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Critical Issues in Scottish Penal Policy: Inequality & Imprisonment

 

This week HLS has invited a selected group of experts to reflect upon critical issues in Scottish penal policy. Today we look at the road to prison. Professor Susan McVie and Dr Ben Matthews, researchers from the Understanding Inequalities project, ask what is the relationship between Scotland’s staggeringly high use of imprisonment and poverty? (Scotland's imprisonment rate is 143 per 100,000 of national population, one of the highest imprisonment rates in Europe). But they push us further, encouraging us to carefully and critically think about how studying crime and inequality can inadvertently stigmatise the poor and marginalised.

 

Imprisonment and Multiple Deprivation in Scotland

In 2005, Roger Houchin foundthat the links between social exclusion and imprisonment in Scotland were so strong that the best strategy to tackle offending behaviour lay in tackling social exclusion. In 2008, the Scottish Prisons Commission agreed that the prison population was over-represented by people from the poorest communities, and recommendedsignificant changes to the use of imprisonment in Scotland. But 10 years on, what progress has been made?

The ESRC-funded Understanding Inequalities project aims to explore the causes and consequences of inequalities in Scottish society.[1]As part of our work on crime and justice inequalities, we revisited Houchin’s report to see whether the relationship between inequality and imprisonment in Scotland still held, especially given the substantial falls in crime in Scotland over the past 15 years[2].

Specifically, we wanted to see if two of Houchin’s conclusions from 2005 were still valid. Firstly, that there was a ‘linear’ or straightforward correspondence between the level of deprivation in an area and its rate of imprisonment. And second, that deprivation was ‘neither a necessary nor a sufficient’ explanation for rates of imprisonment.

We looked at data on Scottish prisoners from one night in 2014 and examined the datazones (a proxy for neighbourhoods) in which their last known address was registered. Houchin’s conclusions were based on a similar dataset, although there were some differences in methodology[3]so our results are not directly comparable with his at the neighbourhood level. Nevertheless, we can compare our findings with Houchin’s for the whole of Scotland.

Results

Let’s consider Houchin’s two propositions in turn.  To do this, we examined inequality in the rate of imprisonment per 1,000 people in each of Scotland’s 6,976 datazones (to enable comparison across different neighbourhoods).[4] Our measure of inequality was the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), a routinely used measure of deprivation which ranks Scotland’s datazones from 1 (the most deprived neighbourhood) to 6,976 (the least deprived neighbourhood). 

Proposition 1: There is a linear correspondence between level of deprivation and imprisonment.

If proposition one were true, when we plotted the imprisonment rate against the overall rank of SIMD we would expect to see a downward diagonal slope (i.e. as SIMD rank increases - datazones become less deprived – the imprisonment rate correspondingly decreases).  Using the data from 2014, Figure One tests the proposition that this relationship is linear. The blue line gives a ‘best guess’ of what the imprisonment rate would be in each datazone if all we knew about that datazone was its SIMD rank. We can see that, on average, the most deprived datazones (to the left of the chart) have higher imprisonment rates than the less deprived datazones (to the right of the chart).  This is very similar to what Houchin found - as he puts it, “[i]t is not simply that the most deprived are most at risk of imprisonment, it is that, at all levels of prosperity, the probability of imprisonment increases with increasing deprivation.”

There are some caveats, however.  First, we can see that the relationship between the imprisonment rate and SIMD may be better described as a non-linear correspondence than a linear one[5]- the blue line isn’t straight, it curves upwards towards the left-hand side of the graph.  This means that the difference in the ‘best guess’ of the imprisonment rate between, say, the 100th most deprived datazone and the 200th most deprived datazone is not the same as the difference in the ‘best guess’ imprisonment rate between the 200th and 100th least deprived neighbourhoods. In other words, imprisonment rates in the most deprived neighbourhoods of Scotland appear to be disproportionately higher than those in the most affluent neighbourhoods, based on their levels of deprivation alone.

