[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 23 January 2006, 11:08 GMT
Sentences to 'mean what they say'
The commission has been reviewing the early release of prisoners
New proposals to end the automatic early release of prisoners have been published by the Sentencing Commission.

But some prisoners would still be able to serve less than the full term if they were closely supervised in the community, including being tagged.

The commission's chairman said the reforms were designed to put forward a system in which the sentences imposed by the courts would mean what they say.

Lord Macfadyen said they would bring much-needed clarity in sentencing.

Our review of this complex area of our law has been thorough
Lord Macfadyen

But he warned that the proposals were not intended to increase the severity of sentencing and should not be regarded as a 'back door' opportunity to make Scotland a more penal society.

Ministers will now consider the detailed implications of the recommendations and publish their proposals in the late spring ahead of the introduction of a Sentencing Bill later this year.

At present, prisoners sentenced to less than four years are released without conditions after serving half their term.

Those sentenced to longer periods are freed on licence after completing two thirds of their sentence, though they can get out earlier on the Parole Board's recommendation.

Key recommendations in the report include:

  • A new regime for those sentenced to terms of more than 12 months involving the offender serving the whole of a minimum period, fixed by the court, in jail. After that most would then serve a further part of their sentence in the community.

  • Release at the end of the custodial part would depend on the prisoner being assessed as posing an acceptable risk to the community.

  • Those sentenced to less than 12 months could be released from prison on electronically-monitored Home Detention Curfew after not less than half the term has been served.

  • Those passing sentence should explain what it means in terms of the minimum time to be served in custody and that which may be served in the community.

  • It should be made explicit that the prison term should be the minimum period required to be served to satisfy the criminal justice requirements of punishment and deterrence and the protection of the public.

Lord Macfadyen said that the topic of early release was identified by the Scottish Executive as a top priority when it set up the commission in November 2003.

He said: "Our review of this complex area of our law has been thorough.

"We consider that the keys to improving this aspect of our criminal law are simplicity and clarity.

"We also believe that the greater transparency which we are recommending should help create a regime that is understandable. Such understanding is vital if confidence in this aspect of our criminal justice system is to be restored and maintained."

Lord Macfadyen said that the recommendations were designed to put forward a system in which the sentences imposed by the courts would mean what they say.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said: "We are committed already to ending automatic early release and replacing it with a new regime that the public, particularly victims, can understand.

"A system that, as well as punishing the offender, will allow for a sentence that can be tailored to the offender's risk and needs in a way that will enhance public protection and reduce re-offending.

"The commission's report makes a valuable contribution towards achieving our goal."

Your views on the Sentencing Commission's report:

At last reality, 10 years should mean 10 years. I heard a lady from Sacro on the radio this morning warning that prisons will be overflowing, and we should concentrate on serious crime. Every crime is a serious crime and if we ignore children committing crime they will grow up to become involved in "serious" crime. Try telling the OAP that the few pounds stolen from her to feed a habit is not serious. I have a habit, I eat and drink but I work for it. If our prison's cannot cope use disused oil platform's stationed one hundred miles north east Aberdeen. If they are good enough for oil worker they are good enough for criminals. I look at our court house building and what do I find on a daily basis, a gathering of criminals all with their Solicitors smoking and laughing while passing pensioner's are terrified to use the nearby bus stop. If a crook is locked up I feel safer, we have tried the do-gooder way long enough.
J Gardiner, Aberdeenshire

Criminal sentencing in this country is a joke. A local man was sentenced recently to 18 months in prison for corporate fraud, a year or so earlier a thug who 'glassed' another man merely got community service. Which one was of more danger to the public? I think the thug. Violent crime should always carry a custodial sentence, white collar criminals should be put to more effective use like community service. Regardless of this, sentencing should be accurate and meaningful, and those convicted should serve their full terms - not this half way nonsense!
Chris, Aberdeen

Surely 10 years should mean 10 years. I would like to see prisoners serve their full sentence. If they behave inappropriately then their sentence should be extended. Shortened sentences for good behaviour are rewarding prisoners for behaving as they are expected to do - i.e. for nothing.
Andrew Chalkley, Fort William

I was the foreman in a High Court drug dealing trial where the main defendant was sentenced to four years [which included the six months he had spent on remand ]. I thought at the time his sentence was very light for the severity of his crime. He was released 18 months later, six months after that he was back in the High Court for an even more serious drug crime which got him a sentence of six years. You would have thought the courts would have learned something given the obvious damage this man has caused the community and his 23 [yes 23] previous convictions.
Stuart Anderson, Glasgow

