"Soft touch" justice claims as more Scots offenders escape court

The number of Scots offenders avoiding court after their case was passed to social workers is on the rise prompting claims of a "soft touch" justice system.

Humza Yousaf insists that community sentences are the right approach

The number of “diversions from prosecution” has risen by 7 per cent to over 1,800 over the last year, official figures have revealed.

One in three criminals are also failing to complete community payback orders, with only 68 percent of offenders finishing them.

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The Scottish Government insists that about 8 million hours of unpaid work has been carried out by people serving community sentences since 2011.

Justice Secretary Secretary Humza Yousaf insisted this approach works better than "ineffective" short prison sentences.

But over a third of the orders did not include "unpaid work or other activity", according to the Criminal Justice Social Work Statistics for 2018/19, prompting claims they provide no rehabilitation.

Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “The SNP’s soft touch justice clearly isn’t an effective answer to Scotland’s rising crime rate.

“This significant increase in diversions from prosecution denies more victims the justice they deserve while offenders avoid any meaningful punishment.

“While early and positive intervention by social work could be helpful, there is a danger that young offenders are simply being recycled back onto our streets.

“In addition, many of the payback orders that are being completed aren’t starting on time, and many aren’t rehabilitating the criminals who do finish them."

Unpaid work by offenders serving community payback orders (CPOs) includes maintaining pavements, clearing drains, making furniture for foodbanks and schools, gardening and painting.

Mr Yousaf said: “While prison is necessary for offenders who pose a significant public safety risk, short-term custodial sentences are an ineffective means of rehabilitation. Imprisonment, including remand, disrupts families and communities, employment and housing – the very factors that deter offending and keep crime down.

“Unpaid work completed by people serving CPOs benefits local projects and helps them to become active and responsible contributors to their community."

He added: “Many people in the justice system have chaotic backgrounds and struggle with addiction and mental health problems – issues that won’t be solved by a short period in prison, where hard-working staff should be focused on the most serious offenders. Community sentences, with supervision and other conditions where necessary, add structure and help people make the positive changes needed to tackle the causes of their behaviour.”

The number of people given supervised bail rather than being remanded in custody increased 26% between 2017-18 and 2018-19, the figures also show.