Proposition 2: Deprivation is neither a necessary nor a sufficient correlate of imprisonment

Houchin’s second proposition was that the averagerelationship between imprisonment rate and deprivation (shown in Figure One) did not show the whole picture. To test this, we added the actual imprisonment rate for each individual datazone to Figure Two. Each dot represents a single datazone in Scotland and, as you can see, the dots do not all cluster around the blue line (the best guess of the imprisonment rate based only on SIMD). This suggests that there are other factors that affect the imprisonment rate of a given neighbourhood rather than just deprivation. The wide spread of points around the line also indicates that neighbourhoods with similar levels of deprivation can have very different imprisonment rates. For example, within the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods the maximum imprisonment rate was over 22 per 1,000 people and the minimum imprisonment rate was zero. However, within the 10% least deprived neighbourhoods the maximum imprisonment rate was 3.75 per 1,000 and the minimum rate was zero. In other words, the imprisonment rate is lower in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Scotland (as measured by SIMD) than it is in the least deprived neighbourhoods in Scotland.  Houchin’s second proposition, therefore, is correct.

                           

Imprisonment and Inequality

So has anything actually changed in the years since Houchin’s report?

Based on our analysis, Houchin’s conclusions about the relationship between social exclusion (or inequality) and imprisonment still provide a reasonable description of the relationship between area-level deprivation and area-level imprisonment rates in Scotland. On average there is still a ’correspondence’ between deprivation and imprisonment - and this should be a concern for those interested in prison reform and issues of inequality more broadly in Scotland – however, it is clearly not the only factor that influences whether someone ends up in prison or not.

In order to properly understand the relationship between imprisonment and inequality in Scotland today, we need to take Houchin’s propositions further and examine the extent to which multiple forms of inequality intersect to impact on people’s life chances. In her careful reflection on Houchin’s analysis, Sarah Armstrong cautioned that “killer stats”, like those from Houchin’s report, can “lock in certain ideas and associations… making it difficult to understand the problem in any other terms.” Armstrong warned that if we only focus on the correspondence between deprivation and imprisonment, when we hear the word ‘prisoner’ we will automatically visualize a ‘poor’ face - when the reality is much more complex. We also need to remember that there are very deprived neighbourhoods in Scotland where imprisonment rates are much lower than those of more affluent areas. 

At a simple level, it is true that people living in Scotland’s most deprived communities are disproportionately more likely to end up in our prisons.  But, as we have shown here, visualizing the data in more detail enables us to see that there is a much bigger, more complex, story to be told. It is this that the Understanding Inequalities project aims to do in the coming years.  

 

Author information: Professor Susan McVie and Dr Ben Matthews work on the ESRC-funded Understanding Inequalties project at the Univeristy of Edinburgh.

Endnotes:

[1]The Understanding Inequalities project has been funded by the ESRC (Grant Reference ES/P009301/1) for three years from October 2017.  It involves an international team of researchers led by the University of Edinburgh.  

[2]The Applied Quantitative Methods Network analysed different aspects of the crime drop in Scotland, including trends in victimization, the spatial distribution, and patterns of convictions.

[3]There’s a helpful, if rather technical, discussion of these methodological challenges on Wikipedia.

[4]We calculate this as a rate by dividing the number of people in prison with a home address in each datazone by the total datazone population. It’s important to remember that we only have data on numbers of people in prison, not offending, conviction, policing, reporting, sentencing or any other factors which may affect the numbers of people in a given neighbourhood who were in prison on the night this dataset relates to.

[5]Statistically-minded readers will have noted that whether fitted values from a statistical model are linear or non-linear will depend on the model specification used. We compared the statistical fit of a model which allowed the relationship between imprisonment rate and Overall SIMD to be non-linear to a model which only allowed a linear relationship, and found that the non-linear model did a better job of describing the data.