Yes to prisoners serving their full term unless they show efforts to rehabilitate/good behaviour. Yes to tougher sentencing for serious violent crimes. No to a return to the medieval barbarity of chopping bits off people who offend, no to torture to extract confessions, no to extremist solutions. 'Nuff said.
Neil Griffiths, Manchester UK

For a long time I have been annoyed and angry at the length criminals serve of their sentences. An automatic early release makes no sense to me, why don't judges just say the minimum they have to serve (assuming good behaviour) in court? The worst case of confusing sentencing in law I think is the "Life" sentence, meaning of course 15 years. I consider this a misleading term that's nothing more than propaganda on the judiciaries part. These changes are not before time.
Derek, Arbroath

Is it any wonder people love to come to this country and wreak havoc? Our justice system is such soft touches and the human "do gooders" rights means that most prisoners live better than decent law abiding people. To pour salt in to the wound after they get out (early nine times out of ten) they get pay offs and help? Stop this flim flam of niceties and bring back the death penalty and have prisoners serve longer times for their crimes and serve their time fully with no luxuries then we'll see how much crime their is. It's about time we took a leaf out of other countries justice system.
Clare Gallacher, Edinburgh

Prison works. Punishment works. The answer to reducing crime is simple. More police, more prisons, much longer sentences.
James Sheppard, Glasgow

Prison doesn't seem to make the slightest difference to offenders anyway. Prisons are like five star hotels, cable TV, movies and even have a weekly shopping allowance. Where is the punishment in that? The "rehabilitation" scheme has done no good but allowed offenders to blag their way out of prison and back into society. Convicts in general have more rights than the citizens that our justice system should be protecting us by. If you commit the crime you do the time, no excuses.
Jo, UK

Axing the review procedures (ascertaining if a prisoner is OK to release) will save a lot of time and money for staff and taxpayers respectively. This will reduce the cost of the burden of incarceration, however, we should accept this extra cost if we have already accepted the more lenient way in which individuals cases are considered. There was a saying in Borstals and Approved schools years ago - the 'dustbin factor'. We may not entirely rehabilitate some inmates, but at least it removes the rubbish from the streets, saves us stress, and costs us all less
Papillon, UK

My son was killed in an unprovoked attack whilst having a quiet drink in a bar. After lying to the police, his killer pleaded guilty to manslaughter but only when presented with overwhelming evidence of his crime. The judge made an imprisonment for public protection order but the killer is eligible for parole in 1 year and 70 days. I think this is shameful and sentences for taking a life should reflect the severity of the crime. England should then follow Scotland's lead in rejecting the current automatic early release.
Maria McBride, Liverpool, Merseyside

Surely the simplest and fairest solution is for courts to specify only the minimum sentence period. There would not be any right to parole before the end of that period. After that period, if the regular parole board agreed that the criminal had behaved properly and was unlikely to reoffend, he would be released, otherwise he would remain until the next parole board. If he reoffended after release, he would automatically return to prison under the original sentence to wait for a new parole board. That would be subject to any further minimum term handed down for the new offences.
Terry, London

It seems absurd to release anyone early where there is even a modest risk of the prisoner reoffending. Convicted criminals have the right to be convicted only if they are found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt; early release should not happen when there is reasonable suspicion they might re-offend.
Nic Oatridge, New York, USA

I know it sounds barbaric, but some aspects of Sharia law deserve consideration. Take Saudi. You steal something, you lose a hand. You steal something else, you lose your second hand. After that you have to resort to nicking shoes from shoe racks outside cobblers. Marvellous. As for their rights, criminals are verminous non-people and have less rights than beast in my eyes.
Stuart Edwards, Hitchin, Herts, UK

It is now time to reintroduce conscription, corporal punishment and where guilt beyond all reasonable doubt is proven capital punishment. This Labour government is far too soft an all aspects if punishment
Michael G. Marsden, Sowerby Bridge West Yorkshire

I agree that sentences should mean what they say. If a judge decides that an offence merits a six-month prison sentence, for example, the offender should serve six months. Remission should not be granted for good behaviour, extra time should be added for bad behaviour.
Peter Fielding, Oldham, Lancashire

The lenient sentences handed out for violent crime coupled with early release actually encourage more violent crime. Some might say the courts are keeping themselves in lucrative jobs.
Nick, UK

Two days before Christmas there was a break-in at my house. All the Christmas presents, plus watches, family heirlooms and jewellery were taken. The police estimated that all that stuff was swapped for heroin. The thief was eventually caught doing another robbery. He had been released early one month before the robbery in my house. Had he completed the full time there would have been a Christmas in my house, and I would still have my family heirlooms.
John Young, Falkirk

