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Report recommends no more short prison sentences

2 July 2008

The Scottish Prisons Commission (SPC) has called for an end to almost all short prison sentences.

Published yesterday, the Commission’s report, Scotland's Choice, sets out proposals for the future of crime and punishment north of the border. Instead of short prison sentences, offenders would receive tougher community sentences.

Led by former First Minister Henry McLeish, the Commission was set up in September of last year with a remit to consider how imprisonment is currently used in Scotland and how this fits with the government’s wider strategic objectives. Its proposals could mean a reduction in the prison population by one third.

The 23 recommendations in the review cover the themes of rethinking punishment, prosecution and court processes, sentencing and managing sentences, community justice, prisons and resettlement, the Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Act, the prison open estate.

It proposes an end to all six month custodial sentences, except for those convicted of violent or sexual offences.

Community payback

Some of the issues covered include better targeting of imprisonment, the use of community payback and increased efficiency in the court system.

There are also recommendations tackling the issues of illegal drugs in prison through, for example, the introduction of drug-free wings, young offenders, improved throughcare for offenders on release, the use of conditional sentences and the eventual termination of the home detention curfew scheme.

The Commission recommends that if the Custodial Sentencing and Weapons (Scotland) Act is to be implemented, it should be a staged implementation reserved for those serving custodial sentences of two years or more. It also recommends the creation of a national sentencing council to ensure consistency and better public understanding and confidence in sentencing of all kinds.

Opposition MSPs condemned the McLeish report, with Bill Aitken, the Conservative Party’s justice spokesman saying it was proof that Scotland was a “soft touch” for criminals and Labour’s Pauline McNeill claiming that reducing the prison population by so many would never work.

Mr McLeish said: "Scotland has one possible future where its prisons hold only serious offenders, prison staff regularly and expertly deliver programmes that can affect change and there is a widely used and respected system of community-based sentences.

He added that the alternative was more prisons, more overcrowding, prison staff suffering from low morale and a record level of distrust by the public in the criminal justice system.