community justice

Howard League Scotland welcomes bold decision on Inverclyde

Responding to the news that the Scottish Government has decided not to proceed with the proposal to build a 350-bed women’s prison at Inverclyde, John Scott QC, Convenor, Howard League Scotland, said:

“Howard League Scotland strongly welcomes this decision by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. Mr Matheson has done exactly as he promised – despite the short time since he took office and the urgency of the situation, he has reviewed all the evidence and submissions, and ensured that the final decision was the right one. It is a bold decision and will be recognised as such by all those who have voiced their concerns about HMP Inverclyde. In deciding not to proceed with the proposal to build a new women’s prison at Inverclyde, the Cabinet Secretary is opening up the potential for greater use of community-based solutions for women who offend and women who are at risk of offending. This will benefit all of us. By dealing appropriately and effectively with this vulnerable group of women, Scotland will be a safer place.

“The 2012 report of the Commission on Women Offenders was clear that most women in prison in Scotland today have “complex needs that relate to their social circumstances, previous histories of abuse and mental health and addiction problems”. The report stated unequivocally that most women who have offended do not need to be in prison and that the impact of imprisonment on women and their families is often catastrophic. It was for this reason that the report recommended that Cornton Vale was closed and 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”.

“We commend the hard work carried out by those in the Scottish Prison Service who have been working on the design of the new prison. We hope that the learning derived from this process can be put to good use in a smaller custodial unit which will house the small number of women in Scotland serving long-term sentences and who need to be in prison for reasons of public protection.

“Fully implementing the well researched recommendations of the Commission on Women Offenders will mark Scotland out as a progressive country which determines its penal policy according to the best evidence. We hope that this bold move represents a first step on the road to reducing the size of the female prison population in Scotland. We wholeheartedly support the Scottish Government in this endeavour.

“We express the hope that all of those who have taken part in the debate in this matter will continue to take part in the challenges before us. Today’s decision was a necessary first step but much work remains to be done. Given the interest in the matter across political parties, the Scottish Parliament, and civic Scotland, we hope also that further constructive engagement will be possible. The scale of imprisonment of women in Scotland has been a scandal since before the Scottish Parliament was created. Many strong words have been spoken in condemnation over many years but, until today, the strength of criticism and the best of intentions have proved inadequate. This decision takes us on considerably from good intentions. ”

26 January 2015

Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2014/15

Howard League Scotland response to Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2014/15

We are grateful for the opportunity to comment upon the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2014/15 as it relates to the Justice portfolio.

The aim of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland is to promote just responses to the causes and consequences of crime. Scotland’s imprisonment rate is one of the highest in western Europe and far too many people reoffend after release from prison, particularly those who have served short term sentences.

We wish to make two points about the Draft Budget 2014/15.

Balance of resources for custodial and community-based disposals

As we understand it, the Scottish Government remains committed to the findings and recommendations of the report of the Scottish Prisons Commission (2008). Speaking September 2007, the Justice Secretary said: “I refuse to believe that Scottish people are inherently bad, so why are we locking up twice as many offenders as Ireland or Norway?” The report recommended reducing Scotland’s prison population by “focusing the use of imprisonment on those who have committed serious crimes and constitute a danger to the public”. And yet, since the report was published in 2008, the prison population has risen further.

We are therefore concerned to note that the budget for the Scottish Prison Service will rise in real terms from £364.5m in 2013/14 to £375.2m in 2014/15, including capital expenditure. Excluding capital expenditure, we note that the budget rises in cash terms from £342.0m in 2013/14 to £368.9 m in 2014/15, and is held at £368.2m in 2015/16, which will still represent a real terms increase over the period. Conversely the budget for community justice will experience a small real terms decrease from £31.9m in 2013/14 to £31.7m in 2014/15 and a further decrease to £31.1m in 2015/16.

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. The budget for community justice is less than 10% of the budget for the Scottish Prison Service.

Capital expenditure on the female prison estate

As you will know, Scotland’s female prison population has doubled over the past decade and we were pleased that the Scottish Government accepted most of the recommendations of the report of the Commission on Women Offenders (2012). The report recommended the closure of HMP Cornton Vale and the establishment of a “smaller, specialist prison”. It also recommended “the establishment of a powerful community justice service with strong and robust alternatives to custody”.

With the proposed new facility at HMP Inverclyde, as well as the plans to create a regional facility for women at HMP Edinburgh, we remain concerned that there is to be no reduction in capacity for female offenders within the prison estate. We are concerned that this will militate against greater use of community disposals for female offenders. Given the damaging effects of prison on women and their families, it is vital that resources are directed towards community-based solutions to women’s offending behaviour.

11 October 2013

Howard League Scotland

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