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Prohibition, not presumption, is the only way to actually end short-term sentences

Reform Scotland, the independent, non-party think tank, will next week publish a new report – Reforming Prison. The report, which aims to contribute to the debate on how to better rehabilitate those subject to short-term sentences, will recommend that all jail sentences of six months or less should be banned.

The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 introduced a presumption against sentences of three months or less. Despite this, nearly 30% of all prison sentences in 2015/16 were for three months or less, and automatic early release meant that 65% of offenders that year serves three months or less.

As a result, Reform Scotland believes a presumption against short sentences does not go far enough and only an outright ban on their use will lead to a change.

Commenting, Reform Scotland’s Research Director, Alison Payne, said:

“The Scottish Prison Service itself has said that there are limited opportunities for rehabilitation during short sentence.

“Furthermore, the disruption of a short sentence, including loss of income and employment, and problems with childcare and family relationships, often makes the sentences disproportionate to the crime.

“A presumption against short sentences is well meaning but, in the final analysis, if we don’t want short sentences then we have to prohibit them.

“People make mistakes and we need to help ensure that such mistakes are not repeated, not just because of the emotional and financial cost of crime to victims, families and society, but because of the loss of human potential.

“Such a view is neither ideological nor controversial, but is human and compassionate.  However, it is not a view that is reflected in Scotland’s sentencing regime.”