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Justice Committee publishes report on short sentences restriction order

24 June 2019

Holyrood's Justice Committee has published the report on its majority decision to agree to the extension from three months to 12 of the presumption aganst short prison sentences in Scotland (previously reported here).

It calls both for the change to be properly resourced in order to have the desired impact, and for action to ensure the policy is applied uniformly across the country by sentencing judges.

Agreeing with Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, the MSPs agree that the proposed change is not a "silver bullet" and will not in itself result in a substantial decrease in Scotland's prison population. "At best, the measure may help reduce churn in the prison system [the rate of turnover of the prison population turns over]. Tackling our relatively high remand rates, for example, would be more effective, as would preventing people from offending in the first place."

While noting evidence on the relative reconviction rates for short sentences and for community-based alternatives such as community payback orders (CPOs), the committee suggests that caution needs to be applied when comparing the figures as the profile of offenders can be different, and recommends further work by the Government and other agencies to improve the collection and publication of data on this matter. 

On resources, the committee agrees that "in order to have a substantive impact, adequate resources must be provided to groups such as criminal justice social workers and voluntary/third sector bodies to ensure that the community-based 'alternatives' work as effectively as possible", adding: "Placing former prisoners into the community (with electronic monitoring) without adequate access to housing, employment, health services etc is setting them up to fail."

As respects sentencers, it further agrees that their views on the merits of the alternatives, as well as the resources required to ensure a more uniform availability across the country, need to be addressed. Having engaged with the Judicial Institute for Scotland, it believes that more can be done by way of training in relation to the proposed change. "The independence of the judiciary is critical and it is up to the judiciary to decide on training requirements. However, it is also the case that we need to ensure that all sentencers have trust in the alternatives to short sentences and that we have a more uniform provision for these disposals across Scotland... It would also be beneficial if the explanation of reasons behind sentences of less than 12 months imposed by the judiciary was more than cursory. This would assist policymakers in developing a better understanding of sentencing behaviour."

The reform will be considered by the full Parliament this week.

Click here to view the report.


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