Call To End 'Victorian Over-Reliance' On Short-Term Jail Sentences

16 April 2017, 05:52


Ministers are being pressed to end the justice system's ongoing ''Victorian over-reliance'' on short-term jail sentences.

The Liberal Democrats made the plea after figures showed that the number of women being given such punishments ''hasn't changed a jot'', despite a landmark report five years ago stating short-term sentences have ''little or no impact on re-offending''.

That was one of the conclusions of the Angiolini Report, which examined how the justice system deals with female offenders.

But the Lib Dems said since it was published in 2012, there had been little change in the number of women being handed short-term sentences.

There were 1,056 women given sentences of a year or less in 2015-16, analysis by the party suggested.

And while 488 female offenders were given sentences of three months or less in 2012-13, the total for 2015-16 was 487. Meanwhile, in 2014-15, 502 women offenders were given a jail terms of three months or less.

The Angiolini Report concluded: ''Short-term prison sentences have little or no impact on re-offending, with 70% of women offenders who received a prison sentence of three months or less re-convicted of an offence within two years.

''Prison is also more expensive than community disposals. The average cost of a community payback order is around £2,400, which is approximately half the cost of a three-month prison sentence.''

Since then, the Scottish Working Group on Women's Offending has raised concerns that the recommendations made in the report may not be ''satisfactorily implemented''.

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur said the new analysis of the figures ''shows that the justice system remains fundamentally unfair to women''.

The Lib Dem MSP said: ''The use of senseless short-term sentences and remand remains rife. The number of women given the shortest stints hasn't changed a jot.

''The continued over-reliance on prison belongs in the Victorian era. That is why it is so important that we realise the potential for the Angiolini Report to be a game-changer in the shift towards community justice.

''One of the Justice Secretary's first acts back in 2015 was rightly to cancel plans for a huge new women's prison.

''While there is work in the pipeline to bring our justice system into the 21st century, experts are now warning the Government that there is a real risk this will fall short.

''SNP ministers need to show they mean business. They could start by immediately announcing a new robust presumption against sentences of less than 12 months.

''Experts told the Justice Secretary this was required during a consultation in 2015. It is now 2017 and we still don't know whether they will go ahead with it.

''This must be part of a much broader package of reform. That is why ministers should also be clear about what progress is being made against Angiolini's recommendations and what they expect to achieve. Without this, there is a risk the justice system will fail thousands more women unnecessarily.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ''We support increased use of early intervention and supervised bail as a direct alternative to imprisonment for women.

''That is why over the last year we provided Community Justice Authorities with an additional £1.5 million this purpose, which has been carried on into 2017/18 under the new model for Community Justice.

''Our wide-ranging plans for the female custodial estate include closing Cornton Vale and replacing it with a smaller national prison.

''We are also developing community custody units which will use trauma-informed practice to address the underlying issues that led to offending in the first place whilst allowing the women to be closer to their families and be part of their community.

''We know short-term prison sentences are often ineffective.

''The proposal to further strengthen the presumption against short prison sentences is one part of our ongoing and wide-ranging work to reduce short-term imprisonment through the delivery of effective, community sentences that promote rehabilitation.''