NAIVELY, when I started covering court cases for the Evening Times, I had expected those waiting to appear before the sheriff to be suited and booted.

Being in trouble with the law was such an overwhelming prospect that surely you would dressed in your smartest attire in an attempt to give the very best account of yourself. I was quite wrong.

The majority of people turning up for sentencing were in their casual clothes, appearing calm and unfussed about where life had landed them. For many, it was far from their first time.

There was no such casualness from Natalie McGarry, a woman whose name is now regularly prefaced with the word "disgraced".

Read more: Ex-SNP MP Natalie McGarry jailed for embezzling from pro-independence organisations

As she appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court on each occasion, she looked tense and stressed. As she was sentenced, she sobbed in the dock.

Disgraced former Glasgow SNP MP McGarry betrayed her colleagues at the grassroots Women for Independence network by stealing £21,000 from the organisation as well as money intended for Perth and Kinross foodbank and, ironically, the charity Positive Prison Positive Futures which had the motto that it gives "appreciation of people with convictions as citizens."

There is, now, very little appreciation for McGarry.

Grassroots organisations thrive only on mutual respect, shared goals and trust - this made McGarry's betrayal all the more devastating for those who had given her their trust in the work towards a common aim.

Last week McGarry was sentenced for her crime, receiving 18 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to two charges of embezzlement.

The response was mixed. The court heard that the 37-year-old has lost her job, her friends, her reputation and, very recently, miscarried at six weeks.

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Her husband, Conservative councillor David Meikle, would seem to be standing by her.

For some, the sentence is exactly what McGarry deserves, given that she took money from a foodbank - from people among the most vulnerable - and used it, in part, to go on holiday.

For others, to jail her for 18 months - the exact lifetime of her daughter - is unconscionable.

It is interesting to see the level of sympathy and support for McGarry at her sentencing when sheriffs every day in our courts lock up people with serious mental health problems and with alcohol and drug addictions.

Sit for any length of time in Glasgow Sheriff Court and you'll hear defence briefs reference any of these as mitigating factors in crimes. They are far less sympathetic characters than a woman with a young child but deserve acknowledgement nonetheless.

But for McGarry, is it right to jail a mother with a toddler?

Mothers, in the vast majority of cases, are primary caregivers for children and a custodial sentence impacts negatively and unfairly on family life.

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In another turn of irony, Women for Independence has long campaigned for justice for women involved in the criminal justice system and a move away from custodial sentences for mothers.

The sheriff's decision, which is publicly available, sets out very clearly that McGarry's extended period of dishonesty and lack of remorse are factors in her sentence and that her behaviour clearly met the test for custodial disposal.

Sheriff Paul Crozier's actions were legally correct but were they morally right?

There should be greater availability of non-custodial, community-based options for people for whom a jail sentence serves little more than punishment, rather than restorative justice and rehabilitation.

Separating a mother from a young child does not serve the public good and that, ultimately, is what our prison system is for.