Experts join calls to scrap jail terms less than 12 months

Supporters of the move argue jail population is far too high. Picture: PA
Supporters of the move argue jail population is far too high. Picture: PA
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Prison sentences of up to one year should be scrapped in favour of community-based alternatives, claim experts.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, penal reform charities and some of Scotland’s largest councils are among those backing calls for a presumption against sentences of up to 12 months.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on proposals to strengthen the presumption against short periods of imprisonment, which currently sits at three months.

In his submission, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, David Strang, said the number of people in jail was “unhelpful and unnecessary”.

He said: “In the time since the existing presumption against three-month sentences came into effect, the proportion and number of those serving sentences of less than three months has reduced. The rise in the prison population has halted. At the same time, there has been greater development and focus around community alternatives to custody with the introduction of the new Community Payback Order.

“A presumption against sentences of 12 months or less could serve to highlight the opportunity for sentencers to select a tailored, community-based intervention from the range of options under the Community Payback Order, rather than resorting to a short custodial sentence with limited opportunity for rehabilitation.”

Penal reform charity Howard League Scotland said it also backed the move, despite the presumption against sentences of three months or less having little impact on the size of the prison population. Some of the largest local authorities, including Edinburgh City Council, backed the move.

Appearing before the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee yesterday, justice secretary Michael Matheson said scrapping sentences of less than a year would help reduce “churn” in the system. He said: “If presumption was to be increased it would reduce the churn of short-term six-month-type sentences and the level of resources that takes up within the prison system.

“It won’t have a big impact on the global prison number, but it will have a significant impact on [short-term churn].”