SCOTTISH Government figures revealed that around two-thirds (67.5 per cent) of Community Payback Orders (CPOs) were successfully completed in 2016-17 – down from 71.7 per cent three years ago.

The Tories attacked the statistics, saying this was proof SNP government’s “soft touch” justice doesn’t work and had effectively let more than 6000 offenders walk free.

Offenders began a total of 19,067 CPOs in 2016-17, with the report stating the number of these sentences handed out had “stabilised at around 19,000 in each of the last four years”.

While 77 per cent of offenders aged over 40 successfully completed their orders, the figure fell to 60 per cent for those under the age of 18.

There was also a difference between those in work and those not in work, with 81 per cent of people who were employed or self-employed successfully completing their CPO, compared to 62 per cent of those who were unemployed or economically inactive.

Tory justice spokesman, Liam Kerr, said more CPOs would be handed out if the Scottish Government presses ahead with plans to scrap jail sentences of less than a year.

“There are many problems with the SNP’s plan to scrap jail sentences of less than a year, not least the insult that is to victims of crime.

“But it will also lead to more alternatives being handed out, particularly Community Payback Orders.

“That might be ok if these measures actually worked, but these figures show a third of them aren’t even completed.

“The SNP’s vision for justice seems to be serious criminals showing up to court knowing they won’t be jailed, and even when they’re fined or given a CPO, they won’t have to bother complying.

“The situation is a mess, and this SNP government has to reconsider the ill-thought-through plan on sentencing, and get tough on those who don’t take other punishments seriously.”

But LibDem justice spokesman Liam McArthur diagreed: “Scotland has one of the highest prison populations per capita in western Europe,” he said. “This makes no sense when all the evidence demonstrates that the best way to reduce reoffending is by investing in community-based sentences, saving money in the process.”

Labour’s Daniel Johnson said his party shared the Government’s desire to reduce the use of short custodial sentences. “Short-term imprisonment is disruptive, expensive and ultimately ineffective, with high reoffending rates,” he said.

“However, the main alternative designed by the Scottish Government is failing to grow in number, while the proportion sentences of three months or less is increasing. The Scottish Government must do more to move offenders away from ineffective short sentences and into an effective Community Payback Order which has the confidence of the courts.”

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson defended the Scottish Government’s approach: “Communities across the country have benefited from nearly six million unpaid work hours since Community Payback Orders were introduced six years ago.

“While prison is always necessary for serious and dangerous offenders who pose significant risk to public safety, we are committed to reducing the use of short-term imprisonment. Short prison sentences do little to rehabilitate people or reduce their likelihood of reoffending, and we know they can disrupt families and communities, and adversely affect employment opportunities and stable housing – the very things that evidence shows support desistence from offending.

“Our shift towards more community sentencing, including the introduction of Community Payback Orders, has helped bring Scotland’s reconviction rates to an 18-year low.”

Meanwhile, the Government also revealed that police officer numbers are now at 17,256.