I myself would prefer a more penal system. As John Young stated he was robbed by a man released from burglary. I favour the US system in place in some states where a person who convicted on three separate occasions it is a mandatory 25 years. No parole, as they have been deemed not fit for society. Since 80% of crimes are committed by 10% of criminals we would soon see a reduction in crime rates.
David Harrison, Scotland

I feel very sorry for John Young, and of course, the problem of avoidable crime due to short sentences (whether handed down by the judge or by the amateurs on the parole board) is indefensible. One does have to wonder though whether there might be advantage to the legal profession in all this - as short sentences = more crimes = more business for lawyers.
Dave Harvey, Swansea, UK

England has become a soft touch for criminals. Thanks to all the pathetic do-gooders in this country, criminals now have more rights than decent citizens. I say stop slapping their wrists, criminals are scum and should be punished as such. We did a better job at punishing criminals in the medieval period than we do now, at least then criminals were punished. Nowadays prisons are like holiday camps, they have TVs, gyms, and other luxuries. That's probably why so many reoffend. Get rid of their luxuries, bring back capital punishment, and start punishing them.
Rob Engvikson, Shropshire

To Rob Engvikson: How do you know that "...England has become a soft touch for criminals. Thanks to all the pathetic do-gooders in this country"? Obviously you've never done "bird" yourself, and most likely you don't know of anyone who has. When we used to hang people for stealing loaves of bread 200 years ago, there was just as much crime as now. If you want to do something about the crime problem, do something constructive, like teaching prisoners skills that they'll need in the job market when they come out. Prisoners are sent to jail as punishment, and not for it.
Nigel Baldwin, Portsmouth

If England is considered soft on criminals, as Rob Engvikson says, he'd get a shock at the sentences that are passed every day in the Sheriff Courts and District Courts in Scotland. Sometimes it's not worth the police's while arresting people as they're simply not gaoled often enough. Yes, gaol is a last resort, but too many people in Scotland who have already been fined and had Community Service Orders are given another opportunity to avoid it. Those who are sent to gaol should also be sent for longer periods. Quite simply, there's no point in doing something half-heartedly and giving a very short prison sentence is doing just that.
Paul, Edinburgh

If an offender on parole/early release reoffends, they should serve not just the new crime's full sentence but the remainder of their previous. Thus a criminal on parole would know that their next sentence would be even longer.
Alister Troup, Aberdeen

Giving prisoners sentences that mean what they say takes away any hope they may have of early release, and thereby removes or reduces the incentive for good behaviour. Deprivation of liberty is the punishment, but it is supposed to be allied with the intention to encourage inmates to lead a good and useful life. This is not the way to make better citizens. Common sense is required here for the good of society as a whole.
MKjohnB, Milton Keynes

Why not grade each crime like murders are in the USA, then give minimum sentences accordingly. Then everyone involved could have a simplified understanding of the severity of the crime, and punishment due.
David Shannon, Clydebank

If a person is sentenced to four years you expect them to serve four years. There should be no automatic reduction in sentence for any reason. They are there to be punished. Parole should be exceptional not expected. This should be across the board from the shortest to the longest. Life should mean life. Think of the victims for a change.
Nigel Fawcett, Fareham, Hampshire

Why oh why can't we have such good sense concerning minimum terms and community service for England and Wales. The Scots have led on the divorce laws and are now about to do so for criminal (victim) justice. Go for it Scotland.
Tim Charsley, Cirencester, UK

What I would like is a clear statement that men and women should receive the same punishment for the same crime. I know it is never going to happen, but I dream of the day when men will be treated as well as women by the courts, by the police, in the prison system, as fathers, by the benefit and tax credit system, by the CSA, etc etc... One day equality will apply to men as well. Then I wake up and continue to be discriminated against just because I am a man. Oh well I could always move to a fairer country like China?
Ian T, Cambridge

When handing out sentences. Judges are fully aware of the likelihood of early release and so adjust their punishment accordingly i.e. if they think the crime warrants two years they may give four knowing this will not be served. While I welcome the clarification and simplification of the laws, it will not make a huge difference as judges will continue to adjust accordingly. Oh, and to Ian T of Cambridge - when women are equally represented in business, paid equal money for equal work, not made to suffer the 'all blokes together' culture that exists in the police then I might have some sympathy!
Mary, Edinburgh, Scotland

