Emergency release of prisoners will create 'more victims', charity warns

Around 550 prisoners are due to be released in four waves beginning later this month.

A charity has warned that the emergency release of hundreds of prisoners in Scotland will create “more victims”.

Victim Support Scotland said it was “deeply concerned” after the Scottish Government approved measures to release around 550 prisoners in four waves, starting at the end of this month, due to high prison populations.

It comes after it was revealed that victims will not be automatically notified that their offenders will be released as part of Scottish Government plans to ease pressure on prisons.

Holyrood justice secretary Angela Constance told the Criminal Justice Committee in May the measures would sit alongside a “streamlined” process for notifying victims that would allow those not registered with the victim notification scheme to be made aware.

Victims Support Scotland (VSS) has said it will be for victims to seek them out and ask if the person who committed a crime against them will be among those to be released.

For those not part of the notification scheme, they will have to contact VSS, who will then ask if the offender in their case has been released, according to Ms Wallace.

A list of offenders due to be released has been drafted and shared with some agencies, but not with VSS, Ms Wallace said.

“The process that’s been gone through is not coming from a place of making sure that every single victim of every single prisoner who’s going to be released will be notified of their release, ” she later added.

“The onus is on victims to come forward and ask for information.

“We have got concerns about those people who will not be aware and who, therefore, will not come forward.

“We expect that to be the majority of people, given the numbers that we know in terms of low take-up of victim notification and also – as this committee has highlighted – the lack of information around who is going to be released.”

Prisoners serving life sentences, or those who have committed sexual, domestic violence or terror-based offences, will not be released under the plans.

However, Ms Wallace said that those who are released may have a history of domestic violence.

Prison governors will also have a veto to prevent the release of an eligible prisoner whom they consider to be an “immediate risk” to a group or individual.

Regulations to allow the early release to go ahead are expected to be approved by Holyrood and should then come into force on June 13.

Prisoners with less than 45 days of their sentence left to serve will then be released on June 26 and 27, and those with 45-89 days left will walk free on July 3 and 4.

Inmates who have 90-134 days left to serve will be released on July 10 and 11, with the last group of prisoners – those who have 130 to 180 days left on their sentence – freed on July 17 and 18.

Kate Wallace, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland said: “Victim Support Scotland is deeply concerned about the Emergency Early Release of prisoners, following evidence given to the Criminal Justice Committee today.

“Given the lack of time for appropriate planning, our fear is that these measures will create trauma, anxiety and essentially more victims.

“As criteria are being finalised, we note this includes those on a four-year sentence (previously it was two) which will include serious offences in Scotland, including serious violent crime.

“Victims are still feeling the impact of when prisoners released on an emergency basis during COVID, which resulted in numerous drug deaths and a 40% reoffending rate within the first six-months.

“Victim Support Scotland welcomes measures to put services in place for released prisoners and is working collaboratively with the Scottish Government to minimise the negative impact on victims, and to maximise all available support and information.

“We fear this short-term measure will soon be repeated and simply displace the problem to the community and further stretch resources designed to keep victims safe.

“VSS is further concerned that the process being put in place at the moment is putting the onus on victims to come forward.

“Anyone looking for information can contact Victim Support Scotland on 0800 160 1985 or on victimsupport.scot”

Constance said the Scottish Government recognised victims’ concerns about the use of the emergency release power but assured those affected that protecting the public remains “an absolute priority”.

“We are working with victim support organisations to increase victims’ awareness of how they can access information and ensuring that all victims who want to receive information about an offender’s release can do so, with the support of a victim support organisation if they wish,” she said.

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code