Commission sounds warning on ending automatic early release of prisoners

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has expressed concerns about the Scottish Government’s proposals to end automatic early release of long-term offenders.

Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the Commission, said:

“The Commission has previously expressed concerns about the human rights implications of the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill, both in terms of its potential impact on public safety and on individual liberty.

“We therefore welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has recognised its earlier proposal was flawed because it would have resulted in some long-term offenders being released into the community without any adequate supervision. This would have caused an unnecessary risk to the public.

“However, one immediate concern with the latest proposal is that by extending the group of prisoners who will no longer be eligible for automatic early release, applications to the Parole Board will increase.

“If more prisoners apply to the Parole Board and the Parole Board does not grant them early release, it may well lead to prisoners raising appeals on the grounds that they have been given insufficient rehabilitation within the prison system. There are concerns already that there are inadequate rehabilitation programmes available to prisoners.”

Noting the potential for prisoner numbers to rise as a result of the proposed changes, Professor Miller continued,

“There has been a concern for a long time about overcrowding in the prison system. On the face of it,  this move would certainly seem to be increasing the number of prisoners in the system. The Scottish Government will have to provide figures of the impact this will have on the prison population and how that’s going to be managed.”

The Commission will be considering the proposals in more detail in the coming weeks and will offer further evidence on their human rights implications to a future session of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.