Page last updated at 23:06 GMT, Saturday, 4 July 2009 00:06 UK

Booth hails Scottish penal reform

Cherie Booth QC
Cherie Booth QC chairs the Commission on English Prisons

Cherie Booth QC has singled out aspects of Scotland's prison system for praise in a report produced by the Commission on English Prisons.

She chaired the commission behind the report, which called for some English jails to be closed and the number of inmates to be reduced.

The wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed Scottish penal philosophy and the use of community sentences.

Ms Booth's comments have been welcomed by the Scottish Government.

The commission report praises the "courageous lead" taken by Scotland in taking "serious steps to address its prison crisis".

'Hope and pride'

The report states: "In convening the Scottish Prisons Commission the Scottish government sought radical and innovative ways in which to improve public safety.

"The Scottish Commission envisaged a future in which Scotland would be a beacon of change - of lower prison populations, safer communities, effective programmes and successful community-based sentences evidenced by low re-conviction rates, all of which would encourage hope and pride in the local communities."

Community sentences are being used to cut inmate numbers

Ms Booth said Scotland has made explicit the connections between penal policy, the prison population and national well being.

She said: "Crucially, more widespread use of effective community sentences would both allow us to reduce the use of prison and allow for reinvestment of resources into local communities to cut offending."

Welcoming the report SNP MSP Angela Constance said: "Short prison sentences have been shown to do more harm than good to the communities affected by crime and the prisoners being sentenced.

"Cherie Booth's report, backing up that of Henry McLeish makes clear that short sentences do not improve safety in the long run or reduce reoffending.

'Considerable challenges'

"Prison overcrowding is making prisons a dumping ground for problems society and politicians do not want to address."

However, Ms Booth warned that "despite these lofty goals the Scottish rate of imprisonment continues to rise".

The Scottish Commission set the Scottish Government the goal of reducing the prison population by almost 40% - from 8,000 to 5,000.

Ms Booth said: "The Scottish government thus faces considerable obstacles as it attempts to shift its approach to punishment."

She added: "A strong and radically articulated penal philosophy emanating from south of the border will only strengthen Scotland's efforts in pursuing its own brand of penal moderation."

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