Short prison sentences of 12 months or less have been branded ‘ineffective’ and are expected to reduce now that MSPs have voted for a presumption against their use.

Holyrood voted by 83 to 26 to extend a previous presumption (not to impose a prison sentence of three months or less) to custodial sentences of one year or less. Since the presumption against sentences of three months or less was introduced in 2011, reconviction rates in Scotland have been at a 19-year low. Evidence has shown that “alternatives to custody are more successful in supporting rehabilitation and preventing reoffending” according to Community safety minister, Ash Denham.

Of all the custodial sentences given in Scotland, short term prisoners sentenced to a year or less account for 79 per cent. Recent figures have also shown around 90 per cent of women who are sent to prison are given a sentence of 12 months or less.

While courts will still be able to impose a prison sentence of 12 months or less, this presumption aims to encourage the use of more effective methods of both addressing offending and rehabilitation, such as Community Payback Orders (CPOs).

Figures from 2018 revealed that those sentenced to short jail terms were reconvicted almost twice as often in the following year compared with those who were given CPOs.

According to analysis conducted by the Scottish Government, reducing custodial sentences of 12 months or less by 20 per cent would result in an additional 1,300 community sentences per year.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf told the chamber that community sentences “are not a soft option”, and are “much more effective” for rehabilitation:

“The evidence is clear that short periods of imprisonment do not work. They disrupt the things that are most likely to help reduce offending, such as family relationships, housing, employment and access to healthcare and support.”

This change will apply to offences that are committed on or after 4 July 2019.

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