Prisons inspector backs end to sentences of less than 12 months

Written by Alan Robertson on 9 October 2015 in News

David Strang tells Holyrood move away from prison sentences up to a year is "perfectly reasonable"

Scotland’s chief inspector of prisons has called for custodial sentences of up to 12 months to be scrapped in one of the highest-profile interventions in the current debate on short jail terms.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland David Strang told Holyrood that a shift away from prison sentences up to a year would be “perfectly reasonable”. 

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


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The Scottish Prisons Commission, which Strang sat on, called for an end to custodial sentences up to six months in all but exceptional circumstances when it reported in 2008.

Strang, a former Lothian and Borders Police chief constable, told Holyrood in November 2013 that a six-month threshold “was my view on the Prisons Commission and that is still my view”.

However, speaking to Holyrood this week as he launched his annual report, the chief inspector of prisons went a step further.   

He said: “I think there is a case for 12 months because the law is still going to allow sheriffs the discretion that if for some reason they absolutely believe that someone needs to go to jail because of special circumstances then it’s right that they are allowed to do that.

“But if the outcome can be that just automatically people are not sent to prison for short sentences because we know that they are ineffective then I think up to 12 months is perfectly reasonable.”

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.

A presumption against prison sentences of three months or less was all an SNP administration could get past opposition parties at Holyrood in 2010.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has left the door open to the Scottish Government increasing the presumption before next May’s Scottish Parliament elections.

He said: “As well as asking whether the current presumption against sentences of three months or less should be extended, and if so by how much, the consultation also asks if a more radical review of the presumption and the use of short-term imprisonment is needed.

“The views we receive through this consultation will be important in shaping our decisions around strengthening the presumption, including the most appropriate timescales for making any changes."

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