Nicola Sturgeon yesterday attacked the Scottish Tories for failing to support Scottish Government plans to effectively end short-term prison sentences of less that a year.
The First Minister took the step after it emerged that Theresa May’s Justice Secretary, David Gauke, suggested jail terms of less than 12 months should only be used as a last resort.
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In interviews published yesterday, Mr Gauke said he would like to see the overall prison population south of the border come down.
“Twenty-five years ago, the population was 44,000. Today it’s 84,000,” he said. “ We would like it to fall.”
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He said that efforts to cut the number of people incarcerated would depend on “both how successfully we can build confidence in non-custodial sentences and how effective we can be in reducing the rates of re-offending”.
Mr Gauke said the rise had been driven by “longer and tougher” sentences on criminals who had committed serious crimes.
But he acknowledged concerns about the role of shorter terms: “There is an issue about public protection, but I think we need to look at the efficacy of short sentences.”
He said: “The evidence shows that when the person has been inside for less than 12 months, the re-offending rate is about 66 per cent but the re-offending rate for those who get a non-custodial sentence is a lot lower. Short sentences should be a last resort.”
In Scotland, the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government included a pledge to “extend the presumption against short-term sentences from three months to 12 months”.
The Tories, however, were highly critical. Their justice spokesman, Liam Kerr, hit out at the move, saying figures showed that in 2015-16 two people convicted of homicide received a sentence of up to a year, as did 27 people convicted of sexual assault.
Yesterday Sturgeon tweeted her approval of Gauke’s remarks, saying: “He’s right and yet Scots Tories oppose the Scottish Government’s sensible plans to extend presumption against short sentences.”
Last night Mr Kerr responded on behalf of the Scottish Tories, saying: “No-one doubts that community sentencing plays an important part in our justice system. However, even now we are seeing dangerous criminals who are convicted of serious crimes being able to walk away from court with a fine or a community payback order. This is bad for public safety, and is not respecting the victims of these horrible crimes.”