Scottish Government not meeting community justice targets
Scottish Government targets on increase the number of offenders doing unpaid community work has not been met, a new report from Scotland’s public spending watchdog has revealed.
Figures highlighted by Audit Scotland show that in 2016/17, 59% of sentences handed down by courts - excluding fines - were community sentences such as community payback orders, drug programmes or electronic monitoring.
This dropped to 56% the following year, before returning to 59% in 2019/20.
Community justice is significantly cheaper for the taxpayer and has a lower reoffending rate than custodial sentences.
Of those released from a sentence of less than 12 months, 49% went on to re-offend in the first year, while just 29% of those given a community sentence offended again.
Scotland has one of the highest incarceration rates of any country in Western Europe, despite a presumption against short sentences being put in place by the Scottish Government to dissuade judges from handing out jail periods of less than 12 months.
Stephen Boyle, the Auditor General, said: "Reducing reoffending by shifting the balance of sentencing from prison to the community has the potential to reduce the costs to the individual, taxpayer and wider society.
"But that Scottish Government aim hasn't yet been achieved."
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Jamie Greene said the system needed overhauled: "The SNP government has failed to implement robust community sentences. Before the pandemic, the number of completed work requirements in community sentences was at its lowest level for seven years.
"The SNP should stop pursuing their failed alternatives to prison and start toughening up the justice system instead."
Labour justice spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: "Community justice, particularly for those who have not been convicted of a violent crime, must become more widely used."
Scottish Greens justice spokesperson Maggie Chapman said: “The report makes it crystal clear that despite best efforts, Scotland has failed to shift people from prison to community sentences, even though all the evidence shows it is more effective at reducing reoffending and less costly.
“Much, much too often it is poor people who get sent to prison. Much, much too often jailing people does nothing to reduce reoffending. And much, much too often society ends up carrying the cost.
“We need culture change throughout the justice system: a national mission to reduce reoffending, provide justice that is restorative not punitive, and focuses on prevention.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "While sentencing decisions in individual cases are a matter for the independent courts, we are committed to encouraging more widespread use of community-based interventions where appropriate.
"These are often more effective at reducing re-offending, as Audit Scotland sets out and for keeping our communities safe.
"Our firm focus on prevention and effective community interventions has helped see Scotland's reconviction rate fall to its lowest level since comparable records began more than 20 years ago."