Critical Issues in Scottish Penal Policy: Prison Officers

This week, HLS has invited a group of leading experts to reflect upon critical issues in Scottish penal policy. Below, Dr Katrina Morrison argues that we can make prisons more humane by professionally evolving the role of the prison officer, who can and should be someone who is trained to support people in custody. 

 

Why penal reform should care about prison officers

In efforts to reduce the carceral net, and to make prisons better places for those held in custody, I want to argue that those interested in penal reform should also pay attention to the staff who work within prisons. If we want to minimise the harms of imprisonment as much as is possible within an institution that is coercive and inflicts pain, we must not forget those who give shape to the practices and experiences within the organisation. This may be especially important in an organisation in which its objectives are so conflicted, and the emotional dimensions of the work so heightened. 

It is therefore important that penal reform should also include those who work within prisons within their remit, as well as on those who are in custody. Supporting staff in prisons, whether this be through better education, training or improved working cultures, may not initially seem like it should be high on the list of priorities for penal reform. However, progressive penal reform must also celebrate and support an investment in prison officers, in order that they be better placed to support the aspirations of imprisonment to care for those in custody and not be solely attentive to managing risk and ensuring less eligibility within prisons. Ultimately, it is prison officers who can support a return to citizenship, and the importance of this role has tended to be overlooked in the Scottish context.

Investing in better prisons – putting lipstick on a pig? 

Arguing that penal reform should include attention on prison staff (implying investment of time and financial resources), may be difficult for some to agree with. This perhaps reflects a wider debate between penal reductionism and penal abolitionism, and whether it is possible to accept that there could ever be such a thing as a ‘good’ prison. Some may argue that investing in prisons, whether the buildings, conditions, or staff, is like ‘putting lipstick on a pig’. Whether prisons can ever be ‘normalised’ is long debated within criminology, but I take the view that, while prisons exist, they must be supported to do what positive work they can. This is within the boundaries of an institution which is fundamentally organised to inflict psychological, if no longer physical, harm (Crewe, 2011). 

There is of course a danger in investing in prisons to improve the conditions therein. Investing in prisons leads to prisons being recast as places of care, respite and rehabilitation, with a real danger that the judiciary will send people there forrespite and care, when other non-custodial sanctions would be more suitable. Traditionally, this has particularly been an issue for the female population, and this is a delicate balance which must not be forgotten as the women’s estate is reconfigured and the Community Custody Unitsare built. Prison should never be an option where people are sent for rehabilitation

The aims of imprisonment will always be multiple and complex, but prisons must also be able to support desistance by building hope, as well as providing access to services which support improved health, employability etc. both within and after prison. While care canand shouldbe provided in prison, it must nonetheless never be forgotten that prisons will also always be places of punishment, dislocation, and separation. The deprivation of liberty, control over movement, removal of key tenets of citizenship (ability to work, to vote, limit of family life and relationships), will always be the imposition of pain, no matter how positive the penal regime. 

Prison Officers – from Turnkey to Professional Prison Officers

Officers perform tasks underpinned by conflicting rationales, in a demanding environment with some of the most vulnerable and challenging individuals in our society. Officers are required to monitor risk and security and to maintain order, whilst at the same time empathising, supporting, building hope, and demonstrating personal resilience (Crawley, 2004Bennett et al., 2008Liebling et al, 2010). The balance between ‘custody’ and ‘order’ with ‘care’ and ‘opportunity’ requires officers who can think critically about imprisonment and who can care in the most challenging contexts. 

Following the publication of the Organisational Review in 2013, it is now recognised that staff must have the right knowledge, understanding and skills so that they too can support the positive change of those in custody (SPS, 2013). Since then, reforms aimed at professionalising the service are underway in order to create a degree of skill and professionalism that has not before existed in the prison setting’ (SPS, 2016:1). In the future, prison officers are expected to play a central role in helping to ‘unlock the potential’ of those in custody, by taking a greater role as: ‘counsellors, role models, coaches and advocates of the people in their care’ (SPS, 2016).

