New Cabinet Secretary for Justice

Howard League Scotland welcomes the appointment of Michael Matheson MSP as Cabinet Secretary for Justice. We hope this heralds a renewed energy and commitment to achieving penal reform in Scotland. Scotland imprisons 147 people per 100,000 of the general population, one of the highest uses of imprisonment in Western Europe. Howard League Scotland looks forward to working with the new Cabinet Secretary to realise the Scottish Government’s welcome aspiration to reducing the size of the Scottish prison population and to develop just responses to the causes and consequences of crime more generally.

Ageing Prison Population

Ageing prison populations are increasingly a major point of concern for penal policymakers. According to a recent Scottish Justice Matters article, ‘The number of prisoners aged over 50 in Scotland increased by 71% from 387 in 2001 to 660 in 2011’. Scotland already produces a designated census on older prisoners which gives us some insight into this group of incarcerated people. Some headline statics include: 87% of older prisoners have accessed a doctor, 36% report that they have a disability and 46% of them report having a long term illness (compared to 27% of prisoners under 50).

What these statistics fail to capture is the qualitative and more complex dimensions of daily life for older people in prison in Scotland. Have there been changes in their healthcare and treatment for their long term illnesses upon entering prison? Does being in prison exacerbate these illnesses? If they were retired, what sort of activities do they partake in? Particularly as work is often used and encouraged as an important dimension of prison rehabilitation programmes. For staff as well, do they feel equipped to support older prisoners? The system is generally organised around young men, often unemployed and likely to be suffering from multiple addictions (usually a point made in relation to how prisons marginalise women). In Scotland in particular, we hear so much of the desistance language framing SPS decisions, polices and programmes, but do we need to think differently about desistance in relation to older prisoners?

These concerns have begun to dominate the minds of policymakers as there is a growing number of older people in prisons. According to a detailed brief from RECOOP, in England and Wales older people are the fastest growing demographic group in prisons. Charities which attend to the particular needs of older citizens have also begun to address the very specific needs of caring for elderly prisoners (For example, see this report from the Australian group, Alzheimer’s Australia: Dementia in Prison)

This year the Chief Inspector of Prison, David Strang, highlighted that Scotland too has an ageing prison population. Consequently, facilities which support and care for the increased number of people incarcerated with disabilities and dementia need to be in place. Even the basic design of prison space, particularly cells, needs to be adapted to meet the needs of older people, particularly those with limited mobility.

How can SPS and Scottish prison policy strategies develop to best support this particular group of people? Prison may be concerned with punishment and rehabilitation, evidently, it must also address and support the care needs of older people in their custody.  Otherwise, the risk is that we compound the experience of punishment for older people in prison. As Juliet Lyon and Mark Day remarked in a recent Guardian article ‘Some older people have committed serious crimes and it is important that justice is done, whether someone is aged 18 or 80. But imprisonment for many old, disabled people can amount to a double punishment’.

People in prison: a snapshot

Almost two-thirds of those taking part in the 2013 prisoner survey reported having children (63%). Of these, two in five (42%) had one child and just under a third had two children (31%). A quarter (24%) of prisoners thought that they would not be caring for their children when they were released, while 17% of prisoners did not know.

Nearly half of prisoners surveyed reported being drunk at the time of their offence (45%). One in five reported that drinking affected their ability to hold down a job (21%) and over one-third of prisoners admitted that their drinking affected their relationship with their family (35%)

A higher proportion of women reported problems with alcohol, with half (50%) reporting being drunk at the time of their offence—an 8% increase on 2011. Over half (53%) said that they would drink 10 or more drinks on a typical day when drinking, with 29% saying they drank six or more drinks on a daily, or almost daily, basis.

Two-thirds (68%) of young offenders reported being drunk at the time of their offence. 39% of prisoners reported being under the influence of drugs at the time of their offence, with 16% reporting that they committed their offence to get money for drugs.

Two-thirds (62%) reported using drugs in the 12 months prior to coming into prison. Cannabis (78%), benzodiazepams (58%) and cocaine (51%) were the most commonly used drugs.

Eight in ten (79%) young people in prison reported that they had used drugs in the 12 months prior to coming into prison and half (49%) were under the influence of drugs at the time of the offence.

A quarter of prisoners reported that they had taken another prisoner’s prescribed medication at some point during their time in prison.

One-quarter reported having a disability (25%), an increase of six per cent from 2011 (19%), with 68% of these stating that staff in their prison know they have a disability. Just over one third (36%) of older prisoners stated that they had a disability.

A quarter (25%) of young people in prison surveyed had no qualifications. Over half (56%) said that they were ‘often’ excluded from school and four in ten (37%) said that they had ‘often’ attended a Children’s Panel.

Just over a third of respondents to a Prison Reform Trust survey of prisons in Scotland in 2007 said that their prison had a dedicated learning disability nurse.

