Justice Secretary David Gauke was urged to follow the Scottish model of a presumption against handing out custodial sentences as he discussed scrapping jail terms of less than six months – and admitted he had been ankle-tagged.
The SNP’s Joanna Cherry said the move could cut the prison population by several thousand if it was introduced south of the border.
But Mr Gauke said his plan to ban short sentences was “not about reducing prison populations”, saying “the big prize to be gained” was in cutting reoffending.
He also agreed that the use of more sophisticated ankle tags could be used to shift more offenders onto community sentences rather than being put in jail.
Speaking during Justice Questions in the Commons, Ms Cherry said “a system that pushes offenders through a revolving door of short prison sentences simply doesn’t work”, saying that the Government and the Justice Committee “have recognised that the system in Scotland is working”.
She told MPs a recent report recommended the whole of the UK “follows Scotland’s approach of presumption against short sentences”, and asked the minister to commit to this.
Mr Gauke said it is already the case that custodial measures are something “that should only be pursued as a last resort”, but said his department is “seeing if we can go further than that”.
He added that he hopes to expand on his proposals “in the very near future”.
He was also asked about recent technological advances in ankle tags, which use GPS to monitor the exact movements of offenders, rather than just if they stray into or away from a designated area.
Conservative MP Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) said they were “a powerful tool for courts to punish offenders in the community while keeping victims safe as an alternative to short sentences”.
Mr Gauke said he “very much agreed”, and revealed he wore one of the tags to test their effectiveness, adding: “Thankfully I had not been up to no good.
“But it was demonstration of how accurate they could be and how effective these GPS tags could be and the considerable potential of reassuring the public of community sentences.”