Hundreds of prisoners to be released early in bid to tackle overcrowded jails

Around 550 prisoners are set for early release following warnings that prison estates are at 'critical risk'.

Over 500 prisoners will be released early next month as the Scottish Government attempts to tackle the rising number of people in the country’s jails.

It comes after the justice secretary announced the legislation at Holyrood on May 16, after warning that prison estates are at “critical risk”.

Angela Constance previously told STV News she was concerned about safety within prisons, including the potential for a rise in violence between prisoners and against staff, and said the chief inspector of prisons for Scotland wrote to her to warn about “deep concerns” regarding overcrowding.

The Scottish Parliament will now be asked to approve the emergency release of short-term prisoners to address the concerns regarding the “rapid rise” in the prison population.

If regulations are agreed, it is understood that at around 550 eligible prisoners will be released in four tranches from the end of June 2024.

Early release would only apply to those serving sentences under four years, and that prisoners serving a life sentence or on the Sex Offenders Register will not eligible.

Further exclusions have since been added, meaning prisoners who are subject to non-harassment orders, or who have an unspent conviction for domestic abuse.

Constance said that protecting the public remains her “number one priority”.

She said: “Emergency early release has become necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Scottish Prison Service staff and those in their care as a result of the rapid rise in the prison population, creating an unprecedented situation.

“This rise of around 400 prisoners over the last two months is significant and could not have been anticipated, and it cannot be ignored, it is also similar to challenges faced across the UK.

“Protecting the public remains my number one priority, which is why there are significant and robust safeguards in place. Releases will also be completed in tranches so the necessary support can be provided to safely resettle released prisoners in their communities.

“I recognise concerns victims may have which is why, named victim support organisations will be given information about the release date of a prisoner under the emergency release process, where requested by the victim they are supporting, to enable a more trauma informed approach.

“This is part of a significant package of measures we are taking in both the short and long term to deal with rising prisoner numbers and I will continue to engage with Parliament, victims organisations, local authorities and other key partners as we progress these proposals.”

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