Tories will vote against plans for releasing prisoners early

There was a spike of 400 prisoners between March 18 and Thursday.

Tories will vote against plans for releasing prisoners early PA Media

The Scottish Tories will vote against Scottish Government plans to release prisoners early to ease pressure on the prison estate, the party has said.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance told MSPs this week of the proposals, in response to a spike of 400 prisoners between March 18 and Thursday.

The increase, she said, left ministers with “no choice but to act if we are to avoid an unprecedented crisis developing”.

Ms Constance said she would bring proposals to Holyrood in the coming weeks, with those serving sentences of less than four years being eligible.

Under the terms of the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Act – which allows for the emergency release of prisoners to preserve the “security and good order” of the estate – prisoners sentenced to life, those who have not been tried or anyone convicted of a terror-related, sexual or domestic violence offence are not eligible for early release.

Scottish Tory justice spokesman Russell Findlay said on Sunday his party would not back the plans amid fears of a risk to public safety.

He said: “If the SNP government set free hundreds of prisoners before they’ve done their time it will put public safety at risk with high rates of re-offending, as happened during the pandemic.

“Crime victims already feel let down by soft-touch sentencing and this would be compounded by artificially reducing the time a judge has decided that criminals should spend behind bars.

“The SNP are wringing their hands and talking about a crisis. But it is a crisis of their making, primarily by failing to build vital new prisons on time.”

There have been delays to the building of two new prisons, HMP Glasgow and HMP Highland.

On Friday, Ms Constance said the design for the replacement for Barlinnie would be available in the summer despite previous assertions to Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee the design would be complete by April.

Mr Findlay said: “They must consider an alternative short-term approach that would prioritise public safety and protect the integrity of Scotland’s justice system. This could include the installation of temporary accommodation, but all options should be considered.

“Longer term, they need to build the new prisons and if they don’t want to jail criminals, provide judges with robust, trusted and effective community sentencing options.”

The Scottish Government have been contacted for comment.

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