Monday, January 23, 2006

Sentences to 'mean what they say'

New proposals to end the automatic early release of prisoners have been published by the Sentencing Commission. But some prisoners would still be able to serve less than the full term if they were closely supervised in the community, including being tagged.

The commission's chairman said the reforms were designed to put forward a system in which the sentences imposed by the courts would mean what they say.

Lord Macfadyen said they would bring much-needed clarity in sentencing.

But he warned that the proposals were not intended to increase the severity of sentencing and should not be regarded as a 'back door' opportunity to make Scotland a more penal society.

Ministers will now consider the detailed implications of the recommendations and publish their proposals in the late spring ahead of the introduction of a Sentencing Bill later this year. At present, prisoners sentenced to less than four years are released without conditions after serving half their term. Those sentenced to longer periods are freed on licence after completing two thirds of their sentence, though they can get out earlier on the Parole Board's recommendation.

A new regime for those sentenced to terms of more than 12 months involving the offender serving the whole of a minimum period, fixed by the court, in jail. After that most would then serve a further part of their sentence in the community.

Release at the end of the custodial part would depend on the prisoner being assessed as posing an acceptable risk (!!) to the community.

Those sentenced to less than 12 months could be released from prison on electronically-monitored Home Detention Curfew after not less than half the term has been served. Those passing sentence should explain what it means in terms of the minimum time to be served in custody and that which may be served in the community. It should be made explicit that the prison term should be the minimum period required to be served to satisfy the criminal justice requirements of punishment and deterrence and the protection of the public.

Sounds very laudable, I just don't believe the sincerity of any of it. Very politicised. But then, this is Scotland. What is the Blair influence to ruin everything? He has Scottish ancestry.

Lord Macfadyen said that the topic of early release was identified by the Scottish Executive as a top priority when it set up the commission in November 2003. He said: "Our review of this complex area of our law has been thorough. We consider that the keys to improving this aspect of our criminal law are simplicity and clarity. We also believe that the greater transparency which we are recommending should help create a regime that is understandable. Such understanding is vital if confidence in this aspect of our criminal justice system is to be restored and maintained."

Lord Macfadyen said that the recommendations were designed to put forward a system in which the sentences imposed by the courts would mean what they say. Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said: "We are committed already to ending automatic early release and replacing it with a new regime that the public, particularly victims, can understand. A system that, as well as punishing the offender, will allow for a sentence that can be tailored to the offender's risk and needs in a way that will enhance public protection and reduce re-offending. The commission's report makes a valuable contribution towards achieving our goal."

Overall, rather more useful, in principle, than anything ever released into England.


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