Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 12:30 UK

Most short-term inmates reoffend

Community Service workers
The government said it was creating more community service placements

Three-quarters of offenders who are sentenced to a short spell in prison are reconvicted within two years of their release, figures have suggested.

The statistics said 74% of those jailed for six months or less were reconvicted - compared to just over 40% for those given fines or community sentences.

The justice secretary said the figures proved short sentences did not work.

Labour said short sentences should be retained for some crimes and the Tories said the figures showed no improvement.

The statistics, which cover 2005-06, showed that 44.7% of all offenders committed a further crime within two years, a figure which has changed little since it stood at 45% in 2002.

Men were more likely to be reconvicted than women - with a rate of 46% compared to 36% - and reoffending fell as offenders got older.

According to the figures, 68% of offenders who had tagging orders imposed on them were reconvicted within two years.

Alex Salmond's SNP government does not inspire confidence that the situation will improve
John Lamont
Scottish Conservatives

That rate is even higher for those on drug treatment and testing orders - with 81% reconvicted within that time frame.

Sex offenders had the lowest reoffending rate, at 17%. The highest rate was among those committing crimes of dishonesty, at 58%.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said "Historically Scotland has had an unacceptably high rate of reoffending.

"Today's statistics reinforce the trend of recent years, a trend that sees three-quarters of those sentenced to less than six months in prison gain further convictions within two years of release.

"By contrast, three out of five of those sentenced to community service have a clean record after a similar time."

According to the figures, 74% of offenders who had served a jail term of six months or less were reconvicted within two years, compared to 27% of those sentenced to four years or more.

Mr MacAskill described short sentences as "ineffective and of no practical benefit to communities".

'Only option'

"If we are serious about improving the safety of our communities we need to ensure that our prisons focus on the most serious criminals for whom prison is the only option," he added.

The Scottish Government launched its Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill earlier this year, which plans to phase out short prison terms.

If the legislation is passed, judges would not impose a custodial sentence of six months or less, unless they felt there was no other option.

There would be a presumption towards community sentences, but the proposals have been criticised as "soft touch" by opponents.

The Tories said the figures showed no improvement over the last decade.

Justice spokesman John Lamont said: "Despite these figures relating to the last administration, Alex Salmond's SNP government does not inspire confidence that the situation will improve."

Labour's justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "Claims that reoffending for community sentences is lower don't stand up to any scrutiny because those who are given custodial sentences rather than community sentences have usually already reoffended many times - they are by definition more serious criminals."

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