Plans to scrap sentences of less than six months could mean hundreds of people convicted of crimeslike housebreaking, handling offensive weapons and common assault walking free.
The SNP said today it wanted sheriffs to take a presumption against certain short sentences in Scotland, saying that they should instead look at fines and community sentences.
The Scottish Government already has a presumption against sentences of three months or less, but today justice secretary Michael Matheson said he wanted to double that time period.
Latest figures reveal that more than 5000 people were jailed for between three and six months last year – all of those would stand a chance of escaping jail under the new proposals.
The statistics include 874 common assaults, 184 drug crimes, 164 cases of handling an offensive weapon, and 210 housebreakings.
In 2013/14 there were even 13 occasions when attempted murder and serious assaults were dealt with by way of a custodial sentence between three and six months, along with 12 sexual assaults.
The SNP previously tried to introduce the measure when in minority government, but was blocked by opposition parties.
The Scottish Conservatives said the move would do nothing to deter people considering committing such crimes, and was more evidence of a soft-touch approach.
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said:
"These proposals are another sorry example of the SNP's pre-occupation with emptying jails.
“Instead its focus should be on public protection and finding better ways to tackle escalating re-offending rates.
"Custodial sentences of any length protect public safety and deter criminals from offending.
“They also punish them if they do offend and provide crucial rehabilitation to ensure they do not repeat these patterns of behaviour on release.
“Extending the presumption against short-term sentences simply gives offenders the impression that their crimes aren't serious enough to go to jail.
"Victims deserve a justice system that advocates for their interests instead of pandering to those of criminals.
"The Scottish Government needs to get a grip.
“Instead of emptying our prisons, it should provide better, more widely-available rehabilitation programmes and throughcare to get the reoffending rate down, which is in everyone's interest.”