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by Jenni Davidson
06 October 2020
Reconviction rates in Scotland fall to 21-year low

A prison officer stands outside prison cells - Image credit: Michael Cooper/PA Wire/PA Images

Reconviction rates in Scotland fall to 21-year low

Reconviction rates in Scotland have fallen to their lowest level in 21 years, but more than a quarter of offenders are still reconvicted within a year.

Officials statistics for 2017-18 show that 26.3 per cent of offenders were reconvicted within one year of the end of their previous sentence.

This is a one percentage point decrease from 27.3 per cent in 2016-17 and down 5.5 points from 31.8 per cent in 1997-98, when comparable records began.

The average number of reconvictions per offender – a measure of how often offenders are reconvicted – also fell over the same period from 0.48 to 0.46, which was a drop of four per cent.

In the decade from 2008-09, the average number of reconvictions per offender dropped by 23 per cent.

Men were more likely than women to be reconvicted and offenders who committed a crime of dishonesty had the highest reconviction rate, while offenders who committed a sexual crime had the lowest reconviction rate.

The statistics also show that offenders given a short custodial sentence of one year or less were reconvicted nearly twice as often as those given a community payback order.

Short custodial sentences also have higher reconvictions than longer sentences, but this is largely because offenders who are given shorter sentences commit less serious crimes such as shoplifting and tend to commit more of these crimes.

The reoffending rate following a drug treatment and testing order remained very high, at 57.5 per cent, although it had dropped from 65.2 per cent the previous year.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I welcome these statistics that show our evidence-based approach to rehabilitation, both in communities and custody, is working with reconviction levels at a 21-year low.

“We know that community sentences are more effective than short custodial sentences and these figures are testament to that – and underline why we were correct to extend the statutory presumption against short prison sentences.

“We are expanding the availability of effective community interventions, including more than £117 million investment in community justice services, an increase of more than £6.5 million compared to last year.

“This includes approximately £11.6 million investment in third sector organisations working to reduce reoffending to fund specialist services including employment training and early intervention.

“By investing in rehabilitation to help people turn their lives around and reduce reoffending we are helping to keep crime down and communities safe.”

Chief executive of Community Justice Scotland Karyn McCluskey said: “Community justice allows people who commit a crime to pay back to the community they harmed whilst addressing any underlying causes of crime such as addiction, homelessness and mental health issues.

“These figures demonstrate clearly the link between sentences served in the community and the prevention of reoffending.

“This shows that community justice can, and does, change the pattern of people offending and can make Scotland safer.

“Whilst I welcome the progression indicated by these latest statistics, we cannot be complacent.

“We must follow the evidence of what works and invest in recovery, addiction services and address trauma which will have greater impact on reducing offending and cost less than utilising short-term incarceration.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats said everyone given a custodial sentence should be “pocketing an education” while they were there, alongside basics such as housing on release, to reduce reoffending.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur commented: “The right way to cut crime is to have robust alternatives to custody.

“These are effective and credible sentences that cut crime and make communities safer.

“Locking more people up for longer has been proven not to work.

“Where prison is necessary, everyone should be pocketing an education and new skills. 

“These should sit alongside basics like ensuring people have a bank account on release, somewhere to sleep, the same people working with them before and after they leave, and new checks on whether they achieve a positive post-prison destination such as employment.

“These Scottish Liberal Democrat proposals are common sense policies that will make our communities safer.”

The figures come as the Scottish Conservatives propose putting an end to what they call “the SNP’s soft-touch justice system”, which would include an end to the presumption against short-term prison sentences, introducing whole life custody for the worst offenders and more support for victims.

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