Sen­tences of less than 12 months to be axed

● But Tories brand the move ‘soft touch jus­tice’ and an in­sult to vic­tims

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By CHRIS MAR­SHALL

Sen­tences of less than 12 months are set to be scrapped in an ef­fort to slash Scot­land’s prison pop­u­la­tion.

Jus­tice sec­re­tary Humza Yousaf con­firmed plans to raise the pre­sump­tion from three months to 12 would be fast-tracked.

The move has won broad sup­port among aca­demics, but the Con­ser­va­tives have la­belled the change as “soft touch jus­tice”.

At­tempts are be­ing made to re­duce Scot­land’s prison pop­u­la­tion by in­tro­duc­ing a pre­sump­tion against sen­tences of less than a year.

Jus­tice sec­re­tary Humza Yousaf yes­ter­day said he would bring for­ward plans to ex­tend the cur­rent pre­sump­tion from three months to 12, putting greater em­pha­sis on com­mu­nity sen­tences.

Fig­ures pub­lished yes­ter­day by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment show more than 30 per cent of com­mu­nity pay­back or­ders (CPOS) in 2017-18 were not com­pleted.

The com­ple­tion rate for drug treat­ment and test­ing or­ders (DTTOS) fell to 40 per cent – the low­est level recorded in seven years.

There were 17,800 CPOS be­gun in 2017-18 – a dis­posal in­tro­duced by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment in 2011 that usu­ally in­volves some form of un­paid work.

Ex­tend­ing the pre­sump­tion against sen­tences of up to 12 months is sup­ported by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but the Con­ser­va­tives claim the move amounts to “soft touch jus­tice”.

Labour’s jus­tice spokesman Daniel John­son said: “Our jus­tice sys­tem should pur­sue sen­tences that de­liver proper re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion where pos­si­ble.

“We wel­come the pre­sump­tion against short sen­tences, as ev­i­dence sug­gests that they of­fer lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and train­ing.

“While we wel­come this change, a pre­sump­tion against short sen­tences fur­ther un­der­lines the need to

strengthen our com­mu­nity jus­tice sys­tem.”

Lib Dem MSP Liam Mcarthur said: “In­tro­duc­ing a pre­sump­tion against short­term sen­tences of less than 12 months is a com­mon sense move that Scot­tish Liberal Democrats have de­manded for years.

“The ev­i­dence shows that com­mu­nity sen­tences are bet­ter than prison at re­duc­ing the chance of these peo­ple re-of­fend­ing, mean­ing com­mu­ni­ties are safer.”

There is broad sup­port

among aca­demics and those work­ing in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in favour of a pre­sump­tion against sen­tences of less than 12 months amid ev­i­dence show­ing those who re­ceive a com­mu­nity sen­tence are less likely to re-of­fend.

How­ever, fig­ures pub­lished last week showed that 27 per cent of prison sen­tences handed down by Scot­tish courts in 2017-18 were for pe­ri­ods of un­der three months.

That pro­por­tion has re­mained largely un­changed since 2011-12.

Liam Kerr, the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive jus­tice spokesman, said: “It is an out­rage that nearly a third of com­mu­nity sen­tences are not com­pleted.

“Nicola Stur­geon’s plan to abol­ish sen­tences of less than a year could see al­most 9,500 crim­i­nals avoid jail.

“In ad­di­tion, it will just put more pres­sure on the com­mu­nity jus­tice sys­tem, which al­ready can’t cope.

“That’s just an­other in­sult to vic­tims of crime.”

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment said those re­leased from short

prison sen­tences were al­most twice as likely to be re-con­victed as those given CPOS.

Mr Yousaf said: “As we plan for the ex­ten­sion of the pre­sump­tion against short prison sen­tences, which is sup­ported by em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence and was backed by the vast ma­jor­ity of con­sul­ta­tion re­spon­dents, we have pro­tected and strength­ened fund­ing for Scot­land’s crim­i­nal jus­tice so­cial work ser­vices so that it now stands at just over £100 mil­lion.”

0 The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment said those re­leased from short prison sen­tences were al­most twice as likely to be re-con­victed as those given CPOS

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