Professionalising prison officers is not a new agenda for the Scottish Prison Service. In 1991, Andrew Coyleclaimed that ‘we may now be at the beginning of a fundamental reassessment of how the prison officer carries out this task. In the not too distant future the prison officer might properly be described as a professional worker’ (p242). Over 25 years later, the inclusion in the 2017 Programme for Government of professionalization within the SPS, has put it firmly at the centre of Scottish prisons policy again. 

There is no single definition of professionalism, but two key aspects of ‘professional practice’ are the ability to make ‘complex decisions’ drawing on ‘technical knowledge, skills and informed judgement’ (Sullivan, 2005), adherence to an ethical code which can be enshrined in a (regulated) code of practice, and engage in specialised formal learning throughout their career (Sparks et al, unpublished).

Within a prisons setting, professionalization can mean different things. According to Crawley, professional prison officers do their job in a ‘fair, legal, confident and neutral manner’ with the ability to ‘relate to, and deal with difficult, truculent people’ (2004: 112). Liebling et alcite Gilbert’s definition of ‘the professional’ prison officer as ‘open and non-defensive, makes exceptions when warranted, prefers to gain cooperation and compliance through communication, but is willing to use coercive power or force as a last resort’ (1997, in 2010). For Sparks et al (unpublished), professional prison officers are able to form the right sorts of relationships and to work in and through these relationships to support desistance, which require both the right ‘personal qualities and values’, and a ‘wider body of knowledge’ relating to crime and desistance. 

What is clear, is that the ambitious aspirations for the SPS contained in the Organisational Review, have to place staff at the core of organisational change. Supporting staff within prisons to do their job to the best of their abilities, is compatible with an associated concern with people in custody. For those who want to reduce Scotland’s extensive penal state and radically improve penal outcomes, these concerns are symbiotic.

 

Author bio: Dr Katrina Morrison is a lecturer in Criminology at Napier University and was a part-time Learning and Development Researcher with the Scottish Prison Service, developing prison officer professionalization.

Job Vacancy: Policy and Public Affairs

HOWARD LEAGUE SCOTLAND

POLICY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS ADVISER

 

Howard League Scotland (HLS)is Scotland’s leading independent penal reform organisation. Established in 1979, HLS promotes just responses to the causes and consequences of crime. It campaigns for progressive and evidence-led penal practice, based on evidence of ‘what works’ and careful ethical reflection on ‘what’s right’. 

We are seeking a Policy and Public Affairs Adviser for 20 hours a week from October/November for six months on a self-employed basis. You should be educated at least to Honours degree level or equivalent and be able to demonstrate awareness of current debates in crime and justice policy, as well as good analytical and research skills. Preference will be given to applicants with a research background in criminology and/or penology. You should have an understanding of public policy analysis and excellent drafting and organisational skills. IT requirements for the role are intermediate (at least) or advanced (preferred). Experience of organising events is desirable. You must be able to work from home unsupervised.  The successful candidate will be self-employed.

A role description is attached below.

Please send your CV and a covering letter giving the name of two professional referees and outlining what you would bring to the role of PPAA with Howard League Scotland to Sue Moody at:

moodysue784@gmail.com

 

The closing date is Friday 21 September.

Interviews will take place during the week beginning 24 September.

POLICY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS ADVISER – ROLE DESCRIPTION 

 

RESPONSIBLE TO: Howard League Scotland Executive Committee (HLS EC) 

SUPERVISORY RESPONSIBILITY: None 

MAIN PURPOSES OF THE JOB

  • To ensure the Howard League Scotland (HLS) is a leading and informed voice on current penal practice in respect of prison regimes, resettlement, and the provision of community sentencesandof Human Rights.

