Punishment Reports

UN Committee Against Torture - Key Concerns

The UN Committee Against Torture will shortly conduct a review of UK progress in implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment . (For background, the Scottish Government published an update on the UN Human Rights Council recommendations from the last review.) Alongside our partners in Human Rights Consortium Scotland, we have raised the following key concerns to the UN Committee Against Torture:

1. Deaths in police and prison custody

Each year for the last several years a significant number of prisoners have died whilst in SPS custody.[1] Various factors, including both the poor physical and mental health experienced by many people on entry to the prison and the rising number of old people in prisons, combine to produce these outcomes. In Scotland, deaths in custody are subject to a mandatory Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) chaired by a judge.[2] However, there is no statutory time limit on this process and there is a substantial backlog in completing these.

Our analysis of information on the 50 most recent FAIs provided by Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, shows that whilst most take place within 12 months of the date of death, there are instances where this has taken up to 4 years. None of the resulting determinations included recommendations for improving systems or processes, and there was much variance in time taken to publish i.e. from a matter of days to over a year.

In Scotland, remand prisoners make up 18.7% of our prison population, but account for 27% of the deaths in custody, thus being on remand disproportionately increases a person’s chance of dying whilst in custody.

Actions

The UN Committee Against Torture may wish to seek further information on these matters in discussion with the Scottish Government, including consideration of the following: increased scrutiny of health care and management of older prisoners; the implementation of effective suicide prevention strategies in Scottish prisons; management of the investigations of deaths and associated delays being more transparent; and the Scottish Government ability to restrict the courts’ use of remand.

2. SPS overuse of long-term segregation which amounts to solitary confinement

Scottish prisoners whose behaviour is judged to be prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the institution may be removed from association and located in a ‘Separation and Reintegration Unit’ (SRU) under Rule 95 of the Prisons and Young Offenders Institution (Scotland) Rules 2011.Although such orders are initially made for a period of up to 72 hours they can be repeatedly extended with reference to the delegated authority of Scottish Ministers.

Concerns include that such extensions arise recurrently in the case of certain prisoners such that they come to be removed from ‘the mainstream’ for many months in succession. There has been a limited (though notable) amount of prisoner litigation on this issue[3] but little or no current research or recent public discussion on policy. Statistics provided by the SPS in response to a Freedom of Information request[4] showed that on 1 January 2017 one prisoner had spent over 800 consecutive days in a SRU in one prison (Grampian), one over 700 days (in Edinburgh) and another 7 over one year.

Actions

The UN Committee Against Torture may wish to pursue these matters in discussions with the Scottish Government and SPS.

3. Imprisonment of women

In 2015 the Scottish Government decided not to proceed with plans for a new women’s prison at Inverclyde. Instead, it resolved to create five small ‘community custody units’ in Scotland’s larger cities and one national facility with places for 80 women to replace the existing women’s prison at Cornton Vale.It was advised that the new female prison estate would hold 230.

As at 15 January 2019, the female prisoner population stood at 381, with women held in several locations, including a number of prisons formerly exclusively for males (Edinburgh, Greenock, Grampian, Polmont).

Two of the three community custody units (circa 36 places), are due for completion by the end of 2020, with no details as to when the remaining three will come on-stream. In answer to a Parliamentary Question re the women’s estate on 15 January 2019[5], the Cabinet Secretary for Justice advised that fuller detail would be provided.

Given the significant changes currently in hand, confirmation of the consequences for women in custody during the current transitional period would be timely.

Serious concerns have arisen recently about the use of restraints especially as applied to women and searching practices. We have received reports, which we are not in a position to investigate further, of intimate body searches of women by teams including male officers.

The safe and appropriate treatment of persons in custody who are transitioning/ transgender is a question that has recently come into sharp focus, and it is one with which the UN Committee Against Torture should rightly be concerned. 

In our view the safety of all persons in custody is a non-negotiable priority which imposes clear duties on the responsible authorities. All prison services should be held accountable for their performance in this respect. All persons have the right not be victimised or re-traumatised in prison or detention. 

In Scotland, the vast majority of trans/transitioning people in custody are m2f, the majority of them have not yet had gender reassignment surgery.

The Scottish Prison Service is currently consulting on their approach to the care of transgender people in custody. Their current approach allows anyone who self-identifies as transgender to be recognised as such, regardless of medical or psychological certification which supports this. This reflects the national approach to gender recognition taken by the Scottish Government.

