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


Coalition target further reform over court inaction

ADVISERS, academics and campaigners have united to call for an overhaul of the Scottish justice system – including a proposal to end prison sentences of under one year.

Prion inspectors, social work groups, community justice authorities and Women for Independence are all calling for greater reforms to encourage rehabilitation and a reduction in Scotland’s high prison population.

The Scottish Government is open to the proposal, following a recent commitment to restructure women’s offending institutions.

A source involved in the judicial reform process blames the courts system for continuing the ‘revolving door’ of prison sentences.

Quoted in The Herald , Lisa Mackenzie, policy adviser for the Howard League for Penal Reform Scotland, said: “We welcome the fact that there is an emerging consensus for extending the presumption to prison sentences of 12 months or less.

“The presumption against custodial sentences of three months or less has been in place for almost five years and has failed to have any significant impact on the size of Scotland’s prison population. Short prison sentences rarely address the causes of crime and disrupt family life, employment and housing arrangements – all factors that reduce the risk of someone reoffending on release.”

A source close to the judicial reform process blames the courts system for continuing the ‘revolving door’ of prison sentences.

Maggie Melon, a campaigner for reform with Women for Independence, told The National : “It’s not prisons that are needed, but effective help on the outside. While that help is difficult or even impossible to get, sheriffs are going to carry on sending women to prison on remand and on sentence. Particularly when they are assured that it is going to be therapeutic.

“The investment that was going to be made in the super-prison and is now going to be made in wee super prisons in every area should not be going into prison at all.

“In fact we need to take investment out of prosecution, courts, and prisons. Expenditure on these is vastly disproportionate to any wrongs that the women have done, any crimes that have been committed. Apart from anything else, they make more crime and more useless expenditure inevitable. The public should know that this is a waste of money.”

Scotland’s prison population remain around 8,000 – one of the highest in Europe per head of population. However, focused efforts to reduce youth offending has seen a substantial drop in young people held as Polmont prison – which has contributed to an overall decline in crime figures.

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Picture courtesy of skeptical view