Presumption Against Short Sentences (PASS)

Presumption Against Short Sentences (PASS)

We are pleased to report that on 26 June 2019, the Scottish Parliament approved the Presumption Against Short Periods of Imprisonment Order which extends the presumption against short sentences from 3 months or less to 12 months or less. This is something which we have been advocating for many years, arguing that prison should be reserved for those who have committed the most serious of offences and who pose the greatest risk to public safety.

We were invited to give written evidence to the Justice Committee in their scrutiny of the Presumption Against Short Periods of Imprisonment (PASS) Order, in which we highlighted that short prison sentences had been shown to be less effective than well-resourced noncustodial measures in preventing reoffending and were also more damaging to those on whom they are imposed.

We drew attention to the fact that low level crimes, which attract short custodial sentences, are often linked to disadvantaged circumstances, mental health problems and addictions and that even a short period in prison, whether post-sentence or on remand, is long enough to disrupt employment, medical care, housing and family relationships, but not long enough to tackle the underlying causes of offending behaviour. We also highlighted that custodial sentences particularly disadvantaged women, families and children.

Noting that the current PASS, set at three months, has had no significant impact on the size of the prison population, we suggested that extending the presumption would only have limited scope to counter Scotland’s over-reliance on imprisonment as a punishment. We broadened the debate to remind us all that to achieve any significant reduction in the prison population, we would also need to reduce the number of long prison sentences imposed (especially life sentences) as well as the number of prisoners on remand.

We shared others’ concerns that sentencers had to have confidence that alternative disposals, such as Community Payback Orders, would be adequately resourced and there would need to be significant immediate investment in non-custodial provisions. We also called for the extension of the presumption to be monitored to ensure there was no up-tariffing.

We were also invited to give oral evidence to the Justice Committee on 4 June 2019, at which our Committee Member, Dr. Katrina Morrison, reiterated our views whilst suggesting that “we need to having conversations about what punishment is, and what it isn’t, in order to reduce the prison population” – a point which was later picked up on in a Scottish Parliamentary Debate about Whole Life Custody (Scotland) Bill.

The order will be made by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on 2 July 2019 and will come into force on 4 July 2019, with the presumption applying to offences committed thereafter.

Howard League Scotland Written Evidence

Howard League Scotland Supplementary Written Evidence

Howard League Scotland Oral Evidence

Justice Committee Report

Category Sentencing

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