Prisons

HMIPS Annual Report 2018-19

HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) published its Annual Report on 22 August 2019. Having completed full inspections of HMP Perth, HMP Addiewell, HMP YOI Polmont and HMP YOI Grampian, it reiterated previous findings that parts of the prison estate remained unfit for purpose. Many of its observations related to current overcrowding issues placing unsustainable burdens on both prisoners and prison staff. Examples included difficulties in transferring prisoners to other prisons to complete offender behaviour programmes, where prisoners were at risk of being released into the community without having completed treatment programmes designed to reduce future reoffending. Elements of health and well-being were of particular concern across a number of inspected prisons.

HMIPS Annual Report 2018-19

 

Fatal Accident Inquiry - Allan Marshall (HMP Edinburgh)

On 9 August 2019 a Fatal Accident Inquiry report into the death of Allan Stewart Marshall was published. It concluded that the cause of the accident that led to Allan Marshall's death was the continual physical restraint and forceful resistance of this restraint. The incident occured at HMP Edinburgh's Segregation and Reintegration Unit on 24 March 2015, whilst he was suffering from an episode of Excited Delirium Syndrome. The inquiry found that there were a number of precautions which could reasonably have been taken, and which had they been taken, might realistically have prevented his death. It highlighted system failures; training failures; defects in systems of working; unclear chains of command and responsibility; and credibility and reliability issues with many of the prison officer witnesses. Following its publication, questions were raised about the decision taken not to instigate criminal proceedings and to grant immunity to the SPS officers involved. It was also reported that SPS took court action to prevent the publication of CCTV images of the incident, which contradicted evidence given during the inquiry.

FAI - Allan Marshall

Scottish Government response to FAI

Suspension of SPS Throughcare Support Service

The news that the SPS is to suspend its Throughcare Support Service (TSS) and reassign all Throughcare Support Officers (TSOs) to Prison Officer roles, demonstrates the immense pressure SPS is under and the need for immediate action to reduce our prison population.

The average daily population has consistently risen above 8,000 in 2019, standing at a current figure of 8,190 as at 12 July 2019[i]. By comparison, the maximum capacity of the Scottish prison estate is only around 7,564 places.[ii] Even assuming a slightly higher operational capacity (of 7,725 places), according to the most recently compiled Council of Europe statistics, the current population figure shows overcrowding at a density of 106.4 prisoners per 100 places, ranking Scotland as ‘high’ compared with the European median value as at 31 January 2018.[iii]  

These rates are unsustainable, and they signal an urgent need for significant policy change. 

The current statistics raise immediate concerns for the general safety and wellbeing of prisoners and prison staff. Prison overcrowding can also breach prisoners’ human rights, contrary to the prohibition against ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ under article 3 of the European Convention.[iv] Looking beyond the prison walls, it has been acknowledged that the ‘morally debilitating’ effect of overcrowding ‘reinforces the detainee’s detachment from society and therefore only increases exponentially the risk of reoffending’.[v] Prison overcrowding can therefore adversely affect recidivism in the wider community.

The news that SPS is to reassign Throughcare Support Officers to Prison Officer roles highlights the severity of the situation. It paints a picture of a service that is being forced to concentrate on internal day to day operational issues at the expense of managing the effective transition of prisoners back into their local communities. This is particularly unfortunate given the findings of the recent HMP YOI Grampian Inspection[vi] which advised that “[its] strongest area of performance related to the preparation of prisoners for their successful return to the community” and that its “Community Integration (CIU) facilities, supported by the throughcare support officers (TSO) were excellent”.

We welcomed the beginnings of policy change, in particular the recent extension of the presumption against short prison sentences from 3 to 12 months, which may be expected to divert at least some offenders from prison to community based disposals.[vii] In the context of life sentences, however, it has recently been observed as ‘striking’ that ‘the level of punishment parts has increased substantially’ in recent years.[viii] If the prison population is to be reduced to any significant extent, as we contend that it should be, then the rationale of imposing long-term prison sentences will also require further consideration, including the potentially adverse consequences of regressive measures such as the proposed Whole Life Custody (Scotland) Bill for prison turnover ratios and future overcrowding. 

Given the high proportion of prisoners currently awaiting trial or sentence, too – now some 20%, according to the latest figures[ix] – the limited use of alternatives to remand, such as supervised bail, remains a cause for concern. According to recently updated national guidance, bail supervision is intended to be ‘a robust and credible alternative to remand’ to ‘help ensure that remand is only used where necessary and appropriate’.[x] Yet bail supervision rates have consistently fallen over the last decade.[xi]

Ultimately, we maintain that the solution to the current problem of prison overcrowding lies not in the building of larger prisons, which merely treats the symptoms of a rising prison population, but in a fundamental policy shift in relation to the purposes of imprisonment. We have consistently campaigned for the use of imprisonment as a measure of last resort, where it is necessary to manage any significant risks to public safety.

