Victims 'taunted' as Scotland releases 500 inmates early to relieve packed jails

Victims are being taunted by criminals who are being released early from Scotland's prisons today under emergency plans to tackle overcrowding, Sky News has been told.

Jails across the UK are in crisis with governors in England and Wales warning they could run out of space within days.

From this morning, the SNP government in Edinburgh is allowing more than 500 Scottish inmates, serving short term sentences, out early in a bid to tackle the issue.

Prisoners inside for under four years who have 180 days or less left to serve are being released in waves over the coming weeks across all Scottish prisons.

Sex offenders and domestic abusers are among those exempt, with governors handed a veto.

The charity Victim Support Scotland told Sky News the system will lead to reoffending.

Kate Wallace, its chief executive, said: "The last time this happened, over 40% had re-offended within six months. That created more victims, and we are fully expecting that to be the case again.

"Victims are concerned about the risks to their own personal safety, and we are aware already of some prisoners who have been in contact with victims saying that they are going to be released, and it being used as a coercive control tool."

The prison population in Scotland is almost 8,300, more than exceeding the target operating capacity of 8,007.

The Scottish Prison Service insists safety is a priority.

A spokesman said: "Governors have vetoed anyone they found posed an immediate risk to individuals or groups, with the help of intelligence from police and social work."

Latest Ministry of Justice figures show English and Welsh jails currently have 87,395 inmates, with maximum spaces standing at 88,778.

The Prison Governors' Association (PGA) claims police will be unable to detain people because there's not enough room behind bars.

Some inmates in England and Wales are being freed up to 70 days early in a similar move to Scotland.

However, the Ministry of Justice was unable to tell Sky News how many convicts have been granted freedom since the system came into force in May.

The crisis has been put in to sharp focus with just days to go until the general election.

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Overcrowding is likely to be one of the biggest first challenges for whoever takes the reins at 10 Downing St.

The Conservatives previously pledged 20,000 new prison places by the mid-2020s but only 6,000 have been created so far. The Tory manifesto now aims to deliver the plan by 2030.

Labour also plan to create 20,000 spaces by allowing ministers to override local authorities on planning decisions.

But speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Sir Keir Starmer did not say whether he would scrap the early release system despite being heavily critical of the government's strategy.

The Liberal Democrats promise to end overcrowding completely.

Scottish Justice Secretary Angela Constance said: "Immediate and urgent action is needed to deal with the significant recent rise in the prison population.

"In cases of emergency release, we have added two other ways to receive information.

"Victims can go through one of four named victim support organisations who can request information about a prisoner's release on their behalf.

"Alternatively, a victim can contact the Scottish Prison Service directly to request that information."