Government consultation launched on short-term prison sentences

Written by Alan Robertson on 25 September 2015 in News

Short sentences "do nothing to stop reoffending", warns Justice Secretary Michael Matheson

Proposals to scrap prison sentences up to 12 months are to be considered as a part of a new government consultation.

The Scottish Government is to seek views on whether the current presumption against custodial sentences of three months or less should be extended up to either six, nine or 12 months.

The consultation also seeks views on whether a “more nuanced approach” should be adopted via primary legislation that would in effect rule out a custodial sentence for particular types of offences.


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The Scottish Prisons Commission, which reported in 2008, called for an end to six-month custodial sentences in all but exceptional circumstances.

A presumption against prison sentences of three months or less was all a then minority SNP administration could get past opposition parties at Holyrood, however.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Prison will always be the right place for serious offenders who should be punished appropriately.

“However, all the evidence shows that short term prison sentences do not work, with 60 per cent of offenders imprisoned for three months or less re-convicted within a year.

“Short sentences do nothing to stop reoffending in our communities and only result in offenders going in and out of prison time and time again and reoffending upon release.

“In my view, we need to act on the evidence, be braver in our approach and take the bold action needed to tackle these ineffective sentences.” 

The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 requires that a custodial sentence of three months or less should not be handed down unless the court considers that no other sentence is appropriate.

Former First Minister Henry McLeish, who chaired the Prisons Commission, said the consultation paper was “bold and imaginative”.

“Extending the existing presumption period could be of significant help to the prison service, provide more effective and appropriate help for those who are not a threat to society and with further investment in community alternatives, help cut reoffending,” he added.

However, Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell claimed the proposals were “another sorry example of the SNP’s pre-occupation with emptying jails”.

She said: “Extending the presumption against short-term sentences simply gives offenders the impression that their crimes aren’t serious enough to go to jail.

“Victims deserve a justice system that advocates for their interests instead of pandering to those of criminals.

“The Scottish Government needs to get a grip. Instead of emptying our prisons, it should provide better, more widely-available rehabilitation programmes and throughcare to get the reoffending rate down, which is in everyone’s interest.”

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