Drop in use of short prison sentences

First data published since statutory presumption was extended.

Statistics showing a drop in the use of short prison sentences of 12 months or less in the second half of 2019 have been welcomed by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf.

The proportion of all court disposals which are prison sentences of 12 months or less fell from 12.8% in April to 9.5% in November according to the first data published since the statutory presumption against short sentences was extended.

While only a small number of offences that would be subject to the extended presumption have been disposed by the courts in the period covered by the publication, future publications will provide more detailed analysis.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:

“Although very early days, we are beginning to see a modest reduction in our prison population. This data suggests our penal reforms are having a positive impact - reducing the number of short custodial sentences and encouraging the use of more effective community disposals – although it is too early to directly attribute changes in sentencing to the extended presumption.

“Custody remains the right place for those who commit the most serious crimes and who clearly pose a risk of harm to the public and I want to ensure Scotland’s hard-working prison workers have the capacity to focus on work to rehabilitate these individuals. That requires fewer people to be caught in the revolving door of short-term prison sentences, which benefits no-one.

“Short sentences disrupt many of the things we know are most likely to help reduce reoffending such as housing, employment, family relationships and access to health care and support. People undertaking community sentences have told me directly of the positive impact it is having in helping them to turn their lives around and to contribute to their families and to society.

“I value the work of Scotland’s community justice teams whose dedicated approach, including over the winter months, helps ensure reconviction rates remain at a record low. Our draft budget includes increased investment, now at more than £117 million, to bolster community justice services – driving improvement and building on the impact of our sustained focus on effective interventions.”


Scotland’s Chief Statistician today published Extended Presumption Against Short Sentences – Monitoring Information July 2019 – December 2019, which gives initial indications of how the extended presumption against short sentences is currently working and may develop in the future. Read the full statistical bulletin.

Data was published on all disposals in Scottish Courts from April 2017 to December 2019.

The presumption against short sentences of 12 months or less took effect for cases where the offence was committed from 4 July 2019. Due to the average time it takes for cases to be processed by courts, a limited number that fall under the presumption have been disposed of by courts at this time. Further, more detailed analysis by other related factors (e.g. court type, offence aggravators) will be available as more offences subject to the presumption make their way through the courts.

National Statistics show that those released from a short prison sentence of 12 months or less are reconvicted nearly twice as often than those sentenced to serve community payback orders (CPOs). Extending the presumption against short prison sentences should encourage greater use of community interventions and help break cycles of reoffending.

The draft Scottish Budget for 2020-21 increases investment in community justice services to more than £117 million, which is an increase of over £6.5 million. Action is being taken, including through the National Community Justice Leadership Group, to drive improvement to provision of community justice services.



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