Lib Dems offer Holyrood majority to axe short sentences

Willie Rennie says sentences of less than a year should be axed
Willie Rennie says sentences of less than a year should be axed
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The prospect of short sentences of less than a year being phased out in Scotland has moved a step closer after the Liberal Democrats today announced they will help provide a Holyrood majority for the change.

It comes after Scotland's chief inspector of prisons, David Strang, called for the move, warning that shorter sentences do nothing to cut crime. The Government is currently considering an extension of the current presumption against three month sentences to twelve months after a consultation.

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said his party has always stood for "progressive and sensible penal reform" to cut crime more effectively.

He said: "Of course there will be some for whom prison is the only option. For them we need our prison system to provide more meaningful training and education, as well as effective support when they are released. This would represent a good start towards meaningful and long overdue penal reform.

“Four prisons in Scotland were running at over 100% occupancy in 2016 and a third of people behind bars are on short term sentences. The Scottish Government launched a consultation over a year ago to explore options to strengthen the presumption against short term sentences and despite bodies such as HMIPS supporting the end to the practice the SNP are sitting on their hands.

“It is time to end the pointless punitive approach and be led by what works for offenders and communities, bringing our justice system firmly into the 21st century. It is time the Cabinet Secretary pulled the plug on damaging short stints in prison. Scottish Liberal Democrats will support the Scottish Government and will provide the majority they need to get this important reform passed.”

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson is expected to make an announcement on short sentences later in the year.

But the calls have met with a sceptical reaction from the Tories at Holyrood who warn that short sentences play an "important role" in the justice system

"It would be ludicrous to end them," said Lib Dem justice spokesman Liam McArthur.

“We cannot fetter judges' discretion without full consideration of the consequences and wider policy context.

“There are many offences and circumstances where a custodial sentence of up to twelve months could be an appropriate punishment, and we need to allow judges the choice to hand down such sentences if they deem it necessary.”