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10 April 2018, 06:41
Dangerous criminals will be "let off the hook" and escape a jail sentence under Scottish Government plans to bring in a presumption against prison terms of less than one year, the Tories have claimed.
Conservatives hit out at the policy, announced in Nicola Sturgeon's programme for government last September, with justice spokesman Liam Kerr pointing out two people convicted of homicide have been given a sentence of up to 12 months in 2016-17.
Figures on criminal proceedings in Scotland also showed 99 offenders guilty of attempted murder or serious assault, along with 35 people who committed sexual assaults, were ordered to spend a year or less behind bars.
Sentences of up to 12 months were handed down to 279 housebreakers, 285 people convicted of handling offensive weapons and 562 drugs offenders.
A Scottish Government spokesman said extending the presumption against short term sentences from three months to 12 months did not mean such punishments had been abolished.
Mr Kerr hit out: "The SNP's plan to abolish sentences of less than a year will let some of the most dangerous criminals off the hook.
"It will compound the soft-touch approach which is already making life miserable for victims of crime across Scotland.
"Had this been introduced in time for 2016-17, it would have seen people convicted of homicide, attempted murder and serious assault walk free from courts with a fine or community sentence.
"People guilty of sex attacks, handling offensive weapons and committing serious drugs offences would also have dodged prison."
The Conservative MSP added: "The pendulum has swung too far in favour of criminals in Scotland and away from those whose lives they've made a misery.
"Scotland's justice system cannot perform the key functions of keeping the public safe, punishing, and deterring crimes under these shambolic plans."
Overall the number of custodial sentences handed out to criminals fell to 12,690 in 2016-17 - a drop of 8% from the previous year.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Short prison sentences have not been abolished.
"The courts will continue to have discretion to impose the most appropriate sentence depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, and Ministers have been clear that prison remains the right sentencing option for those who pose a serious risk to public safety."
He also maintained Community Payback Orders introduced by the Scottish Government were "a robust option, focused on paying back to communities and a sentence which works".
The spokesman said: "People released from a custodial sentence of 12 months or less are reconvicted almost twice as often as those sentenced by the courts to a Community Payback Order.
"And almost six million hours of unpaid work have been carried out since CPOs were introduced, delivering real benefits to communities.
"Our firm focus on more robust community sentencing, including the introduction of CPOs, has helped bring Scotland's reconviction rates to an 18-year low, contributing to the large fall in crime over the last decade to a 43-year low."