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User views of punishment: the comparative experience of short prison sentences and community based punishments

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 main proposed alternative on the reform agenda). The researchers spoke with 35 men and women ranging in age from 19 to 55 about their experiences of punishment. The aim was to accurately describe the experience for offenders of doing a short sentence, in prison or the community.

Sarah Armstrong
Beth Weaver
Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR)