Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP today said the Scottish Government must hold its nerve and make essential liberal reforms to the justice system that would bring it into the 21st century.
The Scottish Government's Programme for Government yesterday announced an intention to introduce a presumption against ineffective short-term prison sentences - a change Liberal Democrats have long called for.
Ministers also revealed that they will legislate to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12, despite twice voting down Liberal Democrat attempts to do this during the last Parliament, and that they wouldn't stand in the way of a Members' Bill ending the so-called justifiable assault of children.
Mr McArthur commented:
"The justice policies announced by the Scottish Government yesterday are a step in the right direction but the reality must match their rhetoric.
"The changes proposed are in line with international best practice for reducing crime and improving rehabilitation. We have one of the largest prison populations in Europe, having failed to invest in robust community-based options that are proven to reduce the chance of people reoffending. Meanwhile, Scotland has been repeatedly condemned by the UN for criminalising children as young as 8. It is right that we now make these long overdue changes.
"Around 60% of people given the shortest prison sentences re offend with a year of release. Each re offence is a crime, with a victim, that could have been prevented. By contrast, each successful rehabilitation results in a positive contribution towards our communities.
"It is time to end our Victorian attitude to justice. It may sound tough but it doesn't work. Of course those committing serious offences or who pose a danger to society should be imprisoned. But we need to give others the chance to get back on track. Instead of being given destructive short stints in prison, people should be compelled to give something back to the communities that they harmed.
"Liberal Democrats will support these reforms, provided the government stays true to what it set out yesterday and ensures that robust community sentence measures are properly funded."