There were 1,822 recorded ‘minor & no injury’ prisoner on prisoner assaults in Scottish prisons in 2013–14, a 5% rise on the previous year. The number of serious assaults remained stable at 71.

85% of prisoners reported positively on the ability to arrange visits and 84% on access to family and friends. However, 57% reported that their visitors experienced problems when visiting them in prison, most frequently the distance of the prison from their home (61%) and the cost involved in getting to the prison (57%).

A greater number of older prisoners (18%) had no regular contact with their family and friends than younger prisoners (9%).

One-quarter of prisoners indicated that during their up-bringing they had been in care (27%).

Over half of women reporting had witnessed violence between their parents/carers when they were children (56%) compared to four in ten male prisoners (41%).

59% prisoners surveyed reported they were a lodger before going to prison, and 34% were a council tenant. Half of prisoners who specified said that they lost their tenancy/accommodation when they went to prison (49%).

The women’s prison population in Scotland increased 66% in the ten years since 2002-03.There has been a slight decrease with an average daily prison population of 431 women in 2013–14, 26 fewer than the year before.

The proportion of prisoners on remand is higher for women than men (23% compared to 19%). Only around 30% of women on remand go on to receive a custodial sentence.

In 2011–12, 1,979 women were received into custody on remand, 5% higher than the previous year. The number of women remanded to custody almost doubled between 1999–2000 and 2008–09 (from 1,176 to 2,338).

There is evidence that women are being imprisoned for longer periods of time. Research by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) found that the average length of custodial sentences imposed on women increased from 228 days in 1999–2000 to 271 in 2008–09. This difference is largely explained by the significant increase in the number of women sentenced to between six months and two years.

The report found no evidence of increasing participation in crime by women. Data from five police forces showed that the number of recorded crimes involving females has remained relatively stable between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, with some fluctuations in the Strathclyde and Fife area.

SCCJR analyses suggest that the growth in the women’s prison population can more likely be attributed to the increasing use of custodial sentences by courts than changes in the pattern of female offending.

A higher proportion of women commit ‘crimes of dishonesty’ than men. In 2012–13, 11% of proven offences by women were for shoplifting, compared with 6% of men.

According to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, two-thirds of the women at Cornton Vale, Scotland’s only all-women prison, were serving sentences of six months or less. Commenting on this, MacAskill said they had “typically been jailed for low level offences ... four out of five women going to Cornton Vale have a mental health problem and seven out of 10 have a disclosed history of abuse or trauma ... so while the staff at Cornton Vale are doing a fantastic job, a short-term prison environment is not always conducive to identifying root problems and dealing with them effectively.”

A report by the Commission on Women Offenders, chaired by former Lord Advocate, Dame Elish Angiolini, stated that “Cornton Vale is not fit for purpose.” It recommended that it is replaced with a smaller specialist prison for those women offenders serving a statutory defined long-term sentence and those who present a significant risk to the public.

In March 2014, a 50-place regional unit opened at HMP Grampian for women from the north east of Scotland.A Regional Unit in Edinburgh is planned for women from the east and south-east. A 350 place women’s prison is planned near Greenock to replace HMP Cornton Vale at an estimated cost of £60m.

Specialist services designed to meet the complex needs of women offenders can help them to tackle the causes of their offending. Women who used the services at the 218 Service in Glasgow identified significant decreases in drug and/or alcohol use (83%), improvements in their health and wellbeing (67%), access to stable accommodation and referrals to longer-term support services.

Via The Bromley Briefings


Possible Smoking Ban in Scottish Prisons

It has recently been reported in the media that SPS are exploring the possibility of imposing a prison-wide smoking ban. Howard League Scotland recognises the challenge faced by prison authorities in striking a balance between fostering a safe living and working environment for prisoners and staff alike and allowing some prisoners to pursue what is a legally accepted habit outside the prison walls. Effective enforcement of a ban is also often a challenge for prison authorities. Experiences in other jurisdictions have highlighted that even complete bans on smoking have not always led to complete abstinence in prisons.

Smoking in Scottish prisons:

  • The more times a person appears in custody the more likely they are to be a smokers
  • 87% of women smoke
  • 59% of older prisoners a reportedly smokers
  • Compared to 76% of younger prisoners

Find out more: Ash Factsheet - Smokefree Prisons

Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2015-16

HLS have raised concerns that the government’s draft budget 2015-16 will increase funding for imprisonment and decrease community justice service budgets. The stark contrast in investment is clear as the central budget for community justice services is less than 10% of the budget for the Scottish Prison Service. Even taking into account the ring-fenced grant for Criminal Justice Social Work of £86.5m, which we note is also unchanged in cash terms, the total budget for community justice is still only one third that assigned to prisons.

We welcome the fact that the Scottish Government remains committed to the goal of reducing Scotland’s prison population. However, if the Scottish Government is serious about reserving prison for the most serious and dangerous offenders and making greater use of community-based disposals, it is hard to see how this will happen without a greater shift in resources from custody to community justice.

Justice Committee
Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2015-16