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Last Updated: Monday, 13 December, 2004, 10:16 GMT
Tough courts 'lift jail numbers'
Prisoner in cell
Harsher sentencing has led to more prisoners, it is claimed
Tough sentencing by courts has led to a record number of prisoners in Scotland, a new report has revealed.

It discovered that although crime had fallen over the past decade, the prison population has continued to rise.

Jacqueline Tombs, of Glasgow Caledonian University, carried out the research and analysed sentencing trends since 1993.

She found that Scotland's prison population had increased by almost 1,000 inmates over the past decade.

The study claimed there was an increasingly harsh climate of political and media debate about crime and punishment.

The courts and the government are being responsive to the view that the public have, that prison works
Tory MSP Bill Aitken
Prof Tombs found courts were imposing longer prison sentences for serious crimes and were more likely to jail people than they were 10 years ago.

She claimed the rapid rise in prison numbers was not linked to the level of crime, but was a result of courts sending more people to jail for longer.

The professor argued that a clear government strategy for reduced reliance on imprisonment would influence sentencing.

'Tough rhetoric'

The prison population could increase by about 4,000 in the next decade to nearly 10,000 - according to figures published last month.

Officials from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) suggest the population is expected to rise to 8,100 - although they said the total could range from 7,000 to 9,500.

Scottish Conservative MSP Bill Aitken said he believed the courts were being influenced by government and public opinion.

Speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, he said: "The public are seriously concerned about what they perceive as a rise in crime.

"There's a great deal of cynicism about the figures indicating that crime is falling.

Slopping out
Slopping out has been ended at Barlinnie Jail

"The courts and the government are being responsive to the view that the public have, that prison works."

The MSP said that people in jail could not commit further offences.

Susan Matheson, director of the community safety charity Sacro, said that courts had been influenced by "tough rhetoric" in the media.

She added: "Interestingly, the Rethinking Crime and Punishment initiative which funded this research also funded research into public opinion.

"We find that when the public are informed about crime and punishment, they're definitely not as punitive as presented.

Rehabilitation hope

"We find that in Sacro too. When the public find out who the offender is, they very often want to help them get back on the straight and narrow."

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said serious crimes like murder, rape and drug dealing should receive adequate punishment.

She added: "But we also know that prison isn't working for more minor offenders who might only spend a few weeks or months in jail.

"It's not changing their behaviour and it's contributing to crime.

"We can often deal more effectively with these kinds of offenders through tough interventions that also involve the offenders giving something back - visible community sentences that punish, but also rehabilitate."

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