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Proposals for bold action on reoffending

Published: 25 Sep 2015 11:26
Part of:
Law and order

Views sought on further measures to address ‘ineffective’ short prison sentences.

Scotland should act on the evidence and take the bold action needed to reduce ineffective short term prison sentences, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said today.

Mr Matheson was speaking as he sought views on new proposals to extend the current presumption against three month prison sentences.

A Scottish Government consultation was published today on strengthening the current statutory presumption against short-term prison sentences in favour of community sentences which are backed by targeted support to address underlying issues such as drugs, alcohol, or mental health issues.

Under the proposals, judges could still sentence an individual to a short prison sentence if they deemed it necessary given the circumstances of the case before them.

Scotland currently has one of the highest prison populations per capita in Western Europe and evidence has consistently shown that short term prison sentences are ineffective in reducing reoffending.

Justice Secretary Mr Matheson said:

"Prison will always be the right place for serious offenders who should be punished appropriately.

"However, all the evidence shows that short term prison sentences do not work, with 60% of offenders imprisoned for 3 months or less re-convicted within a year.

"Short sentences do nothing to stop reoffending in our communities and only result in offenders going in and out of prison time and time again and reoffending upon release. In my view, we need to act on the evidence, be braver in our approach and take the bold action needed to tackle these ineffective sentences.

"This isn't about being 'soft' or 'tough', it is about being 'smart' and acting on the clear evidence in front of us. We must tackle the revolving door to our prisons and I believe these proposals will give greater protection to our communities, whilst helping offenders turn their lives around and become active and responsible citizens.

"It is totally unacceptable that Scotland has one of the highest prison populations in Western Europe at a time when recorded crime is at a 41 year low.

"I would like our criminal justice system to have an even stronger emphasis on robust community sentences that focus on actively addressing the underlying causes of offending behaviour such as drugs, alcohol and mental health issues.

"We've already announced bold action to change the way we deal with female offenders in Scotland. I believe it is now time to be as ambitious when it comes to other types of offenders too.

"These are wide ranging and complex issues and I would like to encourage responses and views from as wide a representation of Scottish society as possible. Your responses will be important in informing decisions on the future use of short-term imprisonment and the role of prisons in Scotland."

Henry McLeish, Chair of the Commission into the future of Scotland's Prisons 2008 said:

"I warmly welcome and congratulate the Cabinet Secretary on an inspiring Consultation paper. The most important recommendation in my Prisons Commission Report was to introduce a presumption against short sentences of less than 6 months. Legislation was passed on three months and we now have the possibility of a more radical reform.
Extending the existing presumption period could be of significant help to the prison service, provide more effective and appropriate help for those who are not a threat to society and with further investment in community alternatives, help cut reoffending. This is a bold and imaginative consultation paper and I hope it generates a positive response."

Tom Halpin, Chief Executive of Sacro said:

"Sacro welcomes today's announcement to further consult on the current presumption against imprisonment for short sentences in favour of a community sentence. Reconviction rates show community penalties to be more than twice as effective as short term custody in stopping reoffending. Simply jailing offenders for a short time does nothing to rehabilitate them, nothing to challenge their behaviour and nothing to pay back to victims for the harm they have caused. The proposed extension to the presumption against short sentences offers a radical and progressive step for Scotland's justice system that is needed to further reduce reoffending."

Notes to editors

The current statutory presumption against short-term sentences was approved by the Scottish Parliament through the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. The Act requires that the court must not pass a sentence of imprisonment for 3 months or less on a person unless it considers that no other sentence is appropriate. The court must record the reasons for its sentencing decision.

Link to the full consultation:

Link to announcement on female offending: