Monday, 21 September 2009

Scottish compassion doesn't just apply to high profile cases

When Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds it caused a lot of passionate feelings to come forward. Radio phone-ins, online message boards and newspaper letters columns were full of people venting opinion both in agreement and against Kenny MacAskill's decision.

My feeling was that the Scottish Justice Secretary had got it right, and that our society is better for showing such compassion. Of course conspiracies abounded and unusually there was some truth to this as Jack Straw has said that oil and trade considerations played a part in setting up a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Libya.

I did wonder how common it was for prisoners to be released on compassionate grounds, and whether the nature of their offences affected this at all, but I hadn't seen any information about this anywhere. So I went to and used the guidance available there to make my first request under the Freedom of Information Act. I wanted to know how many prisoners in Scotland had applied for release on compassionate grounds, how many were granted their freedom, what crimes they had been convicted of and how long their sentences had been. To provide a limit to the scope of the request I asked for information going back to the start of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Today I got a response, exactly 20 working days after making my request.

The headline is that 33 prisoners applied for early release on compassionate grounds and that 26 had this granted (79%).

Five of the 26 were serving life for murder and one for culpable homicide.

15 were due to be in jail for five years or more - assuming they'd serve their whole sentence.

So what does this add to the debate? It looks as if Mr MacAskill was acting along the line of other such decisions made by theScottish government, and Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi certainly isn't the only person to be treated with such compassion by Scotland.

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