prisons

HMIPS Annual Report 2018-19

HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) published its Annual Report on 22 August 2019. Having completed full inspections of HMP Perth, HMP Addiewell, HMP YOI Polmont and HMP YOI Grampian, it reiterated previous findings that parts of the prison estate remained unfit for purpose. Many of its observations related to current overcrowding issues placing unsustainable burdens on both prisoners and prison staff. Examples included difficulties in transferring prisoners to other prisons to complete offender behaviour programmes, where prisoners were at risk of being released into the community without having completed treatment programmes designed to reduce future reoffending. Elements of health and well-being were of particular concern across a number of inspected prisons.

HMIPS Annual Report 2018-19

 

Suspension of SPS Throughcare Support Service

The news that the SPS is to suspend its Throughcare Support Service (TSS) and reassign all Throughcare Support Officers (TSOs) to Prison Officer roles, demonstrates the immense pressure SPS is under and the need for immediate action to reduce our prison population.

The average daily population has consistently risen above 8,000 in 2019, standing at a current figure of 8,190 as at 12 July 2019[i]. By comparison, the maximum capacity of the Scottish prison estate is only around 7,564 places.[ii] Even assuming a slightly higher operational capacity (of 7,725 places), according to the most recently compiled Council of Europe statistics, the current population figure shows overcrowding at a density of 106.4 prisoners per 100 places, ranking Scotland as ‘high’ compared with the European median value as at 31 January 2018.[iii]  

These rates are unsustainable, and they signal an urgent need for significant policy change. 

The current statistics raise immediate concerns for the general safety and wellbeing of prisoners and prison staff. Prison overcrowding can also breach prisoners’ human rights, contrary to the prohibition against ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ under article 3 of the European Convention.[iv] Looking beyond the prison walls, it has been acknowledged that the ‘morally debilitating’ effect of overcrowding ‘reinforces the detainee’s detachment from society and therefore only increases exponentially the risk of reoffending’.[v] Prison overcrowding can therefore adversely affect recidivism in the wider community.

The news that SPS is to reassign Throughcare Support Officers to Prison Officer roles highlights the severity of the situation. It paints a picture of a service that is being forced to concentrate on internal day to day operational issues at the expense of managing the effective transition of prisoners back into their local communities. This is particularly unfortunate given the findings of the recent HMP YOI Grampian Inspection[vi] which advised that “[its] strongest area of performance related to the preparation of prisoners for their successful return to the community” and that its “Community Integration (CIU) facilities, supported by the throughcare support officers (TSO) were excellent”.

We welcomed the beginnings of policy change, in particular the recent extension of the presumption against short prison sentences from 3 to 12 months, which may be expected to divert at least some offenders from prison to community based disposals.[vii] In the context of life sentences, however, it has recently been observed as ‘striking’ that ‘the level of punishment parts has increased substantially’ in recent years.[viii] If the prison population is to be reduced to any significant extent, as we contend that it should be, then the rationale of imposing long-term prison sentences will also require further consideration, including the potentially adverse consequences of regressive measures such as the proposed Whole Life Custody (Scotland) Bill for prison turnover ratios and future overcrowding. 

Given the high proportion of prisoners currently awaiting trial or sentence, too – now some 20%, according to the latest figures[ix] – the limited use of alternatives to remand, such as supervised bail, remains a cause for concern. According to recently updated national guidance, bail supervision is intended to be ‘a robust and credible alternative to remand’ to ‘help ensure that remand is only used where necessary and appropriate’.[x] Yet bail supervision rates have consistently fallen over the last decade.[xi]

Ultimately, we maintain that the solution to the current problem of prison overcrowding lies not in the building of larger prisons, which merely treats the symptoms of a rising prison population, but in a fundamental policy shift in relation to the purposes of imprisonment. We have consistently campaigned for the use of imprisonment as a measure of last resort, where it is necessary to manage any significant risks to public safety.

We will be unable to stop the prison population from rising until we can answer the essential question, ‘what is prison for?’ .  If we take this question seriously, we should recognise that many of those who are currently in prison simply do not belong there – in particular, many of those on remand and those whose offences are such that they pose no risk to public safety.

[i] Scottish Prison Service Prison Population Weekly Time Series (April 2014 onwards): http://www.sps.gov.uk/Corporate/Information/SPSPopulation.aspx

[ii] Scottish Prison Service Annual Report 2017-2018 dated 27 June 2018, Appendix 2, Average Daily Population and Maximum Number by Penal Establishment: 2017-18

[iii] Even as at 31 January 2018, utilising a prison population of only 7,440, Scotland was ranked ‘high’ for both prison density and prison population rates, compared with European median values: see Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics, Prison Populations, SPACE I – 2018, Strasbourg, 20 December 2018, updated on 11 June 2019, pp 2 – 3, 28, 63 and 65: http://wp.unil.ch/space/files/2019/06/FinalReportSPACEI2018_190611-1.pdf

[iv] See, eg, Voicu v Romania, application no. 22015/10, unreported, 10 June 2014, ECtHR

[v] Report on Full Inspection of HMP & YOI Grampian: 4 – 15 February 2019

https://www.prisonsinspectoratescotland.gov.uk/publications/report-full-inspection-hmp-yoi-grampian-4-15-february-2019

vi Criminal Proceedings against Aranyosi (C-404/15 PPU) (European Court of Justice, Grand Chamber) [2016] QB 921, Opinion of Advocate General Bot at para 143

[vii] Presumption against Short Periods of Imprisonment (Scotland) Order 2019/236

[viii] Kinlan v HM Advocate [2019] HCJAC 47, Lord Justice General (Carloway) at para 17

[ix] Scottish Prison Service Prison Population Weekly Time Series, supra

[x] Scottish Government, National Guidance on Bail Supervision (January 2019), available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/national-guidance-bail-supervision/

[xi] Scottish Government Criminal Justice Social Work Statistics in Scotland: 2017-2018, 4 February 2019, p 8:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/criminal-justice-social-work-statistics-scotland-2017-18/

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