If short jail terms don’t work, why make an exception for domestic abusers?

ANOTHER week, another affirmation of a progressive policy at Holyrood – this time, that of reducing the prison population with a presumption against sentences of less than 12 months.

In the blue corner, the Tories, seizing the opportunity to declare the Scottish Government soft on crime and adding in for good measure that its policy of scrapping short jail terms is an “insult” to victims. In the rainbow corner, everyone else, pointing to the evidence that imprisonment is both expensive and ineffective at reducing reoffending – something one imagines many victims of crime are pretty concerned about.

Sure, Labour took the opportunity to have a wee pop at the SNP, with MSP Daniel Johnson suggesting sentencers lacked confidence in the community payback orders that have been available to them since 2011, but they otherwise joined the general consensus (the non-Con-sensus) that short prison sentences should inspire even less confidence, and therefore be handed down less frequently.

While clearly there are some problems with a system that allows significant numbers to effectively dodge their sentences (only two-thirds of the community payback orders terminated in 2016-17 were completed or discharged, with young and unemployed people particularly unlikely to comply), it is clear the direction of travel in Scotland is away from locking people up and towards supervision in the community, unpaid work, or a combination of the two.

But how, exactly, does this stance fit with last week’s progressive move – the landmark vote in favour of criminalising coercive control and psychologically abusive behaviour in intimate relationships?

Read the rest of this column at thenational.scot

Published in The National on February 9 2018.

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