rehabilitation

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/

Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill

We broadly welcome that the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill passed Stage 3 on 25 June 2019. The wide-ranging Bill sought to extend the use of electronic monitoring; reduce the length of time people with convictions need to disclose such convictions to prospective employers; and make constitutional amendments to the status of the Parole Board for Scotland.

We submitted written and oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, highlighting that whilst Electronic Monitoring (EM) could mitigate against the disruptive effects of imprisonment on housing, employment, and community ties, it would only play a limited role in reducing Scotland’s high imprisonment rate. We cautioned against criminal just net-widening and up-tariffing, pointing out that in the majority of cases, EM did not displace a custodial sentence. Whilst welcoming the expansion of EM for those on temporary release, we wished to see this as an opportunity for gradual reintegration, rather than as a supplementary form of additional control and surveillance.

We advocated for the use of Home Detention Curfew (HDC) not to be used in isolation, but to aid reintegration when accompanied by an appropriate support package; and argued for sensible and not overly-punitive exclusion zones where and when required. We were also keen to see EM used in place of remand, although this was not covered by the Bill.

Similarly, we welcomed changes to the current disclosure process and language – including the increase in the upper threshold for a conviction that cannot be spent from 30 months to 48 months - stressing that the changes did not go far enough in reducing the punitive impact of disclosure, and citing evidence which showed that after a period of 7 – 10 years, a person who has not reoffended will have the same offending potential as someone who has never offended.

Throughout the passage of the Bill we questioned the increasingly risk-averse approach to the granting of HDC and the dramatic fall in its use following the independent reviews undertaken by HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland.

Howard League Scotland Written Evidence

Howard League Scotland Oral Evidence

Justice Committee Report

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

Perspectives from inside Barlinnie

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies recently organised three workshops in HMP Barlinnie on Abuse, mental health and self-harm, Activities, work and education and Resolving disputes in prison, security, and the use of force. Corresponding workshops were also undertaken in HMP Grendon, which this publication also reports.

The Barlinnie section makes for sobering reading, however. It is prison life from the perspective of those men imprisoned. It presents an atmosphere suffused with fear, high levels of anxiety and mistrust. The regime is described