PRISON bosses have been condemned for sending nearly half the inmates at a Scottish jail home in time for Christmas.
HMP Castle Huntly, in Longfornan near Dundee, will release 108 criminals back into their communities over the festive period – some of them lifers.
The jail, Scotland’s only open prison, holds 230 inmates, many of whom are preparing for release after serving lengthy sentences from crimes including murder.
In March this year, lifer Daniel Somers absonced from Castle Huntly, prompting a police appeal.
The next month the convicted murderer was traced and arrested in Glasgow.
In June this year, Michael Ridge, serving four consecutive sentences totalling 12 years, absconded from Castle Huntly just three hours after arriving there from another prison.
He was later caught around eight miles away.
Conservatives and Labour politicians questioned the move, with Tory MSP Liz Smith warning victims of crime could be deeply hurt to see offenders walking the streets again.
Ms Smith, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said: “For many families this is a difficult time of year and for victims of crime it can be extremely hurtful for them to see prisoners back in the community for Christmas.
“Obviously the arrangements for an open prison are different from other prisons and therefore there will be some prisoners whose strong record of good behaviour has merited the decision to allow them to go home for Christmas.
“However, I think questions will be asked as to why we are to see such a high level of release taking place.”
Dundee MP Jim McGovern warned there must be proper scrutiny of prisoners before they are released.
He said: “They must look very carefully at who is given a licence to temporarily leave during the Christmas period and the rest of the year.”
Scottish Labour’s community safety spokeswoman Jenny Marra MSP said: “I would hope that all those who have been offered a home visit have been suitably risk assessed and that there is deemed to be no risk of absconding.
“While prisoners should be able to maintain family connections, this must not be at the expense of the public knowing that sentences will be served and those who are allowed out are deemed suitable for such treatment.”
An SPS spokesman moved to reassure politicians checks were in place to ensure public safety.
He said: “A full risk assessment is carried out before release.
“They’re released on licence and there are strict conditions that they have got to adhere to.”
The SPS would not confirm the offences committed by the inmates granted Christmas leave.
The spokesman said: “There will be a variety of crimes. They tend to be longer in sentence than elsewhere on the prison estate.”
In September this year, prisons inspector Brigadier Hugh Monro called for more the prison to do more to help inmates find jobs after release.
He also criticised a general feeling of boredom in the prison and poor quality of recreation for prisoners.