News

Scottish Prison Population 3rd January 2014

 

According to the latest figures there were 7759 people in prison across Scotland at the begining of January 2014

  • 5423 Sentenced Male Adults
  • 1144 Untried Male Adults
  • 349 Sentenced Male Young Offenders
  • 278 Sentenced Female Adults
  • 235 Convicted Prisoners Awaiting Sentencing
  • 130 Untried Male Young Offenders
  • 82 Untried Female Adults
  • 81 Recalled Life Prisoners
  • 15 Sentenced Female Young Offenders
  • 12 Prisoners Awaiting Deportation
  • 10 Untried Female Young Offenders

 

Source: Scottish Prison Service

Prison Policy in the News

The need for penal reform in Scotland appeared on the front page of The Herald this week as Lord Carloway highlighted the high rate of Scottish imprisonment. Engaging in this public debate, The Howard League Scotland sent a letter of response which was published on the 18th of January, which read:

Scotland should have a great sense of hope and almost relief that at last a judge has come out publicly with what is needed to be said about sentencing. Those of us in The Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland (HLS) are hugely heartened by the front page splash in The Herald of 14 January headed “Carloway: we need culture shift in prison sentencing”. We all need this culture shift to meet the needs of victims and offenders (remembering too that individuals can at different times be victim or offender), to make Scotland a safer place.

Imprisonment does not make one less likely to reoffend on release, quite the opposite-despite the best efforts of our prison service. Whatever good work is done in prisons can be negated by the difficulties experienced on release. The same work with offenders is more effectively done in the community-but of course it does need to be available and adequately resourced. Scotland locks up a disproportionate high number compared with other countries and too many prisoners are poor and vulnerable, have disadvantaged backgrounds and mental health or other issues. All of this is well supported by research and those who work in criminal justice and by those in wider society with knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s penal policy and practice.

To make a culture shift it is essential that the judiciary are on side with and preferably driving the change, as was the case in Finland when that country decided to substantially reduce its prison population twenty or more years ago. They did this successfully and with no adverse impact on offending rates. It is, therefore, the most promising indication of the possibility of change ever seen in Scotland, to have Lord Carloway recognise all the above, as the article says “it would be hard to disagree with the “generality” that the prison population is too high and that in some instances the wrong people are behind bars.” This is especially the case when crime is at a 39-year low.”

Lord Carloway’s statement will be welcomed by thoughtful and creative judges who seek to use their discretion in innovative ways to ensure they mainly hand down effective community sentences which are the most likely to reduce recidivism. Those judges, and let us assume it will be the vast majority, will want the opportunity Lord Carloway promises to learn more about current evidence in the field of criminology, potentially ground breaking transformation currently being promoted within Scottish prisons, and the programmes available for offenders within community sentences. It would be shocking if any judge did not want to be “up to speed on modern thinking and practice” and to “refresh their ideas of what is available in terms of practice”.

Many judges, of course, are already up to speed on this and are hindered in progressive, effective sentencing by the lack of, or patchy nature of, community sentences facilities. The culture change must include a shift from investing in prison buildings to the more cost-effective early intervention, restorative justice and other justice work in the community.

Read Further: Carloway: We need culture shift in prison sentencing

Women Offenders

Howard League Scotland supported the findings and recommendations of the Commission for Women Offenders’ report published in April 2012, the majority of which were accepted by the Scottish Government. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice made his second annual report to the Scottish Parliament on progress to date. His report can be found here.

Howard League Scotland provided evidence to the Justice Committee expressing concern that the Scottish Government does not intend to reduce the capacity of the female prison estate and that this is likely to militate against greater use of community-based disposals for women. Our submission can be read here.

Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill

Howard League Scotland is one of a coalition of organisations and individuals calling on the Scottish Government to give priority to early prevention and the first 1001 days of a child’s life. Stage 2 of the Bill will take place early in the New Year. More detail on the recommendations of the coalition can be found here.

Prisoner voting and the independence referendum

Prisoner voting and the independence referendum

From mid March until the end of June, we led a campaign to highlight the issue of voting rights for convicted prisoners in the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum. On 11 March, the Scottish Government introduced legislation setting out the franchise for the referendum. The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill sought to extend voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds, as well as ban all convicted prisoners from voting. Our campaign was supported by a wide range of individuals and organisations including the Prison Reform Trust, Sacro, Positive Prison? Positive Futures and Professors Fergus McNeill and Mike Nellis. We made the case for allowing at least some convicted prisoners to vote, highlighting how unusual the UK’s blanket ban is in a European context. Of the 47 Council of Europe nations, only four other major European countries ban all convicted prisoners from voting: Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Russia. We were disappointed that the vast majority of MSPs voted to extend a blanket ban on voting by convicted prisoners in the independence referendum. A review of our campaign can be found here.

Over the past six months, a joint committee of the UK Parliament has been considering Ministry of Justice draft legislation on prisoner voting rights. The Committee issued its report on 18 December, recommending that convicted prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months should be given the right to vote, and that prisoners should be entitled to apply, up to 6 months before their scheduled release date, to be registered to vote in the constituency into which they are due to be released. The full report can be read here. The Committee also recommended that legislation should be introduced at the start of the UK Parliament’s 2014/15 session. However, the Scottish Parliament’s Franchise Act ensures that, even if there is legislative change at Westminster between now and the independence referendum, convicted prisoners in Scotland will still not be able to vote in the independence referendum.

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