INMATES released from prison over the festive period were “set up to fail” with little or no services in place to help with rehabilitation, it has been claimed.

Figures obtained by the Glasgow Times reveal hundreds of inmates were freed from Scottish prisons on Christmas Eve, Hogmanay and on Fridays during the festive period – leaving them with a “race against time” to access the essential services needed to help integrate back into society before they close for the day.

At HMP Barlinnie in Riddrie, 14 lags were released on December 24, with a further 21 on December 31.

Similar figures were evident on Fridays during the festive period, with 11 inmates being released on December 27, and six being freed on January 3.

At the nearby HMP Low Moss in Bishopbriggs, six offenders were released on Christmas Eve with 12 being let out on Hogmanay.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) says anyone released is given support to make a “successful transition”, however experts have cast doubt over these claims.

Glasgow Times:

READ MORE: Glasgow's most and least deprived areas revealed - find your area

Dr Hannah Graham, a criminologist at Stirling University, said: “Access to services and support for reintegration is vital in the first hours and days of leaving prison.

“Time is of the essence. It’s about meeting basic human needs and rights – medication, accommodation, food, ID – from day one.”

“Given the numbers liberated from prisons like Barlinnie on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, it’s difficult to see how community justice, housing and health services would have had time to help when offices were closed or at reduced capacity?”

In October last year, our sister title The Herald revealed that thousands of people were missing out on a new piece of legislation intended on reducing reoffending after being released on a Friday.

The Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Act 2015 was intended to give those due for release on a Friday the ability to be let out of jail one or two days early, giving them a better chance to access support such as housing or medical services.

Experts say these services are crucial as some prisoners deliberately commit crimes to go back into custody if they are left without food, medication or shelter on release.

But by October last year, only 15 prisoners had their release brought forward as a result of the act since it was introduced three years earlier.

Addressing the legislation, Dr Graham added: “Flexible release is a sensible policy that needs to be properly implemented by the Scottish Prison Service and community justice, so people don’t get stuck without options over a weekend or public holidays over the festive break.

“Scotland has had this policy for a few years now, it’s time to get on with actually using it.”

Glasgow Times:

READ MORE: Mike Dailly: Joined-up approach can help to cut reoffending

Our figures show that, between December 23 and January 3, more than 300 lags were released from prisons across the country.

At Barlinnie, a total of 70 inmates were left facing the possibility of missing out on vital services over the period, while at Low Moss Prison, 40 offenders faced the same potential fate.

Pete White, who founded the now closed charity Positive Prison? Positive Futures, told the Glasgow Times of his disappointment over the lack of implementation of the policy.

He said: “Given that people released from prison on Fridays were more likely to reoffend, suffer overdose, commit self-harm or suicide, it was seen to be a very helpful and positive initiative that would lead to fewer people becoming victims of crime.

“It is therefore a matter of great shame for the SPS that over 300 liberations were made during the festive period on days when access to services for housing healthcare and welfare may well be closing early or shut all day.

“Given that flexible release has been available to prison governors since February 2016, it seems astonishing that this has not been put to use.

“I very much doubt if any of these liberation dates come as any surprise to the entire justice system so why should it be the case that no planning is taken place to give people leaving prison a better chance to connect with vital services and support before they close down for holidays or a weekend.”

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr added: “There is a risk of setting people up to fail and there is clearly a risk to the public if dangerous individuals are set free and there’s nothing in place to make sure their integration goes according to plan. This is just more evidence of an SNP government which isn’t serious about keeping the streets of Scotland safe or rehabilitating criminals properly and fails to plan properly.”

A Scottish Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Anyone released from prison is given support including a discharge grant and are encouraged to engage with local government and third sector services.

“SPS continues to work with our partner agencies to ensure that those who are released ultimately make a successful transition back into society.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson added: “As the SPS said, they support individuals being released from prison, and we are working with the SPS and other public services to improve the support available to individuals, whatever day they are released.

“SPS do not release individuals on weekend days or public holidays. By law, individuals whose scheduled release date falls on those days are released on the nearest appropriate earlier day. This allows SPS to manage the release process properly, and enables individuals to seek support from public services when they are released.

“We are in contact with the SPS to keep the use of the Flexible Release process under review, alongside wider improvements to support reintegration.

“The Flexible Release regulations allow the SPS to release a prisoner up to two days early, but only when an external organisation requests them to do so, so they can support that individual more effectively after their release.

“The SPS consider any applications they receive on a case-by-case basis.”