Calls to scrap short prison sentences as new figures expose a "revolving door" of crime

Majority of short-term prisoners are reconvicted within a year, new figures find 

FIFTY-SEVEN PER CENT of short-term detainees in Scotland’s prisons face reconviction within a year of release, confirming fears that the justice system is still suffering from a revolving door of crime. 

New reconviction rate figures released by the Scottish Government have reignited calls for reform to the justice system and sentencing, with a move away from ineffective short term sentences towards more successful community alternatives. 

The figures confirmed that those who receive short-term sentences are back to face a further reconviction in 60 per cent of cases for sentences under three months, and in 54 per cent of cases when the original sentence was between three and six months. 

In contrast, the new system of Community Payback Orders (CPOs) achieved a far lower reconviction rate of 32.7 per cent. 

“This is yet more evidence that disruptive, short-term prison sentences are less effective at rehabilitating people than robust, community-based sentences.” Liam McArthur MSP 

The Scottish Government has consistently called for a new approach to imprisonment and sentencing, over fears high reconviction rates and over-crowded jails were placing a strain on the ability to deliver effective sentences to serious offenders and provide opportunities for rehabilitation in less serious cases. 

However, seven years after the parliament passed a law advising against sentences of under three months the prison system is still flooded with over 4,000 such sentences every year. 

Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said: “The drop in reconvictions is, of course, a good thing but it only tells half the story. The fact remains that more than half of those given short-term prison sentences are reconvicted within a year. This is yet more evidence that disruptive, short-term prison sentences are less effective at rehabilitating people than robust, community-based sentences.

Read more - End jail sentences under one year to reform prisons, argue experts

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have consistently called for the presumption against short-term sentences to be raised to 12 months from the current three. This is backed by independent experts and reinforced by today’s statistics. If the Justice Secretary is serious about reducing reoffending he should quit stalling and finally adopt this new policy.”

National Statistics findings identified 4,066 custodial sentences of less than three months handed out by the courts system in 2015-16. A further 4,850 sentences were between three and six months. (Table 10a) Combined, this represented 65 per cent of all sentences handed out by the country’s court system for the past year. 

The overall reconviction rate in Scotland fell by a marginal 0.3 per cent to 28.2 per cent over the past year. This continued a positive trend down from 32.5 per cent a decade ago. 

“These figures show we are continuing to make good progress on tackling reoffending.” Justice Minister Michael Matheson

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said that the progress was welcome - and highlighted the effectiveness of community sentencing: “These figures show we are continuing to make good progress on tackling reoffending – a key goal of this government’s justice strategy. The continued fall in reconvictions is down to hard work from partners across Scottish justice, working together to prevent offending and keep our communities safe.

“This is further evidence to back up our position that robust community sentences, particularly CPOs, are more effective at reducing reoffending than short custodial sentences.

“I want to see a Scotland where people are held to account for their offending behaviour, but are also given the opportunity to address the underlying causes of their offending behaviour and become contributing citizens in their communities.”

The Scottish Parliament called for a presumption against such short sentences in the Criminal Justice and Licensing Act of 2010. In 2016 a coalition of prison inspectors, social work groups, community justice authorities and Women for Independence called for an end to jail sentences of less than one year.

Scotland’s average daily prison population for 2015 -16 was 7,675, a gradual decrease on recent years - although still close to all time historic highs.

Picture courtesy of Michael Coglan

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