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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 17:17 GMT
Charities say prison 'does not work'
Barlinnie
Thousands of people are held in Scottish prisons
Prison should not be used as a last resort rather than a means of punishing offenders, the Scottish Parliament has heard.

A group of penal reform and human rights charities told a Holyrood committee that sending people to prison did not work.

The Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice argued that alternatives to prison, such as community service, were much more effective in reducing crime.

Electronic tag
The charities support alternatives to prison
It told the Justice 1 Committee that only those offenders who pose a real danger to the public should be sent to jail.

Scotland already has one of the highest levels of prison population in Western Europe, with about 6,000 inmates.

There are also plans to build a further 1,000 prison places.

The committee is holding an inquiry into alternatives to custody.

Earlier this year a seminar organised by MSPs suggested that the public want courts to make more use of options other than prison sentences.

Minor crimes

That sentiment is echoed by the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice, which represents charities including the Howard Legal for Penal Reform, the Human Rights Centre and National Children's Homes.

The group told the committee that the time had come for a fundamental re-think of Scotland's prison system.

It said that most of the people in prison were there for minor crimes - and that most of them would be back behind bars within two years.

Each prisoner costs the taxpayer 30,000 a year, said the consortium.

Glasgow project

It said non-custodial sentences - like community service, probation and electronic tagging - were much more effective in cutting crime.

Youngsters who took part in one project in Glasgow, where places cost just 7,000 a year, were three times less likely to re-offend.

The consortium argued that prison should not be used primarily for punishment or rehabilitation.

It said jails should be reserved as a last resort for the few prisoners who are genuinely dangerous.

See also:

24 Jul 02 | Scotland
22 Jul 02 | Scotland
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