Benefit to victims through reforms to imprisonment and bail.
New legislation which proposes changes to the way imprisonment is used in Scotland - while placing victims at its heart - has been published.
The Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill will refocus the way remand is used, with an emphasis on remand being reserved for those who pose a risk to public safety, or those who wilfully fail to turn up for their trials meaning justice will not be delivered for victims.
The Bill also aims to give a greater focus to the rehabilitation and reintegration of people leaving prison to help them resettle in their communities.
The changes are designed to lead to greater public protection and victim safety and are intended to reduce crime, reoffending and victimisation.
Proposals include the publication of new national standards for support for people leaving prison, ending release on a Friday or the day before a public holiday so people are better able to access support and a new test the court needs to apply when deciding whether to refuse bail and to remand accused persons in custody.
The Bill will also enable the provision of information about prisoner release to victims’ organisations to inform the support they provide and will explicitly recognise complainer safety as a specific factor in how the court makes decisions on bail.
Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans Keith Brown said there will be a continued focus on cutting crime and reoffending, creating fewer victims, with reconviction rates already at one of the lowest comparable levels since records began and recorded crime lower than in the early 1970s.
Mr Brown said:
“We know that short-term imprisonment in particular disrupts families and communities, adversely affecting health, employment opportunities and housing – the very things that we know prevent reoffending.
“This Bill recognises prison will always be necessary for the most serious cases, but we need to look again at how custody is used. The Bill sets out proposals which will refocus the use of remand and support the rehabilitation and reintegration of people leaving custody, for example through improved release planning and support.
“This is an important step in the Scottish Government’s commitment to transforming the justice sector and a commitment to refocus how imprisonment is used. We know our approach is working, reconviction rates and recorded crime are at historically low levels.
“I visited HMP Edinburgh to witness the excellent work the Scottish Prison Service is doing to prepare people to return to their communities, including supporting recovery from addiction. The Bill aims to build on that excellent work, providing further opportunities to support reintegration.”
The Bill’s publication was informed by a 12 week public consultation which sought views on how custody should be used in a modern and progressive society.
Victims: key points
- The Bill’s proposals explicitly recognise victim safety as a specific factor in decision-making on bail – with a greater focus on using remand for those who pose a risk of serious harm.
- The Bill makes clear the concept of victim safety includes considerations of both physical and psychological harm to the alleged victim.
- The consultation also sought views on providing victim support organisations with information about release of prisoners so that the most effective support can be provided. That proposal was widely supported and the Bill contains provisions which will deliver this.
- The Scottish Government will continue to work with victims’ organisations to ensure this legislation and other policy initiatives continue to have victim safety at their heart.
Release from custody: Key points
- The Bill includes reforms to improve pre-release planning and the support provided to individuals on release from prison – recognising that a range of universal services have a role to play.
- That includes the introduction of a pre-release planning duty on named public bodies which recognises the need for early and holistic pre-release planning so that people leaving prison have access to the services they need to reduce their risk of reoffending and settle effectively in their communities.
- The Bill also requires Scottish Ministers to publish national statutory throughcare standards, aimed at improving the consistency of support for people leaving prison.
- These measures will build on existing good practice across Scotland, ensuring effective and joined up support for people leaving prison is available across the country.
- In recognition of the fact people need to be given the best opportunity to engage with the services they need in their communities after they are released from prison, the Bill proposes ending release on Fridays and the day before a public holiday.
- The Bill also introduces a new approach to structured and monitored temporary release – with an emphasis on risk assessment and community support and management to support reintegration.
- The Bill introduces a new permanent power to release certain groups of prisoners in an emergency to protect the security and good order of prisons and the health, safety and wellbeing of prisoners and prison staff
Bail: Key points
- Any decision on bail is for the independent courts to take, in every case. What the Bill aims to do is refocus how remand is used though changes to the legal framework.
- These changes place a greater emphasis on refusal of bail as being a last resort, reserved for those who pose a risk to public safety or, in certain cases, the delivery of justice.
- The Bill also enhances the role justice social work play in informing critical decisions on a person’s liberty – recognising their expertise and experience in risk assessment and management.
- As part of emphasising that custody is a last resort when dealing with people not convicted of an offence, the Bill makes provision requiring the court to state and record reasons for refusal of bail.
- And the Bill also introduces a requirement on the court to have regard to time spent on electronically monitored bail when imposing a custodial sentence.
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