An order has been published to extend the presumption against short prison sentences from three months to a year, in an attempt to break the cycle of reoffending.
The Scottish Government say it is a move away from “ineffective” short term prison sentences.
It has published an affirmative order which, subject to parliamentary approval, will come into force in summer and extend the existing presumption from three months to 12.
The Government said people released from a sentence of a year or under are nearly twice as likely to be convicted again compared to offenders sentenced to a community payback order.
Community Safety Minister Ash Denham stressed the presumption is not a ban and short prison sentences will still exist.
She said: “Clearly, prison remains the right option for those who pose a serious risk to public safety and sentencing decisions will remain a matter for the independent judiciary.
“However, we want to ensure courts consider the most appropriate sentence in all cases and imprison people only when there is no suitable alternative.
“Disruptive and counterproductive short prison sentences often lead to homelessness, unemployment and family breakdown - making it harder for people to reintegrate on release and increasing the likelihood that they will be drawn into a cycle of offending.”
She credited existing presumption and payback orders, alongside other reforms, for a 19-year low in reconviction rates.
The Minister added: “Evidence shows alternatives to custody are more successful in supporting rehabilitation and preventing reoffending, ultimately leading to fewer victims and safer communities.”
Bill Fitzpatrick, director of operations at Community Justice Scotland, welcomed the move towards the presumption extension.
He said: “It demonstrates a commitment to change and is a step towards smart, effective, more robust justice.
“Evidence shows this extension could reduce offending behaviour if strategic support is given to local service providers and communities to ensure that people pay back for the harm done and the underlying causes of crime are addressed.”
The budget for community justice services, which includes community sentences such as community payback orders and electronic monitoring, has increased from £35.4 million in 2918/19 to £37.1 million in 2019/20