Scottish Liberal Democrats offer Scottish Government support to end short prison sentences
The Scottish Liberal Democrats have offered the Scottish Government their support to put an end short prison sentences of less than 12 months.
Party leader Willie Rennie promised his party would give the Scottish Government a majority should it bring forward legislation to abolish short-term prison sentences.
Rennie criticised the SNP for “sitting on their hands” following a government consultation on short-term prison sentences nearly two years ago and he called on the Scottish Government to end “the pointless punitive approach” that sees offenders locked up for short periods.
The Lib Dem commitment comes after HM Chief Inspector of Prisons David Strang called for an end to short jail sentences because they don’t prevent reoffending.
Strang told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Sunday: “I think we are locking up too many people in prison in Scotland…
“The evidence is very clear that if you’re wanting to reduce crime, then you don’t send people to prison for a short time.”
Strang pointed out that there is a high rate of reoffending following short prison terms of less than 12 months, with over half of those reconvicted within one year of release.
He added: “I would have though one purpose of the criminal justice system is to prevent future crimes, to reduce reoffending, and the evidence is very clear that if you send someone to prison, then the damage that that does leads to them reoffending more than if you had given them an alternative sentence by the court.
“So I think we should be doing much more in the way of community sentences, community disposals, whether a fine, whether a community payback order, where someone is repairing some of the damage that they’re done and making a positive contribution to the community that they’ve come from.”
Following Strang’s comments, Rennie said that the Liberal Democrats had always stood for “progressive and sensible penal reform”.
There would always be some for whom prison is the only option, he said, and there should be “meaningful training and education” for them as well as support when they are released, which would represent “a good start” towards “long overdue penal reform”.
However, Rennie also pointed out that four prisons in Scotland were running at over 100 per cent occupancy in 2016 and a third of people behind bars are on short term sentences.
“The Scottish Government launched a consultation over a year ago to explore options to strengthen the presumption against short term sentences and despite bodies such as HMIPS supporting the end to the practice the SNP are sitting on their hands,” he said.
“It is time to end the pointless punitive approach and be led by what works for offenders and communities, bringing our justice system firmly into the 21st century.”
With the Lib Dem support, there is a clear majority in the Scottish Parliament in favour of abolishing short-term sentences.
In their manifesto for last year’s Scottish Parliament election, the Greens also promised to get rid of prison sentences of less than 12 months, while Labour had called for a limit on sentences below six months.
The Scottish Conservatives oppose the change.