Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP today urged the Scottish Government to stop prevaricating and strengthen the presumption against short-term sentences. The call came after new research showed 1000 people spent last Christmas in prison after being sentenced to less than 12 months.
The figures were provided by Scottish Prison Service following a freedom of information request from the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
A consultation on extending the presumption against sentences of three months or less closed over a year ago. The Government published the responses last March. Despite 85% supporting extending the presumption, SNP ministers still haven’t announced how they will proceed.
Those backing an increase to 12 months include HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, penal reform experts and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Mr McArthur said:
“Last year over 1000 people were behind bars at Christmas due to a short-term sentence. Of these, 115 were imprisoned contrary to the existing presumption.
“Rather than being given ineffective and disruptive short spells in prison, such offenders would be better serving tough, community-based sentences.
“All the evidence shows that community-based justice programmes and diversion-from-prosecution projects are far more successful in reducing reoffending and healing communities than short stints in prison. They are not soft options, but they do help preserve family links and limit the damage on dependent children.
“It’s been over a year since the consultation on extending the presumption against short sentences closed. Responses were overwhelmingly in favour of this shift, with experts including HMIPS backing a new 12-month rule. Yet the silence from the Scottish Government has been deafening.
“I will continue to press the Scottish Government to get on with delivering meaningful and long overdue prison reform. The New Year needs to see this aspect of the Scottish justice system move into the 21st century.”