The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has backed the Scottish Government’s plans to replace short prison sentences with community payback orders.
With the Scottish Parliament set to vote on the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill on Wednesday 30 June 2010, the Rt Rev John Christie voiced the Kirk’s clear opposition to the use of short periods of imprisonment.
The Moderator urged MSPs to vote for the proposals: “Most professionals in the criminal justice field recognise that sentences of less than three months for minor crimes are inappropriate and do little or nothing to rehabilitate an offender."
He added: “Community sentencing for offenders is proven to offer significant advantages in terms of reducing significantly the likelihood of re-offending.
“The most up-to-date figures show that 74 per cent of offenders who were jailed for six months or less re-offended within two years of release, whereas just over 40 per cent of those given a fine or community service order re-offended.
“Taking these two factors together, it seems that community sentencing offers a significant improvement in management of those convicted of minor offences.”
Mr Christie also responded to criticism that it was a 'soft' option: “The alternative to short sentences is not letting people off, but a sensible and just and robust response which benefits the community because it intervenes in a cycle of crime and punishment," he declared.
“With the prison population increasing by almost a third over the last decade, we have to do something to relieve the problems of overcrowding. Increasing the use of community sentences instead of short periods of imprisonment leaves prisons free to focus on the rehabilitation of serious offenders,” Christie said.
The Church of Scotland has been actively engaged with the prison system for many years, drawing on the experience of chaplains, prison support workers and volunteers.
A report to the Kirk's 2007 General Assembly called 'Alternatives to Custody' advocated the need for quality community sentences as well as encouraging church groups to get involved in the criminal justice system.