Automatic Early Release May 2014

Criminal justice evidence clearly demonstrates community responses to crime are more effective in reducing reoffending rates than imprisonment.

  • The benefit of release on licence

The present system of release on licence for long-term prisoners under the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 has the advantage of allowing prisoners to be monitored when in the community and, if necessary, recalled to custody (1) . The proposed end to early release would mean that no supervision of serious offenders in the community is possible once they are released from custody (2) . In the view of HLS, the proposal is likely to be to the detriment of public safety (3).

If a prisoner, convicted of a serious violent offence, is serving a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment, he would presently be released automatically at 6 years and 7 months and serve the following 3 years and 3 months on licence. The period on licence would effectively be a period of rehabilitation because any breach of licence conditions would result in a return to custody. The likely result is that the risk to the public in the long-term is reduced. Conversely, if the prisoner remains in custody for the whole 10 years, he will have no rehabilitation in the community. There will be no opportunity to supervise the prisoner's rehabilitation.

An absence of community-based rehabilitation is likely to prove particularly risky for those with drug or alcohol addictions. There will be no supervision on release and the only basis for intervention will be the commission of further offences. The McLeish report explicitly acknowledged the risk posed by releasing prisoners without effective supervision and support in the community: “… there is clear evidence that release without support and, where need be, supervision leads to many offenders returning to chaotic lifestyles with no family support, home or services. It is therefore no surprise that reoffending rates are high and that many offenders end up serving a life sentence by instalments. We strongly support end-toend sentencing and support for all offenders on release from prison.” (at 4.6, original emphasis)

The current proposal fails to recognise the internationally recognised evidence that support and supervision in the community is more effective in reducing re-offending rates than time spent in custody. As the McLeish report noted: “The monitoring and supervision of all offenders in the community is crucial to reducing reoffending. It is important to re-integrate an offender back into the community and to continue the rehabilitation process after a period in custody.” (at 4.6)

An abrupt and unsupported transition of a prisoner from the structured environment of prison to non-parole release may result in a reversion to presentence behaviour and counteract any progress made in supporting desistance.

  • The Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Act 2007

The Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Act 2007 was intended to alter the present system of release of prisoners, but has not been brought into force. Most of the evidence taken by the McLeish Commission supported the principles of the 2007 Act, but identified significant problems with the measures it contained. HLS do not support bringing the 2007 Act into force.

  • The impact on resources

On any view, the proposal is likely to substantially increase prison numbers in (at least) the short and medium term. Substantial funding will be required for those additional prison places. A reduction in prison populations through a reduction in offending will only be possible if there are effective rehabilitation measures in place. Under the proposal, those measures could only be provided to prisoners whilst in custody. It is submitted that those measures will not be as effective as community based measures.

The proposal will result in a substantial increase in the number of hearings before the Parole Board for Scotland and its administrative burden. The Parole Board is already under funding pressure (cf. Thomson, D., Prisons, Prisoners and Parole, (2nd Ed, Edinburgh, p. 180). In order to discharge the proposed functions, the Parole Board will require a substantial increase in funding.

Where release of prisoners is dependent on their risk assessment, it is necessary for the Scottish Prison Service to provide sufficient rehabilitation services to allow prisoners to reduce their risk of reoffending and harm. Where such services are not available, continued detention may become arbitrary and in breach of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Wells v. Secretary of State for Justice [2010] 1 AC 553; James v. United Kingdom (2013) 56 EHRR 12). That is particularly likely in relation to sex offenders who are unable to receive the SOTP course. Unless the proposed legislation is accompanied by substantially increased investment in prison-based rehabilitation, it is likely there will be an increase in applications for judicial review of decisions by the Parole Board for Scotland.

  • Submission

The proposal is presented in broad terms, with no indication of the financial cost to central government. HLS suspect that cost will heavily outweigh any potential savings to local government services. On the information provided, it is not possible to give a detailed view on the impact of the proposed legislation.

A reduction in offending requires effective rehabilitation through supervision and treatment in the community. Prison-based programmes lack the same efficacy. The Scottish Government proposes that a category of prisoners who pose “an unacceptable risk of harm to the public” are released without any supervision in the community. HLS respectfully adopt the conclusion of the three expert committees which have reported on this issue in recent years, namely that community-based supervision of prisoners is necessary to reduce the risk of harm to the public. In the view of HLS, the proposal is flawed because it will cause greater risk of harm to the public.

Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland 6 May 2014 


1 “Longer term prisoners … are always likely to need support and supervision on release, because of the difficulty of adapting to life outside after a lengthy period in custody and because by definition they have committed grave crimes and may be more likely to re-offend if their conduct is not monitored. We think it is a serious flaw of the existing system that it places the Parole Board in a dilemma with regard to the release of the most difficult long term prisoners: its choice may lie between paroling a prisoner who is really unsuitable for parole, or allowing him to be released ‘cold’ into the community, with no supervision requirement.” Report of the Review Committee, Parole and Related Issues in Scotland, March 1989 („the Kincraig Report‟), para 6.12.

2 This was the “major objection” to increasing the time spent in custody during a sentence in the Maclean report (Report of the Committee on Serious Violent and Sexual Offenders, June 2000), para 4.29.

3 The Scottish Prisons Commission, Scotland’s Choice, 1 June 2008 („the McLeish Report‟), para 2.52

Prison and Desistance - (Re)turning point?

'What makes a prison sentence a turning point for some prisoners? What can be done to make this more common? And what needs to be in place for turning points to lead to a crime-free life after release?'

These were the questions explored at a recent University of Glasgow/SCCJR seminar. The speakers, Dr Esther van Ginneken, Dr Marguerite Schinkel and Prof Shadd Maruna, highlighted their research, which had used prisoners stories and reflections on their experience to build a textured picture of what the process of change is like within and following prison. 

Audio Files of the talk are now available from Glasgow Sociology here


Startling Differences in Regional Imprisonment Rates

Scotland already imprisons more people than almost all of our European neighbors (for more information on this see: International Centre for Prison Studies: Scotland)

However, looking at the regional per capita imprisonment rates below (measured per 100,000) the national average  reveals a startling link between high rates of imprisonment and rates of deprivation. We hear time and again that the pathway to imprisonment is paved by poverty and social exclusion, but it is always worth bluntly demonstrating the disparity and inequality of the lives of those people who end up caught in the cycle of the criminal justice system. Further, it highlights the limits of prison in reducing re-offending if we do not address crime as a matter of social policy.

  • Tayside 182
  • Angus 109
  • Dundee City 316
  • Perth & Kinross 105
  • South West Scotland 192
  • Dumfries & Galloway 122
  • East Ayrshire 242
  • North Ayrshire 235
  • South Ayrshire 181
  • Fife and Forth Valley 134
  • Clackmannanshire 187
  • Falkirk 153
  • Fife 117
  • Stirling 143
  • Glasgow City 348
  • Northern 110
  • Aberdeen City 173
  • Aberdeenshire 61
  • Eilean Siar 87
  • Highland 113
  • Moray 101
  • Orkney Islands 66
  • Shetland Islands 77
  • Lothian and Borders 113
  • East Lothian 66
  • Edinburgh, City of 133
  • Midlothian 96
  • Scottish Borders 71
  • West Lothian 114
  • Lanarkshire 203
  • North Lanarkshire 220
  • South Lanarkshire 185
  • Northern Strathclyde 159
  • Argyll & Bute 92
  • East Dunbartonshire 62
  • East Renfrewshire 65
  • Inverclyde 224
  • Renfrewshire 206
  • West Dunbartonshire 281

Source: Prison statistics Scotland 2010-11 publication

Recruiting ex-offenders - James Timpson Lecture

James Timpson lecture

The Howard League Scotland was delighted to welcome James Timpson of his eponymous family business Timpsons, to speak about why he is such a passionate advocate of employing people with a criminal conviction. What followed was a riveting talk with one major point, hiring people is fundamentally about personality, not about the past. He has been willing to give people a chance, with the results that he has developed a strong ethos of work and comaraderie among the Timpson staff, and, moreover, created a thriving business. 

Here is a round-up of some of the facts and figures which highlights that is a beneficial programme for both employee and employer:

  • 10% of workforce recruited direct from prisons
  • Recruits from a third of the prison population 
  • 13 shops run by those released on temporary licence
  • Retention rate of 80% after 12 months for those recruited from prison (same as retention rate for employees recruited from general population)
  • Retention rate of 92% after 12 months for those on the Release On Temporary Licence (ROTL) scheme
  • Retention rate highest among female ex-prisoners


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