Scottish Government to scrap jail sentences of less than 12 months

Attempts are being made to reduce Scotland’s prison population by introducing a presumption against sentences of less than a year.

Humza Yousaf MSP.
Humza Yousaf MSP.

Justice secretary Humza Yousaf yesterday said he would bring forward plans to extend the current presumption from three months to 12, putting greater emphasis on community sentences.

Figures published yesterday by the Scottish Government show more than 30 per cent of Community Payback Orders (CPOs) in 2017/18 were not completed, while the completion rate for drug treatment and testing orders (DTTOs) fell to 40 per cent – the lowest level in seven years.

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There were 17,800 CPOs begun in 2017/18, a disposal introduced by the Scottish Government in 2011 which usually involves some form of unpaid work.

B Hall at HMP Barlinnie (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Extending the presumption against sentences of up to 12 months is supported by both Labour and the Lib Dems, but the Conservatives claim the move amounts to “soft touch justice”.

Labour’s justice spokesman, Daniel Johnson, said: “Our justice system should pursue sentences that deliver proper rehabilitation where possible. We welcome the presumption against short sentences, as evidence suggests that they offer limited opportunities for rehabilitation and training.

“While we welcome this change, a presumption against short sentences further underlines the need to strengthen our community justice system.”

Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur said: “Introducing a presumption against short-term sentences of less than 12 months is a common sense move that Scottish Liberal Democrats have demanded for years.

“The evidence shows that community sentences are better than prison at reducing the chance of these people re-offending, meaning communities are safer.”

There is broad support among academics and those working in the criminal justice system in favour of a presumption against sentences of less than 12 months amid evidence showing those who receive a community sentence are less likely to re-offend.

However, figures published last week showed that 27 per cent of prison sentences handed down by Scottish courts in 2017/18 were for periods of under three months, a proportion which has remained largely unchanged since 2011/12.

Liam Kerr, the Scottish Conservative’s justice spokesman, said: “It is an outrage that nearly a third of community sentences are not completed.

“Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to abolish sentences of less than a year could see almost 9,500 criminals avoid jail.

“In addition, it will just put more pressure on the community justice system, which already can’t cope. That’s just another insult to victims of crime.”

The Scottish Government said those released from short prison sentences were almost twice as likely to be re-convicted as those given CPOs.

Mr Yousaf said: “As we plan for the extension of the presumption against short prison sentences, which is supported by empirical evidence and was backed by the vast majority of consultation respondents, we have protected and strengthened funding for Scotland’s criminal justice social work services so that it now stands at just over £100 million.”