Prisoners could spend less time in jail under plans to ease overcrowding.

The Scottish Government is asking for views on proposals to change the point of release under license conditions.

It would apply to those serving sentences of four years or more and see a managed return to the community.

The aim is to reduce the pressure on the prison estate.

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Early release would not apply to prisoners serviing time for violent or sexual offences.

Just now, prisoners serving long-term sentences are released under community supervision six months before the end of their sentence.

The new plan would see people released after they have served two thirds of their time.

The prisoners would ne be “free” but subject to license conditions, supervision and ultimately recall to custody.

 Angela Constance, Justice Secretary, said there would be strict supervision in place.

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She said: “Supervision is a commonly used element of custodial sentences – as part of efforts to prepare individuals nearing their return to the community to settle and ultimately to not re-offend.

“Our proposals would bring forward the point at which long-term prisoners are released so individuals spend more time under licence conditions in the community before the end of their sentence.

“Individuals would continue to serve their sentence but do so in the community under strict supervision, which can improve reintegration back into society and reduce the risk of re-offending.”

She said the high number of people in prison was a factor in the plan but not at the expense of public safety.

She added: “We are considering these measures to find a better balance between the time spent in custody and time supervised in the community, particularly following the recent increase in the prison population when Scotland already has one of the highest in Western Europe.

“Public safety will be paramount. Release under licence conditions means strict community supervision and specific support in place informed by robust individual risk assessments of prisoners.”

Opposition politicians said the plan was a risk to the public.

A Scottish Conservative spokesperson said: “This is yet another broken promise from the SNP to victims of crime. Nicola Sturgeon promised to end automatic early release for all criminals, but never fulfilled that pledge.

“Now the SNP want to release dangerous criminals who have served just two-thirds of their sentence which if enacted would pose a serious risk to public safety.

“The fact that these plans are even being proposed is systematic of the SNP’s failure to invest in our prison estate which is crumbling at the seams.

“The needs of criminals have yet again been put above the needs of victims in the SNP’s justice system. The Scottish Conservatives would end automatic early release for good, so that criminals have to demonstrate good behaviour before being release, rather than being let off scot-free.”