Short Sentences Fracture Families

Families Outside, the only national charity in Scotland that works solely to support families affected by imprisonment, believes more work needs to be done to end short sentences in Scotland.

It comes after monitoring data for the Presumption Against Short Sentences (PASS), released by the Scottish Government,  showed the number of short sentences fell from 12.8% to 9.5% of all court disposals between April and November 2019. However, there were still 1,332 custodial sentence disposals of  12months or less in November and December 2019.

Families Outside maintains that short sentences have a negative impact on people in prison, often turning their life upside down and not for the better. Short sentences are ineffective in rehabilitating people in prison, as they  do not allow time for people to access support or complete relevant courses. According to the charity, short sentences do not address the reasons behind people’s offending and effectively fractures links to any community-based supports they may have had.

One mother visiting HMP Edinburgh said,

“My 27 year old son has been sentenced to six months. He’s lost his job, his girlfriend and his house. He’s never been involved in the criminal justice system before….I don’t know how this is going to affect him….I’m really worried about his mental health…. I’m worried that he’ll come out worse than when he went in. This is a real waste of money, they should be putting more money into services and resources in the community rather than pushing people into jail.”

Families Outside’s experience of supporting families shows time and time again that short periods of custody can place housing, benefits, employment, supports, and relationships at risk.

Chief Executive Prof. Nancy Loucks explains,

“Imprisonment fractures families. Conversely, well-funded and accessible community-based measures sustain family networks and address root causes of offending while protecting children from the trauma of separation through imprisonment. Families Outside hopes for increased use of community-based supports in future to reduce the prison population, prevent family trauma, and keep people connected to the supports most likely to reduce future risk.

“The monitoring data for the Presumption Against Short Sentences shows that it has been relatively easy to begin progress on ending the use of short sentences in Scotland. By putting in resources required to community based sentences, we could see a substantial difference made to people who come into contact with the Criminal Justice System and end short-term sentences for good.”

Families Outside also state that building constructive partnerships between the statutory and third sectors will be crucial in accomplishing the change that the presumption against short-term sentences was set out to achieve.

Families Outside already has close relationships with Community Planning Partnerships and Local Authorities, providing Continuing Professional Development for those professionals who come into contact with families affected by imprisonment including teachers, prison staff, police, social workers, and health care professionals.

Families Outside is also reaching out to local Bar Associations and is planning to expand its training provision to include legal professionals and Sheriffs so that there is a wider understanding of the benefits of the Presumption Against Short Sentences on rehabilitation, family connections, and in protecting the rights of the child.

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