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More than 60% of violent and sexual criminals avoid prison, statistics show

Three fifths of violent and sexual offenders were spared a jail term last year (Danny Lawson/PA)
Three fifths of violent and sexual offenders were spared a jail term last year (Danny Lawson/PA)

More than 60% of violent and sexual criminals avoided a jail sentence last year – the highest level in a decade, new Scottish Government figures have shown.

Statistics published in the Criminal Proceedings in Scotland report showed just 39% of those convicted of a violent crime, such as murder attempted murder, received a custodial sentence in 2020/21 – a 30% drop from the previous year.

And more than three quarters – 77% – of sex offenders also avoided jail last year, according to the official data.

Critics of the Scottish Government have said the threat of a prison sentence for criminals is “withering away”.

Scottish Parliament
Jamie Greene has hit out at the Scottish Government (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

A 33% decrease in sexual crime convictions was also noted in the report with 817 sentences issued compared to 1,217 in 2019/20.

Rape and attempted rape convictions fell by 40% compared to the previous year, while the number of proceedings for these crimes decreased by 49%.

Scottish Conservatives justice spokesperson, Jamie Greene, has hit out at the Scottish Government’s “soft-touch” approach to justice following the publication release.

He said: “Victims of crime will be devastated to hear that so many criminals are avoiding jail time altogether.

Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill
Justice Secretary Keith Brown, left, with governor David Abernethy during a visit to Edinburgh Prison (Jane Barlow/PA)

“The deterrent of prison is simply withering away under the SNP administration.

“The blame for this lies squarely at the feet of the SNP Government, who have tied the judiciary’s hands through its soft-touch policies – such as the presumption against short prison sentences and the automatic early release of criminals.”

Mr Greene also criticised new plans from the Scottish Government to introduce legislation which would reform the way remand is used in Scotland’s prisons while putting greater emphasis on rehabilitating criminals.

The Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill, unveiled by Justice Secretary Keith Brown earlier this month, would see remand reserved predominately for those who pose a risk to public safety or wilfully fail to turn up to trials.

Mr Greene added: “What’s worse, Keith Brown has just proposed a prison-emptying Bill which could see even more violent and sexual criminals roam Scotland’s streets at a time when violent crime is actually on the rise.

“It is clear that the SNP Government is far more concerned with making criminals’ lives easier, than delivering true justice for the victims of horrific crimes.

“The Scottish Conservatives would reverse this trend by putting victims of crime first with our Victims Law, finally putting the balance of our justice system back where it belongs, in favour of victims not offenders.”

The report also showed the overall conviction rate had increased by 3% in 2020/21, to 91%.

The average length of custodial sentence for all crimes, excluding life sentences, was 329 days, 8% shorter than in 2019/20.

Pauline McNeill, Scottish Labour justice spokesperson said the statistics raised “serious alarm bells” as funding for courts were given real-terms cuts in the Scottish Government’s spending review.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The figures released today relate to the first full year of the pandemic and show independent criminal justice agencies responding to the challenges in continuing to deliver justice for victims.

“Sentencing is always for the independent court. It is a presumption against, not a ban on, short sentences, with discretion remaining with the court.

“The Bail and Release from Custody Bill seeks to refocus how custody can be used within the criminal justice system to ensure public safety is protected alongside the clear evidence showing short periods of custody can lead to more reoffending as compared to keeping people within communities.

“Additional support for people leaving custody is a key focus too and it was this Government that ended the previous system of automatic early release for the most dangerous offenders, a system introduced by the then UK Government in the mid-1990s.”