SNP’s offenders bill a ‘ruse to empty jails’

25 Jun 2019

The SNP’s bill to increase the tagging and monitoring of offenders has been branded a “ruse to empty jails” by the Scottish Conservatives.

The Scottish Government’s Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill is expected to be voted through by the nationalists, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens later this evening.

It will see more prisoners avoid jail and instead be handed community sentences, albeit with more advanced monitoring of their movements.

A raft of suggestions by shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr to toughen up the bill and improve public safety have been rejected by other political parties, despite having the support of victims’ groups.

That includes the remarkable decision to reject making cutting off an electronic tag a criminal offence.

The Scottish Conservatives also wanted to see an improvement in the completion rates of Community Payback Orders before they could be more heavily relied upon.

As it stands, nearly a third of such orders are never completed, and just 40 per cent of Drug Treatment Testing Orders are seen through to the end by the offender involved.

The party have also been critical of the fact a quarter of CPOs don’t include any unpaid work or activity, and hundreds of such orders take months to commence.

These failings led Victim Support Scotland to observe that “communities have no faith in community sentencing”.

Mr Kerr also attempted to move a raft of amendments which would reintroduce the word “offender” into the legislation, which were rejected.

Labour had previously insisted the word be replaced with “relevant person”.

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said:

“It’s clear that the SNP is using this bill as a ruse to empty prisons.

“Instead of improving the rehabilitation system and properly resourcing jails, the nationalists would rather watch dangerous criminals walk free from court.

“We firmly oppose this bill because we are completely unsatisfied that risk assessments for electronic monitoring or response to breaches are robust enough for the victims of crime.

“It is completely unacceptable that cutting off a tag will not be deemed a criminal offence, something that will just embolden the most dangerous of individuals who already have contempt for the law.

“And it’s not just the SNP which is letting down victims of crime with this soft-touch approach.

“Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens should have a long hard look at themselves for not standing up to this too.”