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Prison sentences will only be used as a last resort in Scotland as part of a radical switch towards community sentences and crime prevention (Jeremy Watson writes).
Michael Matheson, the Scottish justice secretary, said the approach would help to reduce reoffending and make the jurisdiction safer. Scotland has already made a general shift away from prison towards non-custodial sentences in the past few years, particularly for youth crime. The number of those younger than 18 in custody has fallen by two thirds since 2006 and ministers are keen to see this trend continue with other parts of the prison population.
Matheson said that jail terms would still be used to protect society from the worst offenders but he stressed that Scotland’s prison population “remains too high”, adding in a policy paper: “We will use prison only where necessary to address offending or to protect public safety, focusing on recovery and reintegration.”
Other principles to be pursued in the justice system include more work to deal with mental health and substance abuse issues in prison, more help for victims of crime and investment in rehabilitation.
Liam McArthur, a Liberal Democrat MSP, said: “This strategy offers an opportunity for the Scottish government to refresh their approach to the justice system. However, we need to see far greater ambition from the Scottish government in tackling rehabilitation and ensuring that the justice system works more effectively for everyone."
The Conservatives were more sceptical. Liam Kerr, the party’s justice spokesman, warned that the SNP administration had a “soft touch on justice”.