Prisoners (Temporary Release and Parole)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

5. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on reforming the rules regarding the temporary release and parole of prisoners. (S5F-02829)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

As we committed to doing in this year’s programme for government, we will consult on measures to improve the openness and transparency of the parole system and how we can strengthen the voice of victims and their families in that process. The consultation will be published before the end of this year, and we will take action informed by the responses that we receive. We also committed to ensuring that victims and their families receive better information and greater support ahead of prison release arrangements, and those issues will be considered by the new victims task force, which will hold its first meeting on 12 December.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I welcome the First Minister’s partial commitments on parole reform, although whether the consultation translates into real action for victims and families is another matter. The Michelle’s law campaign is also about strengthening victim and family rights before temporary release from prison is granted, as it was the temporary release of Michelle Stewart’s killer that kick-started the campaign. The SNP must deliver on Michelle’s law, so will the First Minister commit today to expanding the consultation to cover temporary release?

The First Minister:

First, I again pay tribute to the family of Michelle Stewart for their campaign, which is having a real impact on the issues.

As I know the member understands, parole and temporary release are two entirely separate processes. We absolutely recognise the importance of strengthening the voice of victims and their families in parole and temporary release. That is why in the programme for government we committed to action to improve both of those

. That included a commitment to consult on measures to improve the openness of the parole processes. That consultation will seek views on how we can strengthen the voice and role of victims and their families, and it will cover the issues that are raised in the Michelle’s law proposal as they relate to parole. As I said, that consultation will be published before the end of this year.

Temporary release from prison is not controlled by the Parole Board for Scotland, so it will not be part of that consultation. However, we are committed to improving the support and information that are available in relation to temporary prison release arrangements, which is why that issue will be considered by the new victims task force. As I said a moment ago, it will meet for the first time on 12 December and it will be co-chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Lord Advocate. I hope that that assures the member that both of those issues and the very different processes will be properly and fully considered.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

Automatic early release was introduced in 1993 by a Conservative Government. Although early release is an important part of rehabilitation, it can lead to confusion at the point of sentencing about the time that someone will spend in jail. Does the First Minister agree with me about the importance of transparency in sentencing? Does she also agree that the scope of, and the resources that are available to, the Scottish Sentencing Council must be reviewed, given that it has taken three years to publish two pages of guidance?

The First Minister:

As I know Daniel Johnson knows, early release is not the same as temporary release. However, all those issues will be looked at fully by the victims task force. It is because all those issues will be included that the Lord Advocate is co-chairing the group. There are a number of concerns about how the processes operate at the moment, but they are all in place for good reasons, many of which are to do with the rehabilitation of prisoners as they come back into society. However, it is also vital that there is appropriate and proper protection for the public and that the voice of victims and their families is heard. Therefore, in the consultation on parole arrangements and in the wider consideration of the issues by the victims task force, the issue that Daniel Johnson has raised will receive proper consideration.