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Stewart family support more honesty in sentencing

The family of Michelle Stewart have endorsed the Scottish Conservative campaign to introduce ‘Honesty in Sentencing’.

Speaking a year after the Michelle’s Law campaign started, the family has said that the campaign would give victims more confidence in the justice system.

Michelle’s Law is named after Michelle Stewart, who was brutally stabbed to death by her boyfriend in 2009.

The family has asked the SNP government to reform the system of parole and early release to explicitly require the safety and welfare of victims and their families to be taken into account.

The campaign also asks to increase use of powers to impose ‘exclusion zones’ on offenders to offer increased protection to victims and their families and to toughen up the Victim Notification Scheme (VNS) so victims and their families are given reasons for an offender’s release, and can make representations in person.

The Scottish Conservative campaign ‘Honesty in Sentencing’ will abolish automatic early release for all criminals with parole only considered following a risk assessment and introduce whole life custody sentences for those who have committed the most appalling crimes.

 

Lisa Stewart, sister of Michelle said:

“Our sister was brutally stabbed to death in broad daylight when she was only a teenager.

“Her murderer was given 12 years in jail, but was eligible for temporary release after just 9, even though he never showed any remorse. Michelle would have been 28.

“The Scottish Conservative campaign to introduce honesty in sentencing will give victims more confidence in the justice system.

“What has been so difficult for us as a family is not just being passed from pillar to post around the justice system, but the lack of justice for Michelle.

“We will never get over Michelle’s death, but such a small sentence added so much pain to an open wound.”

 

Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary said:

“The Stewart family should be incredibly proud of their contribution to improving our justice system.

“We have heard, too often, of victims being re-traumatised by lenient sentences, automatic early release and lack of communication within the parole system.

“Ending automatic early release and implementing whole life custody sentences would help victims and their families to feel that their loss has been appropriately acknowledged.

“Introducing more honesty in sentencing will help to restore the balance of justice in the favour of victims, not criminals.”

 

Ends

Notes to editors:

Michelle’s law campaign calls on the SNP government to:

  • Explicitly require the safety and welfare of victims and their families to be taken into account when parole and early release are considered
  • Increase use of powers to impose ‘exclusion zones’ on offenders, to offer increased protection to victims and their families
  • Toughen up the Victim Notification Scheme (VNS) so victims and their families are given reasons for an offender’s release, and can make representations in person

The Scottish Conservative campaign ‘Honesty in Sentencing’ will:

  • Abolish automatic early release for all criminals with parole only considered following a risk assessment.
  • Require judges to state the length and nature of the entire sentence, for example one year in prison and six months in the community.
  • Introduce Whole Life Custody sentences for those who have committed the most appalling crimes.
  • Abolish the ban on sentences of less than a year, giving judges full discretion to decide the appropriate sentence

The Scottish Sentencing Council has revealed that 56% of respondents felt that sentencing in general was too lenient - https://www.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk/news-and-media/news/wide-ranging-survey-reveals-public-attitudes-towards-sentencing/

What are the guidelines for early release?

Determinate sentences (non-life sentences)

  • Every prisoner sentenced to under 4 years is automatically released half-way through their sentence. ‘For offenders sentenced to a determinate sentence of less than 4 years, the Parole Board has no role in determining whether or not individuals are released into the community and they will be unconditionally released at the half way point.’ (Parole Board for Scotland, Sentence Type, link).
  • This is usually without any supervision. According to the Scottish Sentencing Council, a short term prisoner ‘isn’t normally supervised by a social worker unless they are a sex offender convicted on indictment (more serious crime), or is placed on a Supervised Release Order.’ (SSC, Prison Sentences, link).
  • Prisoners given four years or more can also get out halfway. ‘For offenders sentenced to determinate sentences of four years or more, the Parole Board is invited to recommend to Scottish Ministers whether the individual offender should be released on licence at the half way point of their sentence. The Board's recommendation is binding on Scottish Ministers. If early release is not directed at the first review then the Board will reconsider the offender's case at 12 month intervals until the offender reaches their Earliest Date of Liberation.’ (Parole Board for Scotland, Sentence Type, link).

Automatic Early Release

 

The SNP claim to have abolished early automatic release, however:

  • Prisoners sentenced to 4 years or more are still automatically let out six months early. The SNP pledged to end automatic early release for all long-term offenders with determinate custodial sentences of four years or more, but ultimately the proposals – which were criticised extensively by stakeholders – only changed the point of automatic early release from two thirds through the sentence to six months before the end. This is still automatic early release with the timeframe changed. (Scottish Government, Michael Matheson MSP, 3 February 2015, link).
  • Every prisoner sentenced to under 4 years is automatically released half-way through their sentence. ‘For offenders sentenced to a determinate sentence of less than 4 years, the Parole Board has no role in determining whether or not individuals are released into the community and they will be unconditionally released at the half way point.’ (Parole Board for Scotland, Sentence Type, link).

What’s the reality of sentencing?

  • Nearly 1 in 5 determinate sentence prisoners are let out halfway. Figures from the latest Parole Board Annual Report reveal that of the 374 such prisoners reviewed for the first time in 2017-18, 72 were recommended for early release by the Board. (Parole Board for Scotland, Annual Report 2017-18, March 2019, Chapter 1, link).
  • 23 prisoners were let out in a year despite already having breached release conditions. The latest figures show 20 extended sentence prisoners were ‘re-released’ while 3 determinate sentence prisoners were released despite having already been released and recalled for breaching licence conditions. (Parole Board for Scotland, Annual Report 2017-18, March 2019, Chapter 1, link).
  • Over 70 per cent of ‘life’ prisoners spend 14 years or less in prison. Out of 1,104 ‘life sentence’ prisoners released for the first time since 1971, over 70 per cent (801) spent 14 years or less in prison. Over the last 5 years the Board convened 1,670 times to consider the release of a ‘life’ prisoner, resulting in 249 offenders being freed - a rate of 14.9 per cent. (Parole Board for Scotland, Annual Report 2017-18, March 2019, Chapter 1, page 19, page 28, link).
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