to formalise parole arrangements. The Act provides for prisoners serving fewer than than four years to be released unconditionally at half sentence, and for those serving four years or more to be eligible for parole at half sentence, with automatic release at two-thirds.