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MSPs to vote on raising sentence threshold to 12 months

17 May 2019

The presumption against short prison sentences will be raised from three months to 12 under an affirmative order now laid before the Scottish Parliament.

An affirmative order does not come into force until approved by MSPs, but subject to that, it is intended that the new minimum will come into force over the summer.

Ministers believe that extending the presumption will encourage greater use of more effective community sentences and break cycles of reoffending. People released from a custodial sentence of 12 months or less are reconvicted nearly twice as often as those sentenced to serve a community payback order (CPO).

A public consultation found a majority (85%) in favour of extending the presumption beyond the current three months. The Scottish Government committed in its 2018-19 Programme for Government to extend the presumption to up to 12 months, once additional safeguards for victims in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 were in force.

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham commented on publication of the order: "We have made clear that the presumption is not a ban and its extension will not abolish short prison sentences. Clearly prison remains the right option for those who pose a serious risk to public safety, and sentencing decisions will remain a matter for the independent judiciary. However, we want to ensure courts consider the most appropriate sentence in all cases and imprison people only when there is no suitable alternative.

"Disruptive and counterproductive short prison sentences often lead to homelessness, unemployment and family breakdown – making it harder for people to reintegrate on release and increasing the likelihood that they will be drawn into a cycle of offending.

"The introduction of a presumption against sentences of three months or less and use of CPOs since their introduction in 2011 have, alongside other reforms, helped achieve a 19-year low in reconviction rates. Evidence shows alternatives to custody are more successful in supporting rehabilitation and preventing reoffending, ultimately leading to fewer victims and safer communities."

Bill Fitzpatrick, director of operations at Community Justice Scotland, added: "Community Justice Scotland welcomes the extension of the presumption against short sentences to 12 months. It demonstrates a commitment to change and is a step towards smart, effective, more robust justice.

"Evidence shows this extension could reduce offending behaviour if strategic support is given to local service providers and communities to ensure that people pay back for the harm done and the underlying causes of crime are addressed."

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