Agony for victims as SNP plans to release 550 prisoners from jails (2024)

Victims of crime have ‘grave concerns’ about a controversial plan for the early release of hundreds of prisoners from Scotland’s jails, MSPs have been told.

Support workers say they have been inundated by terrified victims ‘anxious’ about their safety if ministers go ahead with plans to allow 550 convicts back on the streets.

Victim Support Scotland yesterday said the SNP Government’s contentious plan to use emergency powers to release inmates in response to prison overcrowding would ‘result in more victims’.

It comes after the only previous use of the emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic led to mass reoffending by those released.

Ministers were also accused of failing to set out support and risk planning for victims because of the speed the release plans, which will begin later this month, have been forced through.

Kate Wallace, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland says there are 'grave concerns' about plans to release 550 inmates from Scotland's jails

Prison officers also told MSPs that the proposal was only a ‘short-term solution’ to the problem of overcrowded jails which would provide temporary ‘breathing space’.

Giving evidence at the Scottish Parliament’s criminal justice committee, Kate Wallace, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, said: ‘We have grave concerns about the approach that is being taken. We think it will result in more victims - we saw that the last time during Covid, where we saw within a six-month period over 40 per cent had reoffended who had been subject to emergency release.

‘We have got grave concerns. We do not think this is a long-term measure and we are well aware of the high levels of anxiety that the announcement has caused for victims, many unnecessarily, but it has resulted in increased calls to our helpline, our services, and I know that other organisations have faced that too.

‘What we hoped for was safety planning and risk planning for victims, and support planning, to run alongside release. But the timescales that are being discussed and the approach that is being taken is not going to allow for that this time round.’

She also raised concerns that victims will not be automatically notified that their offenders are being released.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance previously told the committee that there would be a “streamlined” process for notifying victims that would allow those not registered with the victim notification scheme to be made aware.

But concerns were raised yesterday that victims will need to specifically ask if someone who committed a crime against them will be released, and those not registered with a notification scheme will need to go through groups like Victim Support Scotland.

Ms Wallace said: ‘We are looking at communicating quite widely with people to make them aware they can come to us.’

She said a list of offenders due to be released has been drafted and shared with some agencies, but not with Victim Support Scotland, and added: ‘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.

‘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.’

Also giving evidence to the committee yesterday, Phil Fairlie, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers Association Scotland, said: ‘We welcome the reaction, it is a crisis response to what is a crisis right now in term of the overcrowding in prisons right now.

Prison officers told MSPs that the proposal was only a ‘short-term solution’

‘Something had to give and something needed to be done, so we welcome the early release introduction. But it is very much a short-term solution and I hope it is the start of a series of things that need to come to tackle it more long term.

‘All this is going to do is going to give us a little bit of breathing space and not much more than that.’

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said: ‘It’s shocking that victims are left in the dark when we are just 21 days from the SNP government’s emergency mass release of prisoners.

‘Victim Support Scotland and other groups are fielding concerns from crime victims, yet they’ve not even been shown a draft version of the information sharing agreement.

‘When they let out prisoners early during the pandemic, many went on to reoffend. Unless John Swinney’s justice secretary sorts out this mess, the same thing will happen again.’

Agony for victims as SNP plans to release 550 prisoners from jails (2024)


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