Long-term prisoner release process: consultation

We are seeking views on changing the point of release under licence conditions for people serving a custodial sentence of four years or more.

Current arrangements for the release for long-term prisoners


31. A long-term prisoner is defined as a prisoner serving a sentence of imprisonment of exactly four years or more.

32. Under the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993,[8] most long-term prisoners become eligible for release on licence (“parole licence”) at the halfway point of their sentence. This does not mean that they are automatically released at that point, but rather that their case will be referred to the Parole Board for Scotland for consideration. The Parole Board will consider any matter which is relevant to the case as set out in Rule 11 of the Parole Board (Scotland) Rules 2022.[9] This can include justice social work reports and risk assessments, as well as information provided by SPS. If recommended by the Parole Board the prisoner must then be released.

33. If a prisoner has not been recommended for parole, at that point or any subsequent parole review, long-term prisoners sentenced on or after 1 February 2016 must be released as soon as they have only 6 months of their sentence left to serve. This is to ensure that most individuals spend at least that period of time on licence and under supervision in the community before the sentence end date, allowing for better reintegration following custody. This is known as release on “non-parole licence”. These release arrangements do not apply to:

  • those already released;
  • those who have been recalled from parole licence;
  • those serving an extended sentence;
  • those serving a life sentence; and
  • those serving sentences for certain terrorism offences.

34. Prior to 1 February 2016, all long-term prisoners served at least one third of their sentence in the community (i.e. they were released at the two thirds point of sentence). This was changed to the minimum period of 6 months by the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Act 2015.[10] The previous position still applies to prisoners sentenced before that change took effect. This means that prisoners sentenced before 1 February 2016 are still released on non-parole licence after having served two thirds of their sentence.

Non–parole licence conditions

35. Those released on non-parole licence are subject to individualised risk assessment to plan for their release, and licence conditions reflect the conclusion of that risk assessment and the recommendations of the Parole Board. The Parole Board considers any victims’ representations when making their licence condition recommendations, as well as other information as provided by justice social work and SPS.

36. Non-parole licence conditions must include requiring the individual to report to a supervising officer, to cooperate with that supervising officer and abide by all conditions named on the licence – for example, informing their supervising officer of a change of circumstances such as change of address or a change of employment. Additionally, depending on the circumstances of the case, licence conditions may include curfew requirements, which can be electronically monitored, and requirements to engage with certain services in the community (e.g. drug and alcohol services). The conditions of licence can also allow for the completion of offender behaviour programmes in the community.

37. Those released on non-parole licence are subject to being recalled to prison, if this is recommend by the Parole Board. Unless subsequently recommended for release on parole licence by the Parole Board, the individual would serve the full remaining term of their sentence in custody following recall.

38. Committing a further criminal offence could be a breach of licence conditions and may result in recall to custody by the Parole Board. The court may impose a custodial sentence in relation to the new offence having regard to the offence being committed while on licence.

39. Individuals who have been convicted of sexual offences (and some violent offences) will also be subject to Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements, ensuring ongoing case management planning to address any identified issues post release.


40. These release arrangements do not apply to those on extended sentences, where the custodial part of their sentence is set out by the court. Extended sentences can be imposed when a person is convicted of a violent or sexual offence and the court deems it appropriate to protect the public from serious harm. The court determines the custodial part of the sentence followed by a further period of supervision in the community, which is the extension part. This consultation does not propose any change to the release process for extended sentence prisoners.

41. The High Court also has the power to impose an Order for Lifelong Restriction (OLR) in the most serious cases, meaning that following the custodial part of the sentence a person will be subject to lifelong risk management. This consultation does not propose any changes to that process.

42. Non-parole licence release arrangements do not apply to those serving certain terrorism sentences, for which there is a separate release process. Individuals serving a life sentence are also subject to a different release pathway. This consultation does not propose any changes to these processes.

43. Those who have previously been released on parole licence and subsequently recalled are also not eligible for release on non-parole licence. Those prisoners are still eligible for release on parole licence only, if they are again recommended for release by the Parole Board. This consultation does not propose any changes to that part of the process.

Victim notification

44. The Victim Notification Scheme (VNS) applies where someone is sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment or more. A victim may also nominate a prescribed victim support organisation[11] (VSO) to receive information under the VNS on their behalf, or as well as the victim. It is up to an individual victim to choose if they wish to join the scheme, or nominate a VSO to receive information.

45. Under the VNS, a victim has two key rights: the right to information,[12] and the right to make representations.[13] Under the right to information, victims can receive certain information about a prisoner in relation to their case, including the date of release.

46. Under the right to representation,[14] victims can make written representations to the Parole Board about its consideration to release the relevant prisoner, and about licence conditions that might be specified. The right to make written representations includes release on non-parole licence. Victims will be told if that person is released, and about any licence conditions which relate to contact with the victim or the victim’s family.

Release planning and support on release

47. A pre-release case management process is conducted by SPS in collaboration with justice social work and other relevant bodies to plan the supervision that will be put in place for release on non-parole licence. Support and supervision are put in place by justice social work following an individual’s release.

48. New statutory duties will be introduced by the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Act 2023[15] (the 2023 Act) to improve the provision of support for individuals leaving prison.

49. Upon commencement, section 12 of the 2023 Act will bring in specific duties for public bodies to engage with release planning when requested to do so and for these partners to have regard to the role that the third sector might play in the development, management and delivery of prisoner release plans. Under section 13 of that Act, Scottish Ministers will be required to publish standards of throughcare support and public bodies will have a duty to comply with these standards.

50. When commenced section 9 of the 2023 Act will introduce a new temporary release licence for long-term prisoners intended to provide individuals with more opportunities to make positive connections in their community and provide further evidence to the Parole Board.

51. Planning for the commencement and implementation of these provisions is underway. This includes working with our justice partners on the implementation plans for the Act to consider resource requirements, workforce implications and timescales for commencement of each section.


Email: communityjustice.consult@gov.scot

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