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HMIPS: Remote Monitoring and Liaison Visits

From June 2020, Liaison Visit Reports were published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland. These were informed by the Remote Monitoring Framework and Liaison Visits Framework. The first report on a Liaison Visit to HMP Edinburgh was published on 25 June 2020. It advised that the prison was managing the COVID19 situation well, however, a reminder was required that those in isolation needed to be given the opportunity to access fresh air under the guidelines set by Health Protection Scotland (HPS). It also advised that significant issues around mental and physical health were likely to resurface once regime restrictions were eased.

The human rights imperative of access to fresh air for those people in isolation also required to be flagged during a later Liaison Visit to HMP Addiewell.

All reports can be accessed here.

Virtual Visits and Mobile Phones in Scottish Prisons

During June 2020, virtual prison visits were belatedly rolled out across the prison estate. This followed the Cabinet Secretary for Justice's announcement on 24 March 2020 that alternative means of family contact would be made available in lieu of face to face visits, which were suspended on 23 March 2020. The Council of Europe's European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) isssued their Statement of Principles relating to the pandemic on 20 March 2020, which read: "While it is legitimate and reasonable to suspend non-essential activities, the fundamental rights of detained persons during the pandemic must be fully respected.... Further, any restrictions on contact with the outside world, including visits, should be compensated for by increased access to alternative means of communication (such as telephone or Voice-over-Internet-Protocol communication.)

Mobiles were first made available at HMP Cornton Vale on 15 June 2020. The roll out of mobile phones to other prisons, and of a hard-wired in-cell option in HMP Kilmarnock, was hindered by "technical difficulties" and took some months. During this period it was announced that the budget previously earmarked for an in-cell phone pilot scheme in HMP & YOI Polmont would no longer go ahead.

SPS Covid19 Route Map

On 25 June 2020, SPS published their Covid19 Route Map. Previous communication had referred to an unpublished Pandemic Plan and an explanation of how SPS planned to ease prison regime restrictions was keenly awaited. It contained a huge amount of operational detail, covering a wide range of areas. It was criticised by many, however, for being overly complex and being targeted at various audiences - both internal and external. It contained no information re timeframes of moving between phases, although advised that this would not necessarily mirror the rate of lifting of similar restrictions in the wider community. We were particularly troubled by the advice that transitions from each phase would be "premised [firstly] on having the appropriate level of staff resource available to safely make these changes for all who, live, work and visit our prison estate" i.e. not premised on the wellbeing of prisoners or human rights obligations.

It was published against the backdrop of a Ministerial Statement on 17 June 2020, which advised that the 15% reduction in the prison population should not be temporary.

Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2018-19

On 16 June 2020, the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2018-19 was published. (An updated version, which supersedes the original, was published in October 2020.) The report covers 5,537 interviews conducted between April 2018 and May 2019 and presents statistics on the extent of crime in Scotland, importantly including crime that is not reported to the police, although does not cover all crime types*.

It found that the volume of crime in Scotland, including incidents not reported to the police, fell by 45% over the last decade and by 20% since 2016/17.  The proportion of adults experiencing crime decreased from one-in-five to one-in-eight between 2008/09 and 2018/19. Consistent with previous years, the majority of violent incidents - which made up 29% of all crimes - were cases of minor assault resulting in no or negligible injury (60%), with instances of serious assault (7%) and robbery (3%) remaining relatively uncommon.

Victims of two or more incidents (3.5% of adults) accounted for over half (55%) of all crime in 2018/19, with repeat victims of violence (0.7% adults) estimated to have experienced three-fifths (60%) of all violent crime in 2018/19.

It found that the the likelihood of being a victim of any crime in 2018/19 was higher for those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland, and that violent crime continues to be experienced disproportionately among some groups in the population. 

*experiences of sexual offences are not included in the main estimates 

HMIPS Inspection of HMP Edinburgh

On 10 June 2020, HMIPS published a report on its full inspection of HMP Edinburgh. The inspection took place pre-COVID (October - November 2019), but noted even then that the amount of time spent in cells "may amount to effective solitary confinement". As we know, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), defines this as "[t]he confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact". The issue of what qualifies as "meaningful human contact" has gone on to be a very important one, since our human rights obligations expressly state that this cannot be limited to those interactions determined by medical necessity. Other notable findings in the report concerned the poor mental health of prisoners and high rates of staff absence which led to frequent cancellation of work sheds.

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