2016 HOLYROOD ELECTIONS: REVIEW OF PARTY MANIFESTOS

2016 HOLYROOD ELECTIONS: REVIEW OF PARTY MANIFESTOS

We have reviewed the manifestos of the five parties currently represented at Holyrood, comparing the various pledges and commitments against five key issues where Howard League Scotland would most like to see action in the next Parliamentary session:

  • Reducing the prison population
  • Reducing the use of remand
  • Better use of community sentences
  • Reducing the female prison population
  • Increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility

We have focussed on the section of the manifestos that relates specifically to justice issues. However, we recognise that it is important to consider the party manifesto commitments on justice in a wider context. Many of the solutions to the issues above lie outside the criminal justice system and in health, education, housing and employment policy. (Links to the party manifestos can be found at the end of this document.)

USE OF IMPRISONMENT

Howard League Scotland says:

There are still too many people prison in Scotland.

Scotland’s imprisonment rate is one of the highest in western Europe. There are currently 7,937 people in Scottish prisons today. The Scottish Prisons Commission (2008) recommended that the Scottish Government pursue a target of reducing the prison population to an average daily population of 5,000.  The current set of prison population projections suggest that prison population levels in Scotland will remain at an annual average of 7,800 between now and 2022/23.

What do the party manifestos say?

Scottish Conservatives want to

  • end automatic early release for all prisoners
  • abolish parole for the “worst offenders”
  • send anyone in breach of a Community Payback Order to prison for 24 or 48 hours
  • introduce payment-by-results schemes to tackle reoffending

Scottish Greens want to

  • encourage greater use of diversion from prosecution
  • abolish short prison sentences of less than 12 months
  • ensure custodial sentences are only used for those who pose a threat to the public
  • decriminalise the cultivation and possession of cannabis for personal use, and decriminalise the possession of drugs that grow wild in the UK

Scottish Labour want to

  • introduce a presumption against prison sentences of less than six months

Scottish Liberal Democrats want to

  • reduce overall prisoner numbers
  • introduce a new presumption against short prison sentences of less than 12 months
  • work with the Sentencing Council to change prosecution and sentencing guidelines to refer those arrested for possession of drugs for personal use for treatment, education or civil penalties, ending the use of imprisonment

Scottish National Party wants to

  • support new efforts to deliver effective alternatives to custody

USE OF REMAND

Howard League Scotland says:

Too many people are remanded into custody.

The numbers of individuals on remand have increased by 65% since 2000 (from 951 in 2000 to 1565 in 2015). Around a fifth of those in prison in Scotland are there on remand and our remand imprisonment rate is the highest of the three UK jurisdictions. In 2012/13 more people went to prison to await a trial or sentencing than to be punished. In November 2015, Scottish Legal News reported that the 140-day rule (for High Court trials) is being regularly breached.

None of the party manifestos make reference to the issue of remand.

COMMUNITY SENTENCES

Howard League Scotland says:

We want to see better use of community sentences.

A number of studies have have found that community sentences are more effective in reducing reoffending than short-term prison sentences. For instance, someone serving a prison sentence of six months or less is more likely than not to be reconvicted within a year of release. Community sentences allow individuals to address the causes of their offending behavior, maintain family relationships, tenancies and employment – all of which increase the likelihood of desisting from further criminal activity in the future.

What do the party manifestos say?

Scottish Conservatives want to

  • introduce a presumption into Community Payback Order legislation, where the courts would have to justify not imposing a work element
  • introduce “swift and certain” schemes which where those breaching community sentences are sent to prison for 24 or 48 hours

Scottish Greens want to

  • increase the use of non-custodial sentences and educational disposals

Scottish Labour want to

  • see more alternatives to custody and an increase in community-based sentencing

Scottish Liberal Democrats want to

  • support the further transfer of resources from ineffective short prison sentences to robust and effective community justice options
  • make sure Community Justice Scotland is able to oversee the establishment of many more alternative sentences

Scottish National Party wants to

  • see Community Justice Scotland providing leadership and strategic direction in the planning and delivery of community sentences
  • improve community-based alternatives to short-term prison sentences, including restricting liberty through the increased use of electronic monitoring, combined with support in the community
  • support new efforts to deliver effective alternatives to custody (e.g. Fiscal Work Orders)

FEMALE PRISON POPULATION

Howard League Scotland says:

There are too many women in prison in Scotland today.

The female prison population has risen by 120% since 2000. Research carried out 2011 showed that the rise in numbers has not been driven by an increase in criminal activity by women, by women committing more serious crimes or the increased prosecution of women. The Commission on Women Offenders (2012) stated that ‘there is an urgent need for action to reduce the number of women reoffending and going to prison.’ There are just over 400 women in prison in Scotland today.

What do the party manifestos say?

Scottish Conservatives

No specific reference in manifesto.

Scottish Greens

No specific reference in manifesto.

Scottish Labour wants to

  • halve the population of women prisoners and will implement the recommendations of the Angiolini Commission on Women Offenders

Scottish Liberal Democrats want to

  • support the Angiolini reforms on women offenders and apply the same principles to our response to male offending

Scottish National Party wants to

  • enhance access to community sentencing and support and the development of a new model for the female custodial estate, with a smaller national women’s prison and local community-based custody units

MINIMUM AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY

Howard League Scotland says:

The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland must be increased.

In 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticised the fact that Scotland has – at aged eight – one of the lowest minimum ages of criminal responsibility in the world. Although a child under the age of 12 cannot be prosecuted for an offence, they can still be referred to a Children’s Hearing and may ultimately carry a criminal record from the age of eight.

What do the party manifestos say?

Scottish Conservatives

No specific reference in manifesto.

Scottish Greens

No specific reference in manifesto.

Scottish Labour

No specific reference in manifesto.

Scottish Liberal Democrats want to

  • raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12

Scottish National Party

No specific reference in manifesto.

Howard League Scotland

29 April 2016

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