Independent review of sentencing and penal policy

In-depth look at how best to deal with offending behaviour.

Identifying the most effective ways to address offending behaviour so there is less crime and fewer victims will be at the heart of an independent review of sentencing and penal policy, the Justice Secretary has announced.

The externally led review will examine how and when custodial sentences and community interventions are used, how effective these are and what more can be done to prevent crime and reduce reoffending.

While sentencing in individual cases is always for Scotland’s independent courts, the review will consider the range of community interventions available to judges and sheriffs and whether these should be expanded.

To encourage greater use of robust community-based interventions there will be also be increased investment of £14 million in community justice in 2024-25, bringing the total investment in community justice to £148 million this year.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said:

“Protecting victims and the public from harm is my absolute priority and prison will always be necessary as part of that. However, we must recognise that, while appropriate in many cases, short prison sentences are often not the best way to reduce reoffending, with those released from short custodial sentences reconvicted nearly twice as often as those sentenced to a community payback order.

“Therefore an externally led review of sentencing and penal policy will allow us to re-visit the fundamental question of how imprisonment and community-based sentences are used. We must do more to develop community interventions with increased breadth and depth, so that the courts have a greater selection of options to deal robustly and constructively with the individuals before them.

“The prison population in Scotland remains too high and the needs of those in prison are increasingly complex. While a range of work is underway to respond to this, we also need to understand and address its root causes. The aim of this review is not about reducing the prison population as an end in itself, but ensuring that custody is used for the right people at the right time.”


The review will be asked to offer its initial findings for consideration by Government and Parliament during this parliamentary session.

The reconviction rate for those given Community Payback Orders in 2018-19 was 29.8% compared to 52.1% for those completing custodial sentences of one year or less.

Reconviction rates 2018-19

Justice Secretary Angela Constance’s statement on Scotland’s prison population


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