Home leave for murderers without full scrutiny must be stopped

Home leave for murderers without full scrutiny must be stopped

by Liam Kerr
article from Monday 26, March, 2018

IN FEBRUARY, murderer Robbie McIntosh was convicted of a brutal attempted murder on an innocent Dundee dog-walker, whilst on home leave prior to being considered for parole.

McIntosh had previously been sentenced to a minimum of 15 years after being found guilty of stabbing a woman 29 times, murdering her in 2002. He was allowed to spend one week per month at his mother’s home while serving the final portion of his assigned punishment period as preparation for consideration for release on parole.

McIntosh was given leave on 2 August last year, the 16th anniversary of the murder. 5 days later he carried out his viciousattempted murder on dog walker, Linda McDonald, in Templeton Woods, Dundee.

This appalling case raises serious questions about our justice system and has led the Scottish Conservatives to demand a review into home leave for dangerous criminals.

Home leave is a temporary release available to prisoners. Temporary release is where a prisoner is given access to the community for up to 8 days at a time before parole. This is sometimes for compassionate or health reasons, or to prepare an offender for full release.

Home leave, in particular, is considered a very important aspect of the rehabilitation process that aids prisoners’ maintenance of family contact and assists in an offender’s reintegration into life outside of a detention facility.

The Scottish Prison Service claim that, before being granted home leave, an offender undergoes review including a psychological report, analysis of behaviour while in prison and social work reports and that a number of checks are undertaken with the police, community based social workers, health professionals and other agencies. By nature, however, home leave is granted before a prisoner is evaluated by a parole board, as the offender’s conduct is a strong piece of evidence in the consideration and granting of a parole licence.

Parole boards employ more systematic mechanisms to clear an offender for long-term release, and when an offender is cleared by the thorough evaluation and released the continuity of that release is contingent on a strict set of parameters set out in the licence agreement made between the offender and the parole board.

However, the process by which an offender is granted temporary release before being appraised and scrutinised by a parole board can be seen as counterintuitive and dangerous in the cases of high-risk offenders and life sentence prisoners.

Following the McIntosh case, the Scottish Prison Service undertook a review of the process of granting home leave, but is it not vital that a more in-depth evaluation is undertaken?

A freedom of information request revealed that in the past three financial years, the number of incidents and breaches of agreements on home leave have decreased, yet despite the encouraging statistics a disastrous incident such as the re-offence of Robbie McIntosh was still able to occur.

The family of Mr. McIntosh’s most recent victim also seeks a wider probe into the issue and hope that that investigation will lead to the implementation of stricter policies preventing dangerous individuals such as McIntosh being released into the community.

This case may be an extreme example, but it taps into a wider public concern.

A freedom of information request revealed that in 2017 alone there were 4,160 instances of home leave being granted and of the 4,160 instances there were 27 incidents that occurred on home leave in the 2016-2017 financial year. Many of these instances of home leave were without supervision.

The SPS state that only those prisoners whose risks have been very carefully assessed as manageable in the community are given temporary release. However, these figures show otherwise. Incidents occur when warning signs go undetected and there is a lack of supervision.

It is the anticipation of the general public that prisoners are supposed to serve their sentences, and that expectation does not seem unreasonable. Offenders such as Robbie McIntosh, who are convicted of murder are handed down deserved life sentences under the law. But life sentences incur, a punishment period of much less than life. The longest punishment period served in a Scottish Prison was thirty-seven years, after which the offender was released on parole.

The issue was raised and the Scottish Government’s leniency came into light at First Minister’s Questions on 22 February 2018, when Ruth Davidson criticised the government’s ‘soft touch’ approach when it comes to the release of prisoners and challenged Nicola Sturgeon to stop home leave for convicted murderers.

In response, Nicola Sturgeon denied there were any such problems or that that was her Government’s approach.

The Scottish Conservatives are demanding that the government develop a stricter criterion for the granting of home leave that refuses to allow for high risk life sentence offenders to be released into the community without being properly evaluated and supervised.

Speaking outside the court following the conviction, Mrs McDonald's husband said: "We are confident in the judgement passed today and it will hopefully mean life means life”.

Of course, he shouldn’t have to simply “hope” and I intend to bring forward a private members’ bill to Parliament later this year that will grant powers to judges to give Whole Life Sentences.

In the meantime, home leave for convicted murderers before being properly scrutinised by a parole board must be stopped. We must act in a way that favours and protects innocent victims instead of criminals and correct this broken policy before another family is subjected to danger at the hands of a convicted criminal.

Liam Kerr is a Conservative MSP for the North East of Scotland and shadow Justice Secretary

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