Platform: Making criminals pay back communities will improve all our lives
KENNY MACASKILL Cabinet secretary for justice
THE bold and far-reaching plans we announced yesterday have one key objective at their heart: the safety of Scotland's communities. I am absolutely clear that our drive to tackle the persistently high rates of reoffending and making low-risk offenders pay back to the communities they harm will make our communities safer places to live and work – because reducing reoffending is the best way to protect our communities.
Prison will always be the right place for serious and dangerous offenders. But, in Scotland, we lock up more prisoners than anywhere in Europe, including Russia and Turkey at a time when crime is at a record low.
I simply don't accept that Scottish people are inherently bad. The statistics show clearly that our prisons are clogged up with offenders serving very short-term sentences, often for low-level, petty crime.
These people are very often caught in a cycle that they just need some help to break. Our proposals are all about helping offenders to rehabilitate and pay back to their communities at the same time.
In 2006-7, more than 14,600 prison receptions were for six months or less – a staggering 81 per cent of all admissions to prison. When you look at the reconviction rates – almost three-quarters of those released from such sentences go on to reoffend within two years compared with 42 per cent who undertake community service – the case for change is compelling.
The independent Prisons Commission report highlighted the need to build confidence in community payback sentences with the judiciary and communities themselves and we agree.
We are introducing a new community payback sentence, which offenders will sign off before they leave court with unpaid work starting within a week and finished within six months.
That makes it immediate and we are taking steps to make sure sheriffs can keep a check on progress to help encourage successful completion.
These review courts are proving very successful with drugs treatment and testing orders and we would hope to see similar results if the principle is extended to community payback.
New prisons are necessary and being built. Addiewell has just opened and serious offenders committing violent or sexual crimes will go to jail.
While there will be a presumption against sentences of six months or less for low-risk offenders, the ultimate decision, as always, is for the sheriff or judge. If they feel that a short custodial sentence is the correct disposal, they will impose that, but they will also state the reasons at the point of sentence to make it clear why that option was chosen.
Community sentences will be a tough option, often a tougher option than the free bed and board they might get in jail at the taxpayer's expense.
What we have announced is a long-term package of measures which, when taken together, will start to address the unacceptable position we find ourselves in.
The problems have been with us for years, the solutions have been talked about even longer.
My predecessor certainly recognised the need for radical reforms. The difference now is we are taking action to deliver a coherent offender management policy based on a credible and robust package of community penalties, coupled with a strong and proportionate end-to-end sentence management regime.
We can't do this alone, nor can we do it overnight. We are already working with Cosla and the community justice authorities to deliver our shared objective of fewer short prison terms and more offenders paying back to communities. And we will continue to work with those who have the true welfare of our communities at heart over the months and years to come.
If we're serious about finally turning around reoffending rates, driving down crime and making communities safer, we simply can't afford to retreat into accepting the failed policies of the past. The solution will involve bold, radical steps, based on what works, to build a safe, strong Scotland for all.
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