MAIN DUTIES 

  • Maintain an up-to-date awareness of relevant external policy changes, policy issues, consultations and research findings and inform HLS EC accordingly
  • Help determine and promote policy positions andmake links on this, where appropriate, with relevant organisations
  • Disseminate the above to stakeholders, including key parliamentarians, civil and other public servants, funders, academics, other public figures, HLS members and the media/general public
  • Establish sections on the website to hold the above information, including FAQs on the issues
  • Compile and disseminate a regular e-newsletter, at least quarterly
  • Send out regular messages on Facebook and Twitter linking to the FAQs blog when new reports are published 
  • Draft press releases and assist with media responses as required
  • Plan for and coordinate events which contribute to knowledge exchange.

SKILLS, EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE

The post holder should be educated at least to good Honours degree level, and should have good analytical and research skills. Good understanding of public policy work is essential. The post holder should be able to demonstrate drafting and organisational skills. IT requirements for the role are intermediate (at least) or advanced (preferred). Experience of organising events is desirable. The post holder must be able to work from home unsupervised.

OTHER

The post holder will require to be committed to HLS’s aims, objectives and values in penal reform and to the promotion of equality of opportunity and to valuing diversity.

 

·      Fees: £16 an hour

·      Status: self-employed-the post holder is responsible for their own taxation 

·      Hours: 20 hours a week to be worked flexibly and which may include very occasional evening or weekend work

·      Support and supervision: report to Sue Moody

·      Notice: a month on either side, in writing.

 

 

Remand: A life or death crisis in Scotland

In Scotland, remand prisoners make up 18.7% of our prison population yet, it has been revealed, they count for 27% of the deaths in custody. The most common cause of death is suicide. Scotland’s use of remand seriously undermines the integrity and equality of our justice system. 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),[1] but in Scotland the remand population has been steadily increasing for decades, with an increase of over 60% since 1998. Furthermore, the Scottish courts use of alternatives to remand custody, such as supervised bail, have been falling.[2] That, as it has now been reported, being on remand disproportionately increases a person’s chance of dying while in custody should give the Scottish government greater impetus to severely restrict the court’s use of remand. 

Read more:

 

[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

 

Phones in Prisons: Reconnect or Rehabilitate?

Yesterday’s headlines carried the good news that prisons in England and Wales will have in-cell phones installed this year. This is an important penal reform that will improve the quality of life for prisoners in England and Wales, but it also casts a critical light on Scottish prison policy and how and why we might now wish to emulate this development.

 

Scotland – an Outlier

The possibility of in-cell phones was tentatively proposed in Scotland in 2013, but received little public and political backing. It seems that this issue has not been explored any further since then. Until recently Northern Ireland was the only UK jurisdiction to provide people in prison with in-cell landlines. Now, however, as England and Wales move forward with this prison reform Scotland will be left behind, soon to become the only prison system in the UK that does not provide prisoners with landline access inside their cells. The dominant and prevailing argument given in support of providing prisoners greater access to private and affordable phones is that it will increase rehabilitation and therefore reduce crime. This is because there is a great deal of research suggesting that family contact helps reduce recidivism.[1] However, should our prison reform aspirations be limited to rehabilitation and desistance? 

 

Family Contact

We know that prisons are isolating for prisoners. Prisons have restrictions on when and how often prisoners can receive visitors; and in Scotland, where prisons are often widely dispersed across this vast nation, actual family contact can be more difficult to maintain than it might immediately appear.[2] This makes phone contact all the more important. For the time being, however, in Scotland prisoners’ calls will continue to be made on public phones on public landings – where private conversations, family matters, and any and all news will still be received in full view and within earshot of other people. At the very least, this makes maintaining genuine and meaningful conversation with those outside the prison much more difficult. Insufficient family contact is part of what causes suffering for prisoners beyond the deprivation of liberty, and therefore the justification for more landlines in prison cells runs deeper than reducing crime.

