Leaders: Ruling out short prison sentences not the answer

ALL the evidence suggests that while prison might be a necessary punishment for some, it is far from being an effective solution to reducing crime.

Figures show 60 per cent of those sentenced to less than three months are reconvicted within a year. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Figures show that 60 per cent of those sentenced to less than three months behind bars are re-convicted within a year.

That’s why the Scottish Government is reviving plans that would see more community-based sentences handed out to offenders. The public is being consulted over the plans, which could mean courts being prohibited from handing down sentences of shorter than a year if they cannot provide an appropriate reason. Decades of failure in this area by successive governments underlines the need for a new approach.

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But while the principle of more community sentencing is sound, there is a danger in extending it too far.

As the Scottish Conservatives warned yesterday, scrapping sentences of less than six months could mean hundreds of people convicted of crimes like housebreaking, handling offensive weapons and common assault walking free.

That cannot be allowed to happen.

According to the Tories, more than 5,000 people jailed for between three and six months last year would stand a chance of avoiding jail under the new proposals.

The statistics include 874 common assaults, 184 drug crimes, 164 cases of handling an offensive weapon and 210 housebreakings.

There were even 13 occasions in 2013-14 when attempted murder and serious assaults were dealt with by way of a custodial sentence of between three and six months, along with 12 sexual assaults.

The need for a new approach is clear, but we cannot be left with a soft-touch justice system.

Most would agree that there are certain crimes which must be punished with a custodial sentence, regardless of whether it is six months or less.

Housebreaking is a case in point; it is the most personal of crimes that robs victims not only of their possessions but also of their right to feel safe in their own homes.

The idea that those behind the 210 housebreakings highlighted by the Tories would be free to walk the streets is an affront to victims and to justice.

The Scottish Government’s consultation will ask whether the current presumption against sentences shorter than three months should be changed to six, nine or 12 months – and if there are any offences that should never incur a custodial sentence. But many will believe there are some crimes which should always carry a custodial sentence.

There is now a balancing act to be done; the courts must help break the cycle of re-offending while at the same time making sure victims are reassured that offenders have been punished.

Our fishermen need protecting

THE broken-hearted have long consoled themselves with the old adage about there being plenty more fish in the sea.

Until recently, however, the science indicated that sentiment did not apply to the humble North Sea cod.

It had been placed on the Marine Conservation Society’s list of fish to avoid eating, with stocks said to be only slightly above sustainable levels.

But following a “milestone” announcement by the MCS, cod is now off the Red List and can be once again enjoyed as an “occasional treat”.

Nevertheless, decades of overfishing which reduced populations and the size and age of cod, along with the warming of the region’s seas have cut the reproductive success of the cod in the North Sea, the MCS said.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation welcomed yesterday’s announcement, but disputed whether North Sea cod should have been a fish to avoid in the first place.

The SFF said the majority of fish stocks of interest to Scottish fisherman remained in a “healthy state”.

While the MCS believes fishing levels still need to reduce, this latest development shows that with careful monitoring, fish stocks can be improved.

But while it’s important to look after our fish, we must make sure our fishermen are protected, too.

Recently, plans for controversial marine conservation areas have been attacked as “draconian” restrictions that will lead to a jobs being lost.

Now that sustainable fishing practices have been shown to work for cod, we must also make them work for our fishermen.