A “more creative approach” is needed says Scotland’s chief inspector of prisons who has called for an end to jail terms of less than 12 months.
David Strang told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that evidence shows it is detrimental to send people to prison for a short time.
Instead, Mr Strang has recommended community-based alternatives to prison such as fines and payback orders, believed to be both more effective and cheaper, with it costing between £30,000-40,000 per convict per year according to the former chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police.
He fells that convicts who are only serving short sentences would see an increase in both reconviction and reoffending rates.
He said: “The evidence is very clear that if you want to reduce crime then you don’t send people to prison for a short time.
“People who are released from a short sentence of less than 12 months, over half of them are reconvicted within one year.
“So I would have thought that one purpose of the criminal justice system is to prevent future crimes, to reduce reoffending, and that if you send someone to prison then the damage that that does leads to them reoffending more than if you had given them an alternative.”
The Scottish courts have a presumption against imposing prison sentences of three months or less unless it can be shown that no other alternative is appropriate, an procedure which has been in place since 2010. However, that may be set to increase to 12 months, with consultation yet to be published by the Scottish Government.
“I think there is quite a punitive attitude in Scotland in that somehow people feel that unless someone is sent to prison then they haven’t really been dealt with properly for their crime,” Mr Strang said.
“It’s really important to get the message over that that’s not the case. We should only be imprisoning people who need to be for the sake of either the seriousness of the offence that they’ve committed or particularly to protect the public from harm.”
The Scottish Government are currently consulting on plans to introduce measures such as GPS tracking and alcohol monitoring as an alternative to prison.