IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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User Views of Punishment: The comparative experience of short term prison sentences and community based punishments

12th November 2010

Scotland is currently engaged in one of the biggest penal reform projects in a generation, seeking to fundamentally change its approach to punishment, which is characterised by high use of imprisonment compared to other parts of Europe, and the use of very short prison sentences. In Scotland around three quarters of prison sentences handed down by the courts are for six months or less. But because short sentences are seen as minimally intrusive compared to long-term or life sentences, there has been, until now, little research on their effects.  This study sought to fill this gap in knowledge by speaking with those serving short prison sentences or a community-based sentence. The researchers spoke with 35 men and women ranging in age from 19 to 55 about their experiences of punishment. 

The key findings of the report showed the following:

  • Short prison sentences are viewed as a form of ‘doing life by instalments’
  • The extensive use of short sentences is a function mainly of drug and alcohol dependency
  • The cumulative effect of doing many short sentences, rather than the experience of any single sentence, carries the largely negative impacts of short-term imprisonment
  • Prison has produced positive life changes for some but in a way that is almost impossible to predict
  • Nearly everyone interviewed would prefer a community-based sentence to a prison sentence.

Read more:

  • See the full report here
  • View the website of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research here
  • BBC audio clip on the report