Plans to restrict 12-month prison sentences published

Prison guard

Proposals to restrict the use of short prison sentences have been published by the Scottish government.

If passed by MSPs at Holyrood, it will oblige courts to explain why custodial terms of less than a year were given.

Ministers say the current presumption against sentences of three months or less has helped achieve a 19-year low in re-conviction rates.

That is despite research published earlier this month suggesting the change has had little effect.

In its report, Crest Advisory acknowledged that the presumption against short custodial sentences had coincided with a number of positive trends in Scotland since its introduction in February 2011.

These included a reduction in reconviction rates from 29.6% to 27.0% between the 2011-12 and 2015-16 and a reduction in the number of short custodial sentences - down 31% within the period of 2011-12 and 2017-18

However, the consultants said the trends were "largely consistent" with the previous years - before the presumption against short sentences was introduced.

'Not a ban'

The Scottish government has said short jail terms are ineffective and can result in offenders losing their homes or jobs and lead to family breakdown, which in-turn raises the risk of reoffending.

Figures show people released from a custodial sentence of 12 months or less are reconvicted nearly twice as often as those handed community payback orders by a court.

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Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: "We have made clear that the presumption is not a ban and its extension will not abolish short prison sentences.

"Clearly prison remains the right option for those who pose a serious risk to public safety and sentencing decisions will remain a matter for the independent judiciary.

"However, we want to ensure courts consider the most appropriate sentence in all cases and imprison people only when there is no suitable alternative."

The government said it was spending an additional £9.5m a year on community sentences and tagging and hoped the new policy would be in place in the summer.