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Think-tank: scrap short jail terms and elect fiscals – Telegraph

Telegraph
\r\nSimon Johnson, 9.10.08

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\r\nPrison sentences of less than three months should be scrapped as part of an overhaul of the criminal justice system, a think-tank has said.
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\r\nA report by Reform Scotland also calls for senior criminal prosecutors to be directly elected in the same manner as US district attorneys to make them more accountable.
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\r\nThe independent body argues that jail sentences of less than 90 days are ineffective and expensive, offer no opportunity for rehabilitation and often push offenders towards a career in crime.
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\r\nDespite prison overcrowding, it also calls for an end to automatic early release which, it says, “makes a mockery of the justice system”.
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\r\nThe report, published today, comes after a commission chaired by Henry McLeish, the former first minister, recommended that up to 4,000 criminals be freed and only the most serious offences punished with jail sentences.
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\r\nThe Scottish Prisons Commission, whose recommendations are being considered by SNP ministers, also argued that judges should be normally barred from imposing sentences shorter than six months. Ben Thomson, the chairman, welcomed recent figures showing a drop in crime over the past year but said it has risen four per cent over the past decade.
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\r\nHe said: “Radical changes are still required if we are to build a criminal justice system that is tough on crime and affords better protection.”
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\r\nThe report, Power to Protect, reveals that 2,128 people were sent to prison last year for a period of less than five weeks and concludes there is “little point” to sentences of less than three months.
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\r\nIt recommends that District and Justice of the Peace courts, which can jail someone for up to 60 days, should no longer impose custodial sentences in the first instance.
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\r\nIt also calls fro greater police accountability, with appointed police commissioners in areas with directly-elected provosts or mayors, and specialised councillors in other places.
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\r\nFiscals should also be elected by the public, the report states, although contests would not be party political and would instead be “between legal professionals fought on the policies and attitudes the individual would adopt in office.”
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\r\nLocal crime and conviction statistics should be published regularly so the public can judge whether policing and courts in their areas are effective, Reform Scotland argues.
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\r\nAutomatics early release from prison should be scrapped and any reduction in time served should be as a result of good behaviour only. Reform Scotland recommends giving prison officers finical perks for successfully training inmates in new skills and reducing reoffending rates.
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\r\nThe report says that once a judge decides on a sentence it should be the responsibility of Scottish ministers to ensure the jail time is served, rather than coming up with ways of emptying prisons.
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\r\nClive Fairweather, former HM Inspector of Prisons, welcomed the report, adding: “Short prison sentences are a huge waste of time and resources in nearly every case.
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\r\n“Sentences should mean what they say; only in exceptional cases, and where there has been sustained good behaviour, should early release ever be considered,”
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\r\nBut Richard Baker, the Scottish Labour justice spokesman attacked the idea of electing prosecutors, adding: “In scotland we have a long tradition of having a prosecution system which is independent of government and is focused on prosecuting crime not getting elected.”
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\r\nA Scottish Executive spokesman said: “Building on the recommendations of the independent prisons commission, we will announce our plans for a coherent penal policy, including provision for a new community sentence, by the end of this year.”