Shock rise in murderers freed early
SOARING numbers of murderers and sex criminals are being freed early, fuelling fears victims are being failed by soft-touch justice.
Parole for sex offenders after they have reached the halfway point of their sentence has more than doubled in a year.
But scores of criminals were recalled to prison after breaching their licence conditions, the Parole Board for Scotland (PBS) has revealed.
The figures show murderers and sex offenders are being let out of prison on parole at a rate of more than one a week.
Scottish Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: ‘There is a place for parole within our justice system. But when it comes to the most serious and dangerous offenders, the sentence handed down by a court should be the sentence served.’
He added that ‘allowing dangerous people to walk free early is a risk to society’ and described it as a ‘huge insult to victims of crime’.
The PBS annual report for 2016-17 shows 46 ‘lifers’ and ten serious sex offenders were freed on parole. Lifers are generally murderers, although very serious rapes can lead to ‘discretionary’ life sentences.
The sex offenders were guilty of crimes such as rape and attempted rape. In 2015-16, 44 lifers were freed and four sex offenders, meaning the total of lifers and sex criminals paroled has risen about 17 per cent from 48 to 56.
Lifers have to serve a ‘punishment part’ of their sentence set by a judge before becoming eligible for parole.
Criminals jailed for more than four years, including sex offenders, can apply for parole at the halfway point of their sentences. The figures for 2016-17 show the PBS considered the cases of 35 lifers freed in previous years who ‘had allegedly breached the conditions of their licence or whose behaviour in the community was giving cause for concern’.
The PBS recommended 24 licensees be recalled to custody. Its report disclosed 16 lifers were freed for the first time in 2016-17. Of those, one had spent only between nine and ten years behind bars.
Prisoners sentenced to more than four years before 2016, when the rules changed, are automatically released after the two-thirds point of their term – with no involvement by the PBS.
But it is notified if any of those freed automatically have reoffended or breached licence conditions.
There were 91 such notifications in 2016-17 and 75 offenders recalled. The PBS determines if prisoners who are no longer regarded as a risk to public safety can serve the remainder of a sentence in the community, under the supervision of a social worker.
It insists it only gives the goahead to release prisoners where the level and nature of risk is deemed manageable.
Scottish Labour justice spokesman Daniel Johnson said: ‘People need to have confidence in the parole system and, indeed, how it interacts with sentencing.’
A PBS spokesman said: ‘The board’s main aim is to ensure that those prisoners who are no longer regarded as presenting a risk to public safety may serve the remainder of their sentence in the community under the supervision of a social worker.
‘Each case is considered on its merits and the board only grants release in cases where the level and nature of risk is deemed to be manageable.’
The Scottish Government said: ‘Decisions on the release of life prisoners, where eligible for consideration, are a matter for the Parole Board which is independent of ministers. Scotland has a robust offender management framework.’
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