Scottish Lib Dems to oppose jail terms of less than a year

Prison officer
Image caption Judges must state their reasons for imposing a sentence of three months or less under current rules

The Scottish Liberal Democrats are to back a presumption against prison sentences of under a year in their manifesto for the Holyrood election.

Scottish judges are currently encouraged to avoid handing out sentences of three months or less.

The Lib Dems say this should be extended to 12 months in a bid to reduce re-offending, save money and cut the prison population.

The Scottish government has been holding consultations on the matter.

A presumption against sentences of three months or less was first introduced in 2010, meaning courts must publicly state reasons for imposing a short sentence when alternatives such as community payback orders are available.

Extending the existing system is backed by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland, the Howard League for Penal Reform and some councils and social work organisations.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said such a move could reduce the "churn" of short-term prisoners through the penal system.

Community rehabilitation

Figures show 4,126 people were given a custodial sentence of up to three months in the 2013/14 year, with 5,214 more given terms of between three and six months. Up to 60% of those sentenced to less than three months are reconvicted within a year.

The Scottish government has been considering extending the presumption system to sentences of six months or less.

As part of their 2016 election manifesto, the Scottish Liberal Democrats are to formally back doubling that, by extending the presumption to 12 months.

Justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said prison sentences for more serious offenders should be complemented by "tough" community service programmes.

"One of the main priorities for Scottish Liberal Democrats is having a criminal justice system where if someone breaks the law, they are swiftly brought to justice," she said. "But we also believe offenders deserve a chance to get back on track and community rehabilitation is a fundamental part of that.

"A prison place costs £37,000 a year - much more than effective community-based sentences like Community Payback Orders which cost on average £1,900.

"That means this policy will also enable the Scottish Prison Service to really focus on engaging with more serious long-term offenders, not those who experts have deemed more troubling than dangerous."

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