Former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini has warned too many women are being sent to prison “for no good reason” because judges lack faith in community-based sentences.

Dame Elish said community justice was a “lottery” and more reliable funding was needed to help slash the number of women being jailed. She said judges will continue to send women to prison if community-based sentences are not delivered consistently and effectively.

However many services to help reduce reoffending are delivered on short contracts, she claimed.

Dame Elish said: “Organisations delivering these services know that funding is only in place for a few years at a time and that colours their work and makes long-term planning impossible.

“The constant need to pin down funding takes up a huge amount of time and is an unnecessary distraction. It breeds uncertainty and makes it difficult to attract and keep the best people.

“The courts need to know these services are being properly delivered from year to year and the best services, the best practice, need to be identified, encouraged and permanently funded.

“At the moment, the provision of these services is short-term and fragmented. It is a lottery.”

Dame Elish hailed award-winning services like Shine, run by community justice organisation Sacro to support women newly-released from prison, and the Glasgow Women’s Supported Bail Service, led by Turning Point Scotland and children’s charity Aberlour, as the kind of programmes successfully delivering practical support and advice to women at risk of reoffending.

She spoke out five years after leading a landmark commission on how women are treated in Scotland’s justice system that urged far-reaching reform, including the demolition of Cornton Vale, the country’s only all-women prison.

She said many of her recommendations had been implemented but not all, and said justice secretary Michael Matheson should continue to update MSPs on progress annually.

She said: “We are still sending too many women to prison for no good reason or effect.

“We can do more both to keep our citizens safer and help these women build useful, valuable lives.”

Prison is an easy answer, but not effective, she said. “We sweep these women away and get a temporary reprieve. It’s easy but very expensive and very ineffective.

Dame Elish, now principal at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, believes there is a growing understanding that sending so many criminals to jail is expensive and does nothing to make society safer.

She said: “Look at how attitudes have changed around domestic abuse, drink-driving, the grooming of children. As a nation we cannot afford to wait another 20 years to change the way we think about offenders and what we do with them.

“There are far better ways of helping them lead better lives, stopping their children making their mistakes and protecting our communities.”

The creation of Community Justice Scotland, a national agency, was an opportunity to emphasise and encourage best practice to curb reoffending, Dame Elish said, but prison could not address the problems of many women offenders..

She said: “Many of them are driven by an addiction that excludes all rational thinking. That will not disappear if they are put on bail or in prison for a so-called short, sharp shock,” she added.

“It means nothing, achieves nothing and we, as a society, gain nothing.”