Originally published in The Herald
It is instructive to read the conclusions of the Centre for Justice Innovation, querying the lack of progress with sentencing reform in England and Wales.
The thinktank explicitly contrasts that position with that in Scotland. While courts have ostensibly pursued similar trajectories north and south of the border, over the past ten years, Scotland appears to have done so with a good deal more conviction – no pun intended.
The strategy of reducing the use of short term prison sentences and increasing the use of community-based alternatives is not “soft-touch justice” although this is how it has been characterised in some quarters. It has been seen to be better at reducing reoffending – which is why it has the support of senior figures in the justice system and on all political sides.
Progress in England and Wales appears to have stalled, however, with the result that some down south are casting envious looks at Scotland. Reoffending rates are diverging north and south of the border, with the statistics more positive in Scotland.
This is not a cause for complacency. But it is a useful indicator that the Scottish Government is right to stand up to critics and right to try to cut further the use of ineffective short sentences.
The corollary is it is essential that community alternatives are sufficient – readily available, robust and well resourced.