News

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/

Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill

We broadly welcome that the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill passed Stage 3 on 25 June 2019. The wide-ranging Bill sought to extend the use of electronic monitoring; reduce the length of time people with convictions need to disclose such convictions to prospective employers; and make constitutional amendments to the status of the Parole Board for Scotland.

We submitted written and oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, highlighting that whilst Electronic Monitoring (EM) could mitigate against the disruptive effects of imprisonment on housing, employment, and community ties, it would only play a limited role in reducing Scotland’s high imprisonment rate. We cautioned against criminal just net-widening and up-tariffing, pointing out that in the majority of cases, EM did not displace a custodial sentence. Whilst welcoming the expansion of EM for those on temporary release, we wished to see this as an opportunity for gradual reintegration, rather than as a supplementary form of additional control and surveillance.

We advocated for the use of Home Detention Curfew (HDC) not to be used in isolation, but to aid reintegration when accompanied by an appropriate support package; and argued for sensible and not overly-punitive exclusion zones where and when required. We were also keen to see EM used in place of remand, although this was not covered by the Bill.

Similarly, we welcomed changes to the current disclosure process and language – including the increase in the upper threshold for a conviction that cannot be spent from 30 months to 48 months - stressing that the changes did not go far enough in reducing the punitive impact of disclosure, and citing evidence which showed that after a period of 7 – 10 years, a person who has not reoffended will have the same offending potential as someone who has never offended.

Throughout the passage of the Bill we questioned the increasingly risk-averse approach to the granting of HDC and the dramatic fall in its use following the independent reviews undertaken by HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland.

Howard League Scotland Written Evidence

Howard League Scotland Oral Evidence

Justice Committee Report

Presumption Against Short Sentences (PASS)

We are pleased to report that on 26 June 2019, the Scottish Parliament approved the Presumption Against Short Periods of Imprisonment Order which extends the presumption against short sentences from 3 months or less to 12 months or less. This is something which we have been advocating for many years, arguing that prison should be reserved for those who have committed the most serious of offences and who pose the greatest risk to public safety.

We were invited to give written evidence to the Justice Committee in their scrutiny of the Presumption Against Short Periods of Imprisonment (PASS) Order, in which we highlighted that short prison sentences had been shown to be less effective than well-resourced noncustodial measures in preventing reoffending and were also more damaging to those on whom they are imposed.

We drew attention to the fact that low level crimes, which attract short custodial sentences, are often linked to disadvantaged circumstances, mental health problems and addictions and that even a short period in prison, whether post-sentence or on remand, is long enough to disrupt employment, medical care, housing and family relationships, but not long enough to tackle the underlying causes of offending behaviour. We also highlighted that custodial sentences particularly disadvantaged women, families and children.

Noting that the current PASS, set at three months, has had no significant impact on the size of the prison population, we suggested that extending the presumption would only have limited scope to counter Scotland’s over-reliance on imprisonment as a punishment. We broadened the debate to remind us all that to achieve any significant reduction in the prison population, we would also need to reduce the number of long prison sentences imposed (especially life sentences) as well as the number of prisoners on remand.

We shared others’ concerns that sentencers had to have confidence that alternative disposals, such as Community Payback Orders, would be adequately resourced and there would need to be significant immediate investment in non-custodial provisions. We also called for the extension of the presumption to be monitored to ensure there was no up-tariffing.

We were also invited to give oral evidence to the Justice Committee on 4 June 2019, at which our Committee Member, Dr. Katrina Morrison, reiterated our views whilst suggesting that “we need to having conversations about what punishment is, and what it isn’t, in order to reduce the prison population” – a point which was later picked up on in a Scottish Parliamentary Debate about Whole Life Custody (Scotland) Bill.

The order will be made by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on 2 July 2019 and will come into force on 4 July 2019, with the presumption applying to offences committed thereafter.

Howard League Scotland Written Evidence

Howard League Scotland Supplementary Written Evidence

Howard League Scotland Oral Evidence

Justice Committee Report

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

New Strapline Brief

No incentives. No terms and conditions. Just a simple brief and the opportunity to contribute to making Scotland a better and safer place. 

We're proud to follow the search John Howard took between 1775 and 1790 to find a humane prison system, and to work with associated organisations founded in his name across the world. In 1979 our unique penal system called for the establishment of an independent Scottish organisation, and to mark our 40th Anniversary this year we'd like your help in coming up with a strapline to reflect and celebrate what we stand for. Email responses to: info@howardleague.scot.

Strapline Brief

Background

Howard League Scotland (HLS) is Scotland’s leading independent campaigning organisation for the rights of prisoners and other offenders. Established in 1979, we promote just responses to the causes and consequences of crime, convinced that prison should be a place of last resort. We do not seek Government funding and HLS is entirely funded by voluntary donations, allowing us to speak freely on issues of concern.

We focus on how to reduce the number of people in prison, and on prison conditions and regime. We campaign for progressive approaches to prisoners, based on evidence of ‘what works’ and on a humane approach to ‘what’s right’. For example, we believe that the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility should be raised from 8 to 16 years of age; that all prisoners should have voting rights; that more use should be made of non-custodial sentences; and we are opposed to the building of a new super-size prison to replace Barlinnie.

We don't represent individuals or provide services. Working with MSPs, other decision makers and influencers, we aim to highlight key areas of concern and present evidence on penal reform issues via our website, social media channels and the media, as well as directly to Parliamentary Committees.

The HLS Committee is made up of experts drawn from legal, academic, voluntary and public sector backgrounds, who all give freely of their time and expertise.

Requirement

A strapline, which we would like to add to our existing logo and launch at our 40th Anniversary Conference in May 2019: ‘Reimagining justice in Scotland’.

Examples of how the strapline and logo could be executed creatively would also be welcome.

Objectives

  • help to position Howard League Scotland as a separate entity from the Howard League for Penal Reform, which whilst describing itself as a national charity, operates in England and Wales
  • provide clarification of what we stand for, in order to boost membership and support our fundraising applications and activities

Target Audience

Key parliamentarians; civil and other public servants; funders; academics; practitioners; members of the public interested in penal reform; media; other penal reform organisations.

Tone

Inspiring

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