The Scottish Government has yet to achieve its objective of ensuring that people convicted of criminal offences increasingly receive community-based sentences instead of going to prison.
The Community Justice (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2016 and established a new national body, Community Justice Scotland, and 30 Community Justice Partnerships (CJPs). A briefing published by Audit Scotland says that since the new legislation was enacted:
- Scotland's incarceration rate remains among the highest in Western Europe. Prison numbers have fallen during the Covid-19 pandemic, mainly due to early release and reduced court capacity. But based on current sentencing patterns, and as court capacity recovers, prison numbers are likely to rise again in future.
- Community justice sentences have been shown to be more effective at reducing reoffending and less costly than prison. In 2017/18, 49 per cent of prisoners serving a short sentence were reconvicted within a year of their release, compared with 30 per cent of offenders who completed a community sentence.
- Little progress has been made in increasing the proportion of offenders given community sentences, as opposed to custody. In 2016/17, 59 per cent received a community sentence. This fell to 55 per cent in 2018/19 before returning to 59 per cent in 2019/20.
The briefing also says it is not clear whether roles and accountability arrangements between Community Justice Scotland and the CJPs are well understood and working effectively. There are also regional variations in the use of community sentences, and data deficiencies mean progress on national community justice outcomes is not being measured effectively.
Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said:
Reducing reoffending by shifting the balance of sentencing from prison to the community has the potential to reduce the costs to the individual, taxpayer and wider society. But that Scottish Government aim hasn't yet been achieved.
Moving forward, it's important that everyone involved in improving our justice system gains a better understanding of the factors that have contributed to successful community sentences.