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- Law and order
Visit highlights consultation on proposals to reduce ineffective short sentences.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has visited veterans who have become involved in offending after struggling to make the transition from a life in the forces to living in the community.
Mr Matheson met with former members of the Armed Forces and staff from the North Lanarkshire Council Veteran's Group to highlight the Scottish Government's measures to reduce reoffending. The group works with veterans with a range of issues, including some who have offended, to tackle substance misuse and promote health and wellbeing, family relationships and social inclusion while tackling reoffending and anti-social behaviour.
This visit was made with just under a week to go before the end of a consultation on proposals to extend the current presumption against short prison sentences.
The proposals include strengthening the current statutory presumption against prison sentences of three months or less in favour of community sentences backed by targeted support to address underlying issues such as drugs, alcohol or mental health issues.
The current presumption is not a ban against short sentences and sheriffs still have discretion to impose any sentence if it's deemed necessary given the circumstances of the case.
The Justice Secretary said:
"It was humbling to meet veterans today and hear some of the difficult issues they can face when readjusting back into civilian life. These are people who have served their country and, while most make a successful transition, targeted support like this group can be very valuable for those veterans who need it.
"By offering opportunities like participating in local environmental projects while also giving support to tackle underlying issues, this service addresses an unmet need for specialised support for a small and unique group of people.
"This community justice project is part of our innovative approach to reforming Scotland's penal policy, promoting social justice and tackling inequality. The reconviction rate in Scotland is now at its lowest level for 16 years and recorded crime is at a 41 year low.
"Short sentences do nothing to reduce reoffending in our communities and only result in individuals going in and out of prison, time and time again. 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.
"I want 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 want to hear people's opinions on our consultation on whether to strengthen the presumption against short sentences and I would encourage anybody with an interest to respond to the consultation before it closes on 16 December."
The Veterans Mentoring Service was set up in 2014 with initial funding from the Armed Forces Community Covenant. It provides a package of support for veterans who have difficulties readjusting to civilian life and become involved in offending and anti-social behaviour. As well as those on Community Payback Orders after offending, the group works with people referred through social work and mental health services.
Access the Consultation On Proposals To Strengthen The Presumption Against Short Sentences here: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/09/8223
Strengthening the presumption against short sentences does not remove the sheriff's discretion to impose a prison sentence where necessary. It gives a clear signal that short term sentences should only be imposed where no other method of dealing with the individual is appropriate.