Short jail terms work, expert claims

COMMUNITY service schemes in place of short prison services, such as those supported by Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, have no effect on conviction rates, a leading criminologist has reported.

Professor Ken Pease, a former Home Office criminologist, said that replacing short sentences with community service simply "freed the group most likely to reoffend to do so sooner, with no evidence of a current treatment benefit from community sanctions to offset that."

He said arguments for the policy failed to note jailing persistent offenders gave the public a respite from crime.

In June the Scottish Government agreed plans to effectively phase out short prison sentences of three months or less with sheriffs presuming against shorter jail terms.

At the time MacAskill said: "We need to end the ridiculous situation where a low-level offender gets free bed and board for three months at the taxpayers' expense when the evidence shows getting them out, paying back the community through tough manual labour, works far better."

Peace's report "Prison, Community Sentencing and Crime", released by think-tank Civitas, follows Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's call for alternatives to jail. Pease said it was important for any such move is "be based on something more than short-term political exigency".

Using government data, he estimates over 13,000 offences would be prevented every year if short-term prisoners spent an extra month inside. Pease also said the main reason crime has fallen in the past decade is because of improved security measures. And he claims the debate about whether prison helps cut crime has been distorted by "convenient fictions" that it is expensive and less effective than community sentences.

However, Roma Hooper, director of Make Justice Work, which backs the policy, said: "What is interesting is that (the report] does say that well resourced and delivered community sentences can work."