More than 60% of violent and sexual criminals avoid prison in Scotland, statistics show

More than 60 per cent of violent and sexual criminals avoided a jail sentence last year – the highest level in a decade, new Scottish Government figures have shown.

Statistics published in the Criminal Proceedings in Scotland report showed just 39 per cent of those convicted of a violent crime, such as murder attempted murder, received a custodial sentence in 2020/21 – a 30 per cent drop from the previous year.

And more than three quarters (77 per cent) of sex offenders also avoided jail last year, according to the official data.

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Critics of the Scottish Government have said the threat of a prison sentence for criminals was “withering away”.

HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow. Picture: PA

A 33 per cent decrease in sexual crime convictions was also noted in the report with 817 sentences issued compared to 1,217 in 2019/20.

Rape and attempted rape convictions fell by 40 per cent compared to the previous year, while the number of proceedings for these crimes decreased by 49 per cent.

Scottish Conservatives justice spokesperson Jamie Greene has hit out at the Scottish Government’s “soft-touch” approach to justice following the publication release.

He said: “Victims of crime will be devastated to hear that so many criminals are avoiding jail time altogether.

“The deterrent of prison is simply withering away under the SNP administration.

“The blame for this lies squarely at the feet of the SNP Government, who have tied the judiciary’s hands through its soft-touch policies – such as the presumption against short prison sentences and the automatic early release of criminals.”

Mr Greene also criticised new plans from the Government to introduce legislation which would reform the way remand is used in Scotland’s prisons while putting greater emphasis on rehabilitating criminals.

The Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill, unveiled by justice secretary Keith Brown earlier this month, would see remand reserved predominately for those who pose a risk to public safety or wilfully fail to turn up to trials.

Mr Greene said: “What’s worse, Keith Brown has just proposed a prison-emptying Bill which could see even more violent and sexual criminals roam Scotland’s streets at a time when violent crime is actually on the rise.

“It is clear that the SNP Government is far more concerned with making criminals’ lives easier, than delivering true justice for the victims of horrific crimes.

“The Scottish Conservatives would reverse this trend by putting victims of crime first with our Victims Law, finally putting the balance of our justice system back where it belongs, in favour of victims not offenders.”

The report also showed the overall conviction rate had increased by 3% in 2020/21, to 91%.

The average length of custodial sentence for all crimes, excluding life sentences, was 329 days, 8% shorter than in 2019/20.

Pauline McNeill, Scottish Labour justice spokesperson said the statistics raised “serious alarm bells” as funding for courts were given real-terms cuts in the Government’s spending review.

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