Ban On Short Prison Sentences Urged By Think Tank

19 August 2017, 06:34


A think tank has called for a ban on prison sentences of six months or less in Scotland.

Reform Scotland said only an outright ban on short sentences could bring about change in the justice system.

The organisation said the ban should extend to a year if automatic early release for short sentences remains in place.

The think tank highlighted that despite a presumption in the Scottish courts against sentences of three months or less imposed in 2010, nearly 30% of all prison terms in 2015/16 fell into that category.

In addition, it said automatic early release meant 65% of offenders that year served three months or less.

Speaking ahead of the publication of a new report on prison reform, research director Alison Payne said: "The Scottish Prison Service itself has said that there are limited opportunities for rehabilitation during short sentences.

"Furthermore, the disruption of a short sentence, including loss of income and employment, and problems with childcare and family relationships, often makes the sentences disproportionate to the crime.

"A presumption against short sentences is well meaning but, in the final analysis, if we don't want short sentences then we have to prohibit them.

"People make mistakes and we need to help ensure that such mistakes are not repeated, not just because of the emotional and financial cost of crime to victims, families and society, but because of the loss of human potential.

"Such a view is neither ideological nor controversial, but is human and compassionate. However, it is not a view that is reflected in Scotland's sentencing regime."

But the Scottish Conservatives said short-term sentences still have a role to play in the justice system.

The party's justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: "Our experienced, highly trained sheriffs use these punishments for a reason, and removing their ability to do so and indeed their discretion - where they feel the facts fit that sentence - would be wrong.

"If criminals know they can turn up to court and won't be jailed, it will do nothing to deter them from illegal activity.

"Many people, especially victims of crime, already think Scotland's justice system is too soft touch and would view an abolition of these jail terms as an extension of that."

Last month Scotland's chief inspector of prisons David Strang called for an end to jail terms of under a year.

Mr Strang said the current presumption against three-month sentences should be extended to 12 months, arguing the approach does not cut crime.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have also backed ending jail sentences of under 12 months, urging the Scottish Government to act following a 2015 consultation on strengthening the presumption against short-term sentences.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government is committed to the principles of the McLeish Commission that imprisonment should be reserved for people whose offences are so serious that no other form of punishment will do and for those who pose a threat of serious harm.

"We believe that more can be done to strengthen the current presumption so that it has a more direct impact on sentencing decision, and have consulted on proposals to do just that.

"The responses to that consultation are informing our decisions and we have been taking time to consider these views, including discussions with relevant partners and other stakeholders."