We will be unable to stop the prison population from rising until we can answer the essential question, ‘what is prison for?’ .  If we take this question seriously, we should recognise that many of those who are currently in prison simply do not belong there – in particular, many of those on remand and those whose offences are such that they pose no risk to public safety.

[i] Scottish Prison Service Prison Population Weekly Time Series (April 2014 onwards): http://www.sps.gov.uk/Corporate/Information/SPSPopulation.aspx

[ii] Scottish Prison Service Annual Report 2017-2018 dated 27 June 2018, Appendix 2, Average Daily Population and Maximum Number by Penal Establishment: 2017-18

[iii] Even as at 31 January 2018, utilising a prison population of only 7,440, Scotland was ranked ‘high’ for both prison density and prison population rates, compared with European median values: see Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics, Prison Populations, SPACE I – 2018, Strasbourg, 20 December 2018, updated on 11 June 2019, pp 2 – 3, 28, 63 and 65: http://wp.unil.ch/space/files/2019/06/FinalReportSPACEI2018_190611-1.pdf

[iv] See, eg, Voicu v Romania, application no. 22015/10, unreported, 10 June 2014, ECtHR

[v] Report on Full Inspection of HMP & YOI Grampian: 4 – 15 February 2019

https://www.prisonsinspectoratescotland.gov.uk/publications/report-full-inspection-hmp-yoi-grampian-4-15-february-2019

vi Criminal Proceedings against Aranyosi (C-404/15 PPU) (European Court of Justice, Grand Chamber) [2016] QB 921, Opinion of Advocate General Bot at para 143

[vii] Presumption against Short Periods of Imprisonment (Scotland) Order 2019/236

[viii] Kinlan v HM Advocate [2019] HCJAC 47, Lord Justice General (Carloway) at para 17

[ix] Scottish Prison Service Prison Population Weekly Time Series, supra

[x] Scottish Government, National Guidance on Bail Supervision (January 2019), available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/national-guidance-bail-supervision/

[xi] Scottish Government Criminal Justice Social Work Statistics in Scotland: 2017-2018, 4 February 2019, p 8:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/criminal-justice-social-work-statistics-scotland-2017-18/

Remand: A life or death crisis in Scotland

In Scotland, remand prisoners make up 18.7% of our prison population yet, it has been revealed, they count for 27% of the deaths in custody. The most common cause of death is suicide. Scotland’s use of remand seriously undermines the integrity and equality of our justice system. The large majority of those people were not found guilty of any offence, but remanded awaiting trial. In fact, 15% of the Scottish prison population are remanded into custody without conviction. The high rates of remand are one of the causes of Scotland's staggeringly high prison population, and therefore remand contributes to Scotland’s reputation as one of Western Europe’s most punitive nations. In England and Wales the use of remand is dropping (where 11% of the prison population is on remand),[1] but in Scotland the remand population has been steadily increasing for decades, with an increase of over 60% since 1998. Furthermore, the Scottish courts use of alternatives to remand custody, such as supervised bail, have been falling.[2] That, as it has now been reported, being on remand disproportionately increases a person’s chance of dying while in custody should give the Scottish government greater impetus to severely restrict the court’s use of remand. 

Read more:

 

[1] http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Bromley%20Briefings/Autumn%202017%20factfile.pdf
[2] http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2017/02/2907/12

 

Phones in Prisons: Reconnect or Rehabilitate?

Yesterday’s headlines carried the good news that prisons in England and Wales will have in-cell phones installed this year. This is an important penal reform that will improve the quality of life for prisoners in England and Wales, but it also casts a critical light on Scottish prison policy and how and why we might now wish to emulate this development.

 

Scotland – an Outlier

The possibility of in-cell phones was tentatively proposed in Scotland in 2013, but received little public and political backing. It seems that this issue has not been explored any further since then. Until recently Northern Ireland was the only UK jurisdiction to provide people in prison with in-cell landlines. Now, however, as England and Wales move forward with this prison reform Scotland will be left behind, soon to become the only prison system in the UK that does not provide prisoners with landline access inside their cells. The dominant and prevailing argument given in support of providing prisoners greater access to private and affordable phones is that it will increase rehabilitation and therefore reduce crime. This is because there is a great deal of research suggesting that family contact helps reduce recidivism.[1] However, should our prison reform aspirations be limited to rehabilitation and desistance? 

 

Family Contact

We know that prisons are isolating for prisoners. Prisons have restrictions on when and how often prisoners can receive visitors; and in Scotland, where prisons are often widely dispersed across this vast nation, actual family contact can be more difficult to maintain than it might immediately appear.[2] This makes phone contact all the more important. For the time being, however, in Scotland prisoners’ calls will continue to be made on public phones on public landings – where private conversations, family matters, and any and all news will still be received in full view and within earshot of other people. At the very least, this makes maintaining genuine and meaningful conversation with those outside the prison much more difficult. Insufficient family contact is part of what causes suffering for prisoners beyond the deprivation of liberty, and therefore the justification for more landlines in prison cells runs deeper than reducing crime.

In addition, we should never treat families merely as a tool to be used to support prisoner rehabilitation, particularly given the corrosive impact the prison can have on their lives. While they themselves are not imprisoned, the prison usually comes to dominate their family life. Having a family member in prison can cause anxiety, shame and stigma, deepen social and economic marginality, and having a parent imprisoned can yield particularly devastating consequences (Wakefield and Wildeman 2014). As one of Scotland’s leading experts on imprisonment and its wider impact on families, Dr Cara Jardine, has written, given their ‘potential difficulties and vulnerabilities, these families should be offered support as individuals in their own right and not simply viewed as a potential resource for reducing reoffending’. 

 

Communication and Well-Being or Rehabilitation?

There is a strong general argument for phones in cells. If the Scottish Government, and our New Cabinet Secretary, Humza Yousaf, decide to reconsider the position on prison phones, then they will need to think seriously about why we do it: how the policy works in practice will depend on whether its main rationale is reducing reoffending or to help improve family contact. If a phones policy is to help maintain as normal as possible family relations, then phones in cells will be able to receive incoming calls as well as make out-going calls. In addition, if the Justice Department and SPS are motivated by reducing the problems caused by imprisonment and not merely rehabilitation, then they will need to address how phones are paid for. If we want to lessen the destructive impact of the prison on family life, mental health, and reintegration, then the Scottish Government and the Prison Service must foot the bill for this increased phone contact.

As Jas, someone who is currently serving a sentence in a Scottish prison, recently wrote, managing a weekly budget in prison is a careful balancing act, challanged by the same demands of low wages and increased cost of living. But what his account also reveals is the already existing stress for prisoners and their friends and families in financially managing continued contact in Scotland. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of the people in prison are from communities that experience the most acute financial deprivation. As Jas writes, ‘I believe that high phone call costs and low prison wages is a double-edged sword that makes the SPS’s literature of ‘encouraging positive relationships’, less achievable’. Therefore, the current cost of phones in prison means people are already limiting their family contact, and thus undermining the health and welfare of the entire family.

Now, add into this existing situation the possibility of increased family contact and what the penal system will also inadvertently create is additional anxiety about not being able to afford to maintain contact: it would cost £1.30 per day for a prisoner calling home every day for just ten minutes to a mobile, multiply this by 7 days and it would cost £9.10 per week (which is more than some prisoners wages). Therefore, if this policy is about maintaining family contact and lessening the harm caused by imprisonment, then HLS advocate that in practice phones will need to be affordable and flexible.

 

Time to Reconnect Prisoners? 

The Scottish Government, should they now decide to also follow the present progressive trend and install phones in prison cells, should do so because it helps make prisons more humane, softening the sense of isolation a prisoner feels and may make reintegration less difficult. Secondly, the government should also consider this a worthy and vitally important venture because of the wider social impact of improved prisoner contact. The Scottish government already acknowledges that the families of prisoners suffer collaterally in ways that can cause lasting damage. If we wish to limit the unintended injustices of the Scottish criminal justice system, then increasing the opportunities for normal family contact must be made a priority for prison policy in 2018. It is time for Scottish prisons to reconsider the issue of phones in cells, but we should also do so for the right reasons. Rehabilitation is an important aim for prison policy, but we need not narrow the rationale behind progressive reforms to reducing reoffending. Instead, prison policy makes its most progressive and socially just impact when it attempts to transform the prison by reducing the detrimental effects of imprisonment on prisoners and society alike.

 

Footnotes:

[1]Mills A. and Codd, H. (2008) ‘Prisoners’ Families and Offender Management: Mobilizing Social Capital’, Probation journal, 55(1): 9-24. 

[2]In 2015, 61% of Scottish prisoners reported that the cost involved in getting to the prison was prohibitive and 57% stated that the distance of the prison from their home also made arranging visits difficult. Scottish Prisoner Survey 2015: http://www.sps.gov.uk/Corporate/Publications/Publication-4565.aspx

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