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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Three-pronged answer to offences
Cathy Jamieson
Ms Jamieson advocates an three-pronged approach to reoffending
The justice minister has expressed faith that a reformed criminal justice system can cut the numbers of reoffenders in Scotland.

Cathy Jamieson said an integrated service would be at the centre of any judicial reforms.

Scotland's prison population has risen to 7,000 with those given custodial sentences most likely to reoffend.

Research has revealed that 60% of those released from prison commit another crime within two years.

The minister was speakng at a conference in Edinburgh attended by representatives of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), police, court services and the voluntary sector.

Central plank

Ms Jamieson said her plans would form the central plank of any Scottish Executive reform within Scotland's criminal justice system.

She said: "The public want to see three things from a reformed criminal justice service.

"First, they want to see offenders dealt with fast and visibly and they want to see them giving something back to communities.

I think the evidence is that short sentences achieve absolutely nothing
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone
Lib Dem peer

"Serious reform of our non-jury courts can give us this and will be a major plank of the reforms to come.

"Second, the public want a joined-up way of managing sentenced offenders so they are less likely to reoffend.

"And third, they want serious intervention while offenders are in prison so they come out less likely to reoffend, together with proper supervision when they do come out.

"I am now more convinced than ever that a service for offender management in custody and community that has a single, integrated structure can deliver on these two objectives."

Alternative to custody

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Linklater of Butterstone, who chaired the conference, said reoffending would be more effectively tackled by community sentences rather than short periods in jail.

She said community-based penalties, such as restorative justice, would be more effective in reducing reoffending but admitted the public perceived this as a soft option.

She told BBC Scotland: "I think the evidence is that short sentences achieve absolutely nothing.

It is very dangerous to say that just because Scotland has a high prison population, the first thing you have to do is cut it back
Annabel Goldie
Tory justice spokeswoman

"I think it is absolutely right that we should be looking at developing effective and useful community sentences as soon as we can.

"The perception of the public that these are sentences where someone is 'getting away with it' is a false perception and something we are trying hard to address."

The SPS agrees with her thinking and has already said short-term sentences for lesser crimes should be scrapped to reduce overcrowding.

The Scottish Conservatives have said the debate on prison numbers has become "muddled".

They argue that an alternative to custody could be useful but the executive should be imprisoning more criminals to tackle rising levels of crime.

Tackling reoffending

"Prison does work. It is a punishment and a deterrent," Tory justice spokeswoman Annabel Goldie said.

"It is very dangerous to say that just because Scotland has a high prison population, the first thing you have to do is cut it back."

However, she said that looking at how short-term prison sentences are dealt with could assist in tackling reoffending.

Ms Goldie said that tackling prisoner drug abuse could help cut recidivism.

The executive has been consulting on reoffending and is expected to announce major changes to the system in the autumn.

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