Short Scottish prison sentences to be scrapped next year

Life inside Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison. Picture: Robert Perry
Life inside Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison. Picture: Robert Perry
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Short prison sentences of 12 months or less in Scotland will be ended next year, the justice secretary has said, after it emerged that 1,000 Scots spent last Christmas in jail on short sentences.

Liberal Democrats have called on ministers to press ahead with the plan set out earlier this year to extend the current presumption against three month sentences.

Scottish Prison Service figures obtained by the Lib Dems through freedom of information show 1,022 prisoners on sentences of a year or less were behind bars on Friday December 22, 2017, meaning they would spend Christmas there.

The total prison population on that date was 7,332.

Lib Dem justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: “Last year over 1,000 people were behind bars at Christmas due to a short-term sentence.

“Rather than being given short spells in prison, such offenders would be better serving tough, community-based sentences.

“We know that 60 per cent of people given ineffective and disruptive short-term sentences re-offend within a year of release, whereas robust community-based sentences are far more successful and reduce the chance of more people becoming victims of crime.”

He said community sentences are “not soft options” but help preserve family ties and limit the damage to the children of those behind bars.

“It is over a decade ago since the Prisons Commission concluded people on short sentences are ‘more troubling than dangerous’ and three years since the consultation on extending the presumption against short sentences closed.

“Responses were overwhelmingly in favour of this shift, with experts including HMIPS [Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland] backing a new 12-month rule.”

Courts currently have a presumption against three months sentences in Scotland and Humza Yousaf made it clear this will be extended.

He said: “In the year ahead the presumption against short sentences will be extended to 12 months, once additional safeguards for victims in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 are in force.

“Sentencing in any given case is a matter for the independent court who hears all the facts and circumstances of a case.

“Scottish courts will continue to have discretion to impose the most appropriate sentence, and Ministers have been clear that prison remains the right sentencing option for those who pose a serious risk to public safe.”