Number of minor offenders escaping prosecution doubles
Last year, prosecutors referred 1,980 people to criminal justice social work teams as part of their “diversion from prosecution” scheme, rather than taking them to court, up from 958 in 2010-11.
Scottish Government figures which revealed the rise also showed about two-thirds (67.5 per cent) of community payback orders (CPOs) were successfully completed in 2016-17 - down from 71.7 per cent three years ago.
Scottish Conservatives said that meant more than 6,000 offenders had failed to complete their sentence last year as they called on ministers to rethink plans to abolish prison terms of less than a year.
Fewer than half (44.1 per cent) of drug treatment and testing orders (DTTOs) were successfully completed in 2016-17, a drop of about 10 percentage points from the 54.8 per cent achieved in 2014-15.
These sentences are handed out to offenders struggling with addiction who would otherwise be jailed, with the latest criminal justice social work statistics showing that, in the last two years, the success rate for DTTOs had “fallen to the lowest in any of the last seven years”.
It added: “The completion rate for DTTOs does tend to be lower than for other social work orders due to the complex needs of those involved.”
Offenders began a total of 19,067 CPOs in 2016-17, with the report stating that the number of these sentences handed out had “stabilised at around 19,000 in each of the last four years”.
While 77 per cent of offenders aged over 40 successfully completed their orders, the figure fell to 60 per cent for those under the age of 18.
There was also a difference between those in work and those not in work, with 81 per cent of people who were employed or self-employed successfully completing their CPO, compared to 62 per cent of those who were unemployed or economically inactive.
Liam Kerr, the Conservative justice spokesman at Holyrood, said more CPOs would be handed out if the Scottish Government presses ahead with plans to scrap jail sentences of less than a year.
He stated: “That might be OK if these measures actually worked, but these figures show a third of them aren’t even completed.
“The SNP’s vision for justice seems to be serious criminals showing up to court knowing they won’t be jailed, and even when they’re fined or given a CPO, they won’t have to bother complying.
“The situation is a mess and this SNP government has to reconsider the ill-thought through plan on sentencing, and get tough on those who don’t take other punishments seriously.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: “Scotland has one of the highest prison populations per capita in western Europe.
“This makes no sense when all the evidence demonstrates that the best way to reduce reoffending is by investing in community-based sentences, saving money in the process.”
Mr McArthur accepted it was “concerning that a significant proportion of community payback orders were not successfully completed in 2016-17”.
He added: “Locking up more people is not the answer.
“Instead, we need to invest further in ensuring community payback orders are robust. This will improve completion rates, rehabilitation and reduce crime.”