Prison terms meaning what they say sounds like simple common sense. I'm not against parole, but it should only be awarded for good behaviour to those not considered dangerous. Automatically halving sentences is ludicrous. Call a spade a spade: if a 5-year sentence is really a 2.5-year sentence why doesn't the judge just call it a 2.5-year sentence. To do otherwise means the criminal justice system lacks transparency.
Alex Wright, nr Portsmouth, S England

To Alex Wright: If the judge calls a 5 year sentence a 2.5 year sentence, then the criminal will only serve 1.25 years! Theoretically, he's doing us a favour by doubling the actual jail time with a 'proposed' sentence!
Joe Harris, Essex

A five year sentence is not cut in half to 2.5 years. Only sentences less then four years qualify for 50% remission. Sentences over 4 years only qualify for 33.3% remission which means that a five year sentence could be as short as 3.5 years. Not much consolation, I know, but let's get it right. Those thugs who brutally and senselessly killed the barman on the Thames embankment for sheer pleasure will only do about eight years. They'll be out to do it again when they're in their mid-twenties. Hardly a fitting punishment.
Jim Hargreaves, Ottawa, Canada

Considering the other story we hear is usually to do with the overcrowding of jails in Scotland it seems strange that the next step is to give prisoners longer sentences. As for the comments that prisons are like "luxury holiday camps" and "we should bring back public flogging", I wonder if these people have ever even experienced anything remotely like prison. No, they probably just soak up everything their copies of the Daily Mail tell them to.
Tom Chadwick, Cardiff, originally Fife

Doubtless this story will bring forth the usual complaints that we have the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe. The fact is that for every one person in jail, we have 712 who are not. Staying out of jail is very, very easy. Those who are in jail have no cause for complaint.
Jeremy Lowe, Watford, England

Some of the sentences being meted out by the courts, especially for violent crimes, currently appear unreasonably low. When you consider the offender will only serve 50%, they become ludicrously low. I support parole as a carrot to encourage good behaviour in prisons, but it has become the rule, not the exception. And 50% remission is excessive in all but special cases.
Martin, Coventry

Like previous views - the term originally handed down by the courts should be served in full. Never mind reducing the term for "Good Behaviour". Anything other than good behaviour should see the term increased.
Gary, Edinburgh

Forget about rehabilitation. Prison is about retribution and punishment. So make it like that, then. So unpleasant, that no one would want to go back there.
Steve J, Reading

The proposed Scottish policy is a step in the right direction. What we really need is to abolish the notion of "time off for good behaviour'' and replace it with time added on for bad behaviour. Given that community sentences seem to work no better at dealing with recidivism, the longer that criminals are kept out of circulation, the better for all of us.
Steve Bush, City & County of Bristol

Prisoners should be given time-off for good behaviour (although not as much as 50% of their sentence). Where we go wrong is with concurrent terms. Prisoner's should serve a term for each offence, and the tariff should be increased, substantially, for each repeat offence (but with time-off for those who confess repeat offences). That would discourage repeat offences and ensure that repeat offenders were imprisoned for a time which reflected their repeated crimes.
Chris, UK

Would be a lot simpler if a sentencing already incorporated good behaviour. Hence four years means four years if you behave and more if you don't! No ambiguity there.
Chris, Manchester UK

Detention doesn't work. We need to stop taking such a soft approach with criminals and make the punishment fit the crime. Castrate rapists, hang murderers, publicly flog people found guilty of serious assault and chop the hands off thieves. I'm fairly certain we'd see a drop in crime figures in a very short time. Yes, it's hard line, but it would be a damned sight more effective than the current system.
Charlie Boyd, Edinburgh

To Charlie Boyd: What do you say to the people who are mistakenly found guilty. With custodial sentences if a miscarriage of justice occurs then person is still alive and not physically mutilated.
Stuart Millinship, London, UK

Exactly why are prisoners being released unconditionally before they finish their sentences? A sentence of four years should mean a sentence of four years, not two years, not 18 months if they get parole. Making a sentence mean what it says it is would certainly reduce confusion, and indeed improve the credibility, and integrity of the justice system.
Matthew, London

At last a bit of common sense coming from the top. Having served 27 years in the service and seen prisoners released who caused a lot of trouble whilst serving their sentence, this will now make every prisoner earn the right for earlier release. I would also say it will make the job of the prison officer a lot better.
William Sutherland, San Vicente del Raspeig Alicante Spain

See the commission's proposals being unveiled

Possible rise in inmate numbers
25 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Prison report overcrowding fears
27 Sep 05 |  Scotland
Courts 'should jail more people'
28 Jul 05 |  Scotland

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific