For the past 18 months, I've been part of an independent inquiry looking into alternatives to prison, chaired by the former Scottish high court judge Lord Coulsfield (a judge in the Lockerbie trial). Our report, "Crime, Courts and Confidence", came out last week.

We weren't concerned with violent or other serious offenders, for whom prison is the obvious and inevitable option. But why, we wondered, were sentences becoming more severe when crime was actually declining and fewer offenders were coming before the courts?

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