The English and Welsh approach on the other hand, only recognises transgender people after a process of being granted a Gender Recognition Certificate which takes at minimum two-years and which has been criticised by the Scottish Government, amongst others, as being overly intrusive and onerous.

Significant and complex problems may arise however where transitioning /transgender prisoners elect to be housed in women's prisons. Women in custody are an especially vulnerable group, many of whom have also been the victim of sexual violence in their lives. The rights of women to be safe and to feel safe - including their rights to be housed in female-only settings - whilst in the care of custodial institutions cannot be compromised for any reason. The views of women prisoners should be specifically sought in consultation processes. 

Actions

We recommend that the UN Committee Against Torture seeks further information on interim plans for the women’s estate and evidence of the possible use of restraints.

We urge the UN Committee Against Torture to attend to the issues re transitioning/transgender prisoners with some urgency with a view to providing clear guidance of good practice for prison services in this area. This should include the Committee’s own investigation into international best practice - including the differences between the Scottish and English and Welsh approaches - and careful ethical consideration. 

[2] Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Act 2016 (asp 2)

[4] http://www.sps.gov.uk/FreedomofInformation/FOI-5783.aspx

[5] http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=11885&i=107462

Justice Committee Remand Report

Yesterday the Justice Committee published its report on remand. This is an important and timely review. We know that in 2017 18.7% of the daily average prison population was made up of people on remand, and 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), but in Scotland the remand population has been steadily increasing for decades. [1] Furthermore, the Scottish courts use of alternatives to remand custody, such as supervised bail, have been falling.[2]

Remand is incredibly damaging, it disrupts people's lives (interrupting or even cancelling work contracts, rent or benefits, for example), can undermine their prospects and impact detrimentally upon their family. In addition, the remand prison regime is most often bereft of the education, work and support services and purposeful activities that other prisoners engage in. Moreover, remand prisoners are given less post-prison support than convicted prisoners.

The key issues the report highlighted include:

  •  Scotland’s courts frequently rely on remand to detain people, yet a high proportion of these people do not go on to receive a custodial sentence. Therefore, even if found guilty, they likely have not committed a crime whereby imprisonment for public protection or punishment is deemed necessary, undermining justifications for remand.
  • 70% of women on remand will not go onto receive a sentence; 71% of accused people remanded in solemn proceedings will go onto receive a prison sentence; but only 42% of those people remanded before trial in summary proceedings will receive a custodial sentence.
  • Instead, it appears remand is being employed as a method to ensure people who are accused turn up for their court appearance. For instance, it seems that a person who is homeless, and thus is already more vulnerable and marginalised, is more likely to receive remand.
  • A period of remand can also cause homelessness. People can lose their tenancy while on remand. While people in custody can register as homeless two months before they leave the prison, this is made more difficult for remand prisoners who have little idea when their release date will be.
  • Currently, there is no consistent database that monitors the reasons prisoners are remanded into custody so frequently in Scotland.
  • Remand is economically, personally and socially costly. It is at least as disruptive as a short term sentence, which Scotland has committed to using as a measure of last resort given that short sentences are recognised to be counterproductive as a deterrent and a desistance intervention. 
  • What are the alternatives to remand? The report suggests electronic monitoring, supervised bail and mentoring as possible routes to divert people out of an unnecessary and destructive period of custody. 
  • Some people feel that remand can be a perverse positive, however. Prison is percieved by some as a place for safety and stability where people can access services not available in the community. 

Remand is a major issue in need of penal reform. In many ways, ending remands and reducing our prison population appears simple, but as the report also reveals, remand is justified not as a punitive tactic but as a coercive social support of last resort. However, the prison should never be used as an alternative to welfare interventions in the community. If this is the case, then solutions that can drastically reduce remand must focus on early intervention, social welfare support and diversion. While the prison may be able to provide some limited forms of support, overuse of the prison is always harmful for social relations, causes stigma for individuals and can severely damage family life. It is the most severe punishment the state can deploy against people who have committed a crime. Therefore, it should never be used (1) as a means to address a gap in welfare and community provision; nor should it be used (2) against citizens who have not been found guilty of a crime.

Read the report here: An Inquiry into the Use of Remand in Scotland

[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

Standards for Inspecting and Monitoring Prisons in Scotland

The government have published a newly revised set of ten standards for the inspection of prison in Scotland. There are:

STANDARD 1: LAWFUL AND TRANSPARENT USE OF CUSTODY The prison complies with administrative and procedural requirements of the law and takes appropriate action in response to the findings and recommendations of official bodies that exercise supervisory jurisdiction over it.

