Scotland politics

Michael Matheson calls for 'bold action' on reoffending

prison Image copyright PA
Image caption Scotland currently jails more people than most other countries in western Europe

Scotland's justice secretary has called for "bold action" to reduce reoffending.

Michael Matheson said jailing people for short periods merely resulted in them "going in and out of prison, time and time again".

There has been a presumption against jailing people for three months or less in Scotland since 2011.

The Scottish government is consulting on whether that minimum term should be extended, and by how much.

Under the proposals, offenders would serve their sentences in the community instead of being jailed and receive help for the causes of their offending behaviour, including drug or alcohol addictions or mental-health issues.

'Last resort'

Sheriffs will still have discretion to impose any sentence deemed necessary in a particular case, despite the proposals.

The imprisonment rate in Scotland is currently one of the highest in western Europe, with the government saying that 60% of offenders imprisoned for three months or less are re-convicted within a year.

Mr Matheson has previously said that he was determined to change that situation, and has suggested that imprisonment is used as the "option of last resort".

He met former members of the Armed Forces and staff from the North Lanarkshire Council veterans' group on Thursday to highlight measures to reduce reoffending.

The group works with veterans with a range of issues, including some who have offended, to tackle substance misuse and anti-social behaviour.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Michael Matheson wants imprisonment to be used as a "last resort"

The justice secretary said it was "humbling" to meet people who had served their country and to hear some of the difficult issues they can face when readjusting to civilian life.

He added: "By offering opportunities like participating in local environmental projects while also giving support to tackle underlying issues, this service addresses an unmet need for specialised support for a small and unique group of people.

"This community justice project is part of our innovative approach to reforming Scotland's penal policy, promoting social justice and tackling inequality."

'Bold action'

Mr Matheson said the reconviction rate in Scotland was now at its lowest level for 16 years and recorded crime was at a 41-year low.

He said: "Short sentences do nothing to reduce reoffending in our communities and only result in individuals going in and out of prison, time and time again.

"In my view we need to act on the evidence, be braver in our approach and take the bold action needed to tackle these ineffective sentences.

"We want to hear people's opinions on our consultation on whether to strengthen the presumption against short sentences and I would encourage anybody with an interest to respond to the consultation before it closes on 16 December."

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