ANOTHER week, another affirmation of a progressive policy at Holyrood – this time, that of reducing the prison population with a presumption against sentences of less than 12 months.

In the blue corner, the Tories, seizing the opportunity to declare the Scottish Government soft on crime and adding in for good measure that its policy of scrapping short jail terms is an “insult” to victims. In the rainbow corner, everyone else, pointing to the evidence that imprisonment is both expensive and ineffective at reducing reoffending – something one imagines many victims of crime are pretty concerned about.

Sure, Labour took the opportunity to have a wee pop at the SNP, with MSP Daniel Johnson suggesting sentencers lacked confidence in the community payback orders that have been available to them since 2011, but they otherwise joined the general consensus (the non-Con-sensus) that short prison sentences should inspire even less confidence, and therefore be handed down less frequently.

While clearly there are some problems with a system that allows significant numbers to effectively dodge their sentences (only two-thirds of the community payback orders terminated in 2016-17 were completed or discharged, with young and unemployed people particularly unlikely to comply), it is clear the direction of travel in Scotland is away from locking people up and towards supervision in the community, unpaid work, or a combination of the two.

But how, exactly, does this stance fit with last week’s progressive move – the landmark vote in favour of criminalising coercive control and psychologically abusive behaviour in intimate relationships? Does progress look like community sentences for those offenders?

Certainly not, according to Scottish Women’s Aid, which has campaigned vigorously against any presumption against short sentences (whether of less than three months, six months or a year) that does not come with a specific exemption for cases of domestic abuse. The organisation argues that the reoffending of abusers should be considered differently from that of people with other convictions, because carrying out abuse is a “conscious choice” and is committed “across all levels of society”.

By echoing the “tough on crime” stance of the Tories when it comes to this particular category of offence, the organisation is sending the message that society would benefit if more abusers went to prison. But would it?

There are four main reasons to imprison someone for their crime: to punish them; to rehabilitate them; to protect the public; and to deter others from committing similar offences. A short prison sentence could, potentially, be experienced as a punitive wake-up call that jolts a person into becoming law-abiding. However, reconviction rates suggest this rarely happens, and it’s particularly hard to imagine it happening shortly after a sustained, deliberate campaign of domestic abuse lasting weeks, months or even years.

So what of rehabilitation? Ask most of those working to combat violence against women about the potential for abusers to change their ways and you’ll receive a pessimistic response. They’ll tell you there’s no quick fix to the problem of deep-seated misogyny, no easy rewiring job to be carried out on the defective brains of abusers. Certainly, they would reject out of hand any suggestion such a transformation could be completed within a few months. Indeed, they’ll tell you that any suggestion a man might be reformed should be viewed with extreme caution – after all, abusers who coercively control their partners are experts in manipulation.

Why wouldn’t they be able to manipulate prison staff, social workers, judges, parole boards and anyone else on whose verdict their liberty might depend?

Of course, a short prison sentence is generally too short for any substantive interventions to even begin, let alone be completed, so that leaves deterrence of others and public safety as the remaining justifications for imposing them. Deterrence of others depends on others first becoming aware of these short sentences being handed down, and then relating these decisions to their own circumstances and – crucially – their chances of being caught and similarly punished. Does a man who exercises total control over where his partner goes, what she wears and to whom she speaks concern himself with the slim possibility she will not only escape him, but have him successfully prosecuted and jailed?

Finally, there’s public protection. It would seem that if an abusive man (or indeed woman) is in prison, they can’t keep on abusing. It’s surely the one sure-fire way to give their partner respite, after measures such as tagging or restraining orders have failed. Actually, it isn’t. Abusers can continue to abuse from prison, particularly during short sentences, after which there’s a chance they’ll emerge exactly the same, or worse, or even angrier.

It might sound like there’s nothing left to do but throw our hands up in despair, but that’s not quite the case. There are options such as at the Caledonian System, an integrated social work approach that works with male offenders as well as women and children affected by their abuse. There are interventions designed to tackle the misogynistic origins of abusive behaviour before they take root in young men. There are broader efforts to tackle sexual inequality in society and empower women.

We have a very long way to go, but we do know that when it comes to domestic abuse, a short prison sentence alone is never the solution and “sending a message” with laws doesn’t halt abuse. A step forward in one area might look like a slide backwards in another, but no-one promised the path to progress would be smooth.