This article seeks to explain the reasons for the sharp rise in prison recall rates in Scotland. It argues that recall practices need to be understood not as a technical corner of the justice system, but as part of a wider analysis of the politics of sentencing and release policy. While there are sound reasons for a policy of ‘early release’ (incentivizing good behavior and enabling the resettlement of prisoners), in practice early release has increasingly been used as a tool to try to limit the growth in the custodial population. Unable to control prison numbers through the ‘front door’ (judicial sentencing and bail/remand), successive governments have increasingly relied on early release as a surreptitious way of, in effect, re-sentencing prisoners. We argue that this political strategy is ultimately self-defeating, not least in feeding public cynicism about the penal system and community supervision in particular. This article reviews the changing legislative, policy and practice landscape of the regulation of non-compliance and recall practice, and draws on the desistance literature to illustrate how offender-supervisor relationships can be undermined by recall policies which threaten the legitimacy of both the supervisory relationship and the conditions of supervision orders.
University of Strathclyde