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Keith Brown: Proposed changes to imprisonment ‘smart justice, not soft justice’

Justice Secretary Keith Brown, left, with governor David Abernethy during a visit to Edinburgh Prison (Jane Barlow/PA)
Justice Secretary Keith Brown, left, with governor David Abernethy during a visit to Edinburgh Prison (Jane Barlow/PA)

Proposals to change the way imprisonment is used in Scotland are “not soft justice, but smart justice”, Keith Brown has said.

The Justice Secretary was speaking on a visit to HMP Edinburgh following the publication of the Scottish Government’s Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill.

The legislation looks to refocus the way remand is used in Scotland’s prisons, with an emphasis on reserving it for those who pose a risk to public safety or wilfully fail to turn up for trials.

The Bill also aims to put greater focus on offering rehabilitation to help people resettle in their communities.

Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill
Justice Secretary Keith Brown visited a self-management and recovery training workshop at HMP Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Proposals include issuing new national standards for support for those leaving prison, as well as putting an end to releases taking place on Fridays or the day before a public holiday in order to offer more support access.

A new test for the courts to apply when deciding to remand accused persons in custody would be put in place and complainer safety would be recognised as a specific factor in decision-making, while information about prisoner release would be provided to victims’ organisations.

The Justice Secretary said the changes are intended to limit “damaging effects” for those kept on remand, which he described as a “cost to society”.

“We want to make sure we can limit that damage where possible, but it will be done consistently with public protection, as the courts have always done,” Mr Brown told the PA news agency.

Recovery workshop at HMP Edinburgh
Jade Wishart, from Change Grow Live, works with inmates in the Smart (self-management and recovery training) workshop (Jane Barlow/PA)

“If somebody doesn’t present a danger to the public, if they don’t present a danger to the justice system – and by that I mean they’re not in danger of trying to tamper with a jury, or to continually not appear in court when they should appear in court – then they can be released on bail.”

The Justice Secretary said that as a result of the legislation, prisoners should see “much more active interests” from public agencies offering throughcare services.

He continued: “Even though sometimes you’ll see some headlines saying ‘this is soft justice’, the very fact that we can prepare somebody who’s been in prison to live a life without crime has got to be something which we all want to subscribe to, we all want to see that happen.

“To me, if we do that, and do it properly through throughcare at the same time as looking after the interests of victims, then that really has to be not soft justice, but smart justice.”

Jamie Greene, justice spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, labelled the Bill as “reckless” and suggested it “risks endangering public safety”.

Mr Greene said: “This reckless Bill is designed to empty Scotland’s prisons at a time when violent and serious crime is rising. It risks endangering public safety and frankly is an insult to victims of crime.

“As well as giving SNP ministers sweeping powers to release prisoners early without parliamentary scrutiny, a blanket move to increase the number given bail is complete madness.”

He added: “This Bill is further proof of the SNP’s soft-touch approach to justice at a time when they should be getting tougher due to rising violent crime levels.