In addition, we should never treat families merely as a tool to be used to support prisoner rehabilitation, particularly given the corrosive impact the prison can have on their lives. While they themselves are not imprisoned, the prison usually comes to dominate their family life. Having a family member in prison can cause anxiety, shame and stigma, deepen social and economic marginality, and having a parent imprisoned can yield particularly devastating consequences (Wakefield and Wildeman 2014). As one of Scotland’s leading experts on imprisonment and its wider impact on families, Dr Cara Jardine, has written, given their ‘potential difficulties and vulnerabilities, these families should be offered support as individuals in their own right and not simply viewed as a potential resource for reducing reoffending’. 

 

Communication and Well-Being or Rehabilitation?

There is a strong general argument for phones in cells. If the Scottish Government, and our New Cabinet Secretary, Humza Yousaf, decide to reconsider the position on prison phones, then they will need to think seriously about why we do it: how the policy works in practice will depend on whether its main rationale is reducing reoffending or to help improve family contact. If a phones policy is to help maintain as normal as possible family relations, then phones in cells will be able to receive incoming calls as well as make out-going calls. In addition, if the Justice Department and SPS are motivated by reducing the problems caused by imprisonment and not merely rehabilitation, then they will need to address how phones are paid for. If we want to lessen the destructive impact of the prison on family life, mental health, and reintegration, then the Scottish Government and the Prison Service must foot the bill for this increased phone contact.

As Jas, someone who is currently serving a sentence in a Scottish prison, recently wrote, managing a weekly budget in prison is a careful balancing act, challanged by the same demands of low wages and increased cost of living. But what his account also reveals is the already existing stress for prisoners and their friends and families in financially managing continued contact in Scotland. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of the people in prison are from communities that experience the most acute financial deprivation. As Jas writes, ‘I believe that high phone call costs and low prison wages is a double-edged sword that makes the SPS’s literature of ‘encouraging positive relationships’, less achievable’. Therefore, the current cost of phones in prison means people are already limiting their family contact, and thus undermining the health and welfare of the entire family.

Now, add into this existing situation the possibility of increased family contact and what the penal system will also inadvertently create is additional anxiety about not being able to afford to maintain contact: it would cost £1.30 per day for a prisoner calling home every day for just ten minutes to a mobile, multiply this by 7 days and it would cost £9.10 per week (which is more than some prisoners wages). Therefore, if this policy is about maintaining family contact and lessening the harm caused by imprisonment, then HLS advocate that in practice phones will need to be affordable and flexible.

 

Time to Reconnect Prisoners? 

The Scottish Government, should they now decide to also follow the present progressive trend and install phones in prison cells, should do so because it helps make prisons more humane, softening the sense of isolation a prisoner feels and may make reintegration less difficult. Secondly, the government should also consider this a worthy and vitally important venture because of the wider social impact of improved prisoner contact. The Scottish government already acknowledges that the families of prisoners suffer collaterally in ways that can cause lasting damage. If we wish to limit the unintended injustices of the Scottish criminal justice system, then increasing the opportunities for normal family contact must be made a priority for prison policy in 2018. It is time for Scottish prisons to reconsider the issue of phones in cells, but we should also do so for the right reasons. Rehabilitation is an important aim for prison policy, but we need not narrow the rationale behind progressive reforms to reducing reoffending. Instead, prison policy makes its most progressive and socially just impact when it attempts to transform the prison by reducing the detrimental effects of imprisonment on prisoners and society alike.

 

Footnotes:

[1]Mills A. and Codd, H. (2008) ‘Prisoners’ Families and Offender Management: Mobilizing Social Capital’, Probation journal, 55(1): 9-24. 

[2]In 2015, 61% of Scottish prisoners reported that the cost involved in getting to the prison was prohibitive and 57% stated that the distance of the prison from their home also made arranging visits difficult. Scottish Prisoner Survey 2015: http://www.sps.gov.uk/Corporate/Publications/Publication-4565.aspx

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