Scrapping short prison sentences has had 'limited' impact


Introducing a presumption against prison sentences of less than three months has had only a “limited” impact, according to research.

The Scottish Government brought in the measure in 2011 in the hope of reducing the prison population and promoting community-based alternatives.

But an evaluation by the London-based think tank Crest Advisory found that short custodial sentences were likely to have had only a modest impact on certain key measures, with decreasing re-offending rates and the increased use of community sentences predating 2011.

Secondary legislation to introduce a presumption against sentences of 12 months or less is expected to be brought forward in the Scottish Parliament in the coming weeks.

In a summary of its report, the Crest Advisory said: “Our evaluation suggests that the presumption against short custodial sentences is likely to have had a modest impact on certain target measures in the Scottish justice system, though it is impossible to determine to what extent these improvements are due to the presumption specifically, rather than to other factors.

“Given that positive trends on these measures have continued following the introduction of the presumption, particularly the continued decrease in the number and proportion of 3-month or less sentences given to male offenders and the decline in the overall prison population following years of growth, the weight of the evidence suggests that the change is likely to have had an impact, albeit limited.”

Figures published in February by the Scottish Government showed more than 30 per cent of Community Payback Orders (CPOs) – an alternative to prison – in 2017/18 were not completed, while the completion rate for drug treatment and testing orders (DTTOs) fell to 40 per cent – the lowest level in seven years.

Extending the presumption against sentences of up to 12 months is supported by both Labour and the Lib Dems, but the Conservatives claim the move amounts to “soft touch justice”.

Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, said:

"The SNP’s abolition of short term sentences will force more criminals into a community system that is unfit for purpose.

“Almost a third of criminals do not complete their community payback orders and a quarter of those include no work or activity.

“Most worrying of all, the SNP is about to ban prison sentences of less than a year, which would let almost 10,000 serious criminals back out onto the streets, potentially endangering the public, and denying victims any real sense of justice.”

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