Payback and rehab in the community helping to reduce reoffending and keep crime down.
Extending a presumption against short prison sentences and encouraging greater use of more effective community sentences will better tackle re-offending, Michael Matheson said.
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice also announced that Scotland’s first two Community Custody Units, managing lower-risk female prisoners closer to local services and support, would be located in Maryhill, Glasgow and at a site still to be confirmed in Dundee.
“There will always be cases where the court rightly takes the view that a prison sentence is absolutely justified, but for those who do end up in custody, we must think beyond bricks and mortar,” he said, paying tribute to the professionalism of Scotland’s prison staff.
However, short jail terms should be imposed when they are the only suitable option, Mr Matheson told Parliament – citing evidence that over half those released from a prison sentence of 12 months or less – with little scope for effective rehabilitation – are reconvicted within a year, compared to a third of those who had served a community sentence.
He said: “A just, equitable and inclusive society is one that is supported by a progressive evidence-based justice system; a system which works with communities to reduce – and ultimately prevent – further offending. A system which holds individuals to account for their offending, but ultimately supports them to make positive contributions to our communities.
“Over the past decade this Government has taken steps to end our reliance on custody and move towards effective community sentences that enhance public safety and promote rehabilitation, and which evidence shows are more effective at reducing reoffending and thus reducing the risk of further victims.”
Forthcoming Government legislation will give courts more powers to use electronic monitoring (tagging) as part of a community sentence – a move backed by 88% of respondents to a public consultation on extending the use of tagging, including rolling out GPS technology in addition to existing radio frequency systems.
Among positive impacts of tagging identified in the consultation responses, published today, were the ability to help safeguard women in domestic violence cases, and to enable people with physical and mental health needs to continue with care in the community.
Mr Matheson said: “Electronic Monitoring is already an important tool in the delivery of justice. It carries a punitive element and offers a range of options to improve public protection, while allowing an individual to maintain their employment and family links. When used to enforce curfew conditions, it can provide stability to those whose offending is part and parcel of a chaotic lifestyle.”
The recent Programme for Government (PfG) included plans to extend the presumption against short prison sentences from 3 to 12 months – once the provisions of the Domestic Abuse Bill currently before Parliament, are in force, to ensure further safeguards for victims of those crimes are available to the courts. When sentencing a person convicted of a domestic abuse offence, the court will be required to give particular consideration to the need to prevent the victim suffering further abuse and to consider whether to impose a Non-Harassment Order.
Under existing legislation, where a court passes a sentence of 3 months or less it must state its reasons for the opinion that no other method of dealing with the person is appropriate, and have those reasons entered into the record of the proceedings.
The PfG also included a pledge to legislate to expand the role of electronic monitoring, increasing options available to manage and monitor offenders in the community and to further protect public safety. The safety, wellbeing and protection of victims are essential and the use of GPS exclusion or inclusion zones will offer victims significant reassurance and respite. Read the analysis of the public consultation on extending tagging here.
Read more details of the plans for two CCUs, in Glasgow and Dundee, on the SPS website.
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