Community sentencing

We know from evidence and research that community interventions are more effective than short prison sentences.

Such sentences often disrupt factors that can help prevent offending, including family relationships, housing, employment and access to healthcare and support.

A sustained focus on prevention and effective interventions, including community sentences, has helped ensure reconviction rates remain at a 20 year low.

Sentencing decisions are a matter for the courts and no sentence - either in custody or in the community - can eliminate the possibility of some individuals offending in the future. Community interventions, including community sentences, can help ensure offending and its causes are addressed while helping prevent reoffending and reducing victimisation.

Presumption against short sentences

In June 2019 we extended the presumption against short sentences from three to 12 months, backed by the Scottish Parliament.

The aim of this is to help prevent reoffending and enable a further shift from short custodial sentences to more effective methods of addressing offending and rehabilitation, such as Community Payback Orders (CPOs). 

This will also help to reduce the churn of short-term prisoners and free up capacity for staff in prisons to support rehabilitation of those on longer sentences.

The presumption is not a ban, and courts are still able to impose short prison sentences when alternatives have been considered and are not appropriate.

Community Payback Orders (CPOs)

A CPO is usually an alternative to custody, though a level 1 CPO can be imposed as an alternative to a fine. It makes individuals pay back to their communities for the damage caused by their offending - usually by carrying out unpaid work. 

There are a number of potential requirements and the court will decide what is most appropriate to address the offending and its causes. In some cases unpaid work is not an appropriate option.

CPOs offer opportunities for rehabilitation by requiring people to tackle the underlying causes of their offending behaviour. They can be combined with other measures such as electronic monitoring, drug and alcohol or conduct requirements.

Delivering CPOs and ensuring completion of these orders is the responsibility of the relevant local authority. Local authorities are required to consult with communities about the nature of unpaid work that should be carried out in the area.

We published updated practice guidance on Community Payback Orders for justice social work practitioners and managers in May 2022.

Drug Treatment and Testing Orders (DTTOs)

DTTOs aim to help offenders reduce their drug misuse and the crimes they commit because of it. They are given for up to three years to offenders who have a serious drug problem and who might otherwise be given a prison sentence. Offenders must agree to treatments, to testing to ensure the treatments are being followed,  and to regular attendance at court for reviews.

Further information on sentencing 

Read more about sentencing and disposals available to courts at the Scottish Sentencing Council website.

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