STANDARD 2: DECENCY The prison supplies the basic requirements of decent life to the prisoners.

STANDARD 3: PERSONAL SAFETY The prison takes all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of all prisoners.

STANDARD 4: HEALTH AND WELLBEING The prison takes all reasonable steps to ensure the health and wellbeing of all prisoners.

STANDARD 5: EFFECTIVE, COURTEOUS AND HUMANE EXERCISE OF AUTHORITY The prison performs the duties both to protect the public by detaining prisoners in custody and to respect the individual circumstances of each prisoner by maintaining order effectively, with courtesy and humanity.

STANDARD 6: RESPECT, AUTONOMY AND PROTECTION AGAINST MISTREATMENT A climate of mutual respect exists between staff and prisoners. Prisoners are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves and their future. Their rights to statutory protections and complaints processes are respected.

STANDARD 7: PURPOSEFUL ACTIVITY All prisoners are encouraged to use their time in prison constructively. Positive family and community relationships are maintained. Prisoners are consulted in planning the activities offered.

STANDARD 8: TRANSITIONS FROM CUSTODY TO LIFE IN THE COMMUNITY Prisoners are prepared for their successful return to the community.

STANDARD 9: EQUALITY, DIGNITY AND RESPECT The prison employs fair processes whilst ensuring it meets the needs of all prisoners irrespective of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation.

STANDARD 10: ORGANISATIONAL EFFECTIVENESS The prison’s priorities are consistent with the achievement of these standards and are clearly communicated to all staff. There is a shared commitment by all people working in the prison to co-operate constructively to deliver these priorities.

Read the full publication here: Standards for Inspecting and Monitoring Prisons in Scotland | 10 March 2015

Death, Addiction and Decay - Health matters in Scottish prisons

Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013 - Medical Leadership in Scotland

The Scottish Prison Service and NHS face a daily challenge ensuring those detained in prison receive all necessary forms of care. Given the extremely high levels of incarceration in Scotland, this is no small task. That is why the recent Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer provides illuminating, and also troubling insight into care and need in Scottish custody in 2013.

Nationally, health inequalities remain a ‘major problem in Scotland’, operating in criminal justice spheres ‘offers an opportunity for people in the community who find services hardest to reach, to benefit from support even of the briefest nature’. The report makes clear how problematic it can be to craft the policy and practice of healthcare in criminal justice and not consider those inseparable broader social inequities; stating that it ‘remains the case that key determinants of health are poverty, housing and access to welfare or employment opportunities, along with social aspects of rehabilitation. Without addressing them, risk factor and health improvement intervention will have limited impact and this applies equally to police custody and prisons’.

The disproportionately high medical and healthcare need among the Scottish prison population as compared to the general population was illustrated by a number of key statistics:

  • 54% of 200,000 people who had been in police custody in Scotland had problems with alcohol and drugs.
  • 68% of the same group had difficulties with substance misuse, and problems with both medical and mental health.
  • 73% of prisoners are believed to have an alcohol problem.
  • 36% are believed to be alcohol dependent.
  • At the time of the offence, 45% of prisoner reported being under the influence of alcohol, and;
  • 39% reported that at the time of their offence they were under the influence of drugs.
  •  Upon reception to prison, 77% of prisoners tested as positive for illegal drugs (33% for opiates)
  • It is believed that 19% of the prison population are Hepatitis C positive.
  • About 10% of men in the general population in Scotland suffer from dental decay, compared to 29% of men in Scottish prisons.
  • For women in prison in Scotland, 42% suffer from dental decay, compared to 3% of women in the general population.
  • Both men and women who have been in prison have higher risk of death than the general Scottish populace. The risk of mortality is particularly high in the immediate post release period ‘as prisoners return to the poor circumstances, poverty of opportunity and hope that they left’.

Read the report, particularly the Health & Justice section here

Greenock Inspection

HMP Greenock was recently subject to an Inspection from Chief Inspector of Prisons, Daivid Strang.

  • Greenock has capacity for 249 inmates
  • All cells are single occupancy
  • Greenock has Personal Officers who work more closely with prisoners to support them with their ICM (Integrated Case Management)
  • The Chief Inspector raised concerns about the levels of training and supervision Perosnal Officers currently received

Read the report here: HMP Greenock 19-27 May 2014

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