Release from prison
This information applies to Scotland only
Coronavirus - early release
From 4 May 2020, some people can be released early from prison. This is to reduce the pressure on prisons caused by coronavirus.
You can be released early if you:
- were sentenced to 18 months or less
- had 90 days or less left to serve in custody on 4 May 2020, and
- weren’t convicted of certain types of offences such as sexual offences, terrorism offences, domestic abuse or a coronavirus related offence.
If you have coronavirus, you won’t be released early. You’ll have to wait until you get better or until you reach the end of your sentence, whichever happens first.
Prison governors can stop someone being released early if they think there’s a risk of harm to someone in the community. Read more about coronavirus and prisons in Scotland.
Prisoners serving a sentence of less than four years are released automatically and unconditionally after serving half their sentence in custody. There are different conditions for sex offenders serving short sentences.
Prisoners serving a sentence of less than four years may be released from prison up to six months early with an electronic tag. This is known as home detention curfew. Prisoners on home detention curfew will continue to serve their sentence during the home detention curfew and could be recalled to prison. A prisoner can be released on home detention curfew to an address in England, Wales or Scotland. Find out more about home detention curfew on the Families Outside website.
Prisoners serving a sentence of four years or more are considered by the parole board for parole after serving half their sentence. If the parole board grants parole, the prisoner will be released on licence. If parole is not granted (at this point or at a later parole hearing), then the point at which the prisoner is released will depend on the date that they were sentenced:
- if the prisoner was sentenced before 1 February 2016 and is not released on parole, then they are automatically released on licence after serving two thirds of their sentence. The prisoners remains on licence and can be recalled to custody at any point until the expiry of their sentence
- if the prisoner was sentenced on or after 1 February 2016 and parole is not granted, then they are automatically released on licence when they have only 6 months of their sentence left to serve. The prisoner remains on licence and can be called back into custody at any point until the expiry of their sentence.
Prisoners can be released on parole if the Parole Board decides that they will not present an unacceptable risk if released. They have the right to choose not be considered for parole.
When prisoners are released on parole, the release will be on licence with certain conditions attached to it. If prisoners break any of the conditions they can have parole denied and be returned to prison.
The parole eligibility date is the earliest date that a prisoner could be released on parole. If prisoners have a sentence of more than four years they will be told of their parole eligibility date.
If prisoners are refused parole they can be considered for parole again. They may also be given a date on which they will be released on parole.
Find out more about parole on the Parole Board for Scotland website
For details of useful organisations see Information for prisoners and their families.
Prisoners serving a short term sentence of less than four years but more than six months who have been convicted of a sex offence that requires registration under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 will be released on licence after serving half of their sentence. They will then remain on licence and could be recalled to custody at any point until the expiry of their sentence.
Short term prisoners serving sentences for sex offences are not eligible to be released on home detention curfew.
For life prisoners the rules are slightly different depending on whether the prisoner was sentenced before 8 October 2001 or on or after 8 October 2001.
Sentences passed on or after 8 October 2001
Prisoners who have been sentenced to life imprisonment or detention without limit of time have a punishment part to their sentence set in open court by a sentencing judge. The decision on the punishment part can be appealed. Once the punishment part of the sentence has been served the Parole Board sitting as a tribunal will decide if the prisoner should be released on life licence. See below for information on Release on life licence.
Sentences passed before 8 October 2001
If a sentence was passed before 8 October 2001, existing adult mandatory life prisoners will be given a punishment part to their sentence at a hearing before a High Court judge. The punishment part will be set in open court. Once the punishment part of the sentence has been served the Parole Board sitting as a tribunal will decide if the prisoner should be released on life licence. See below for information on Release on life licence.
Release on life licence
Once the punishment part of the sentence has been served life prisoners can have the grounds of their continued imprisonment or detention reviewed by the Parole Board.
The prisoner has the right to be present at the Parole Board hearing and to be represented.
If the decision of the Parole Board is that the prisoner should not be released on life licence the prisoner has the right to be seen again no more than two years after the decision, but could be seen earlier. There is no right to appeal against the decision of the Parole Board.
There are conditions to the licence. If prisoners break these conditions they can be returned to prison immediately.
If you want more information on release of prisoners, you should contact a specialist adviser.
For details of useful organisations, see Information for prisoners and their families.