THE SNP has been accused by Conservatives of trying to "fool" people over pledges to change automatic early release from prison.

A revision to the rules still means people sentenced to less than four years qualify to get out after serving half their sentence.

Of the 14,748 offenders sentenced last year, 97% were given a term of less than four years.

They include violent criminals and sex offenders, according to official figures.

The controversial release policy was brought in by a Conservative UK Government in the 1990s but the SNP wants it scrapped.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: "The SNP is attempting to fool the Scottish public into believing they are ending automatic early release.

"However, these figures show the vast majority of criminals will still enjoy being let out of prison, no questions asked, after serving only half their sentence.

"Criminals should serve the sentence they are handed down by the court."

The limited scrapping of automatic early release from jail was announced by the Scottish Government last year as a step to total abolition.

These affect violent prisoners serving 10 years or more for offences such as culpable homicide and attempted murder. It also applies to sexual offences.

Although broadly welcomed in the Scottish Parliament, concern was raised that the initial change will only affect a tiny proportion of the prisoner population.

Under the old system, long-term prisoners - those serving more than four years - can be released on licence by the parole board between half-way and two-thirds through their sentence.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Under the system introduced by the then Westminster Government in 1995, there are nearly 2000 dangerous offenders (approximately 1260 sex offenders and 612 other serious offenders) who have received automatic early release who would not have done so if our important reforms has been in place in 1995.

"Our changes to the current system will help protect the public from sex offenders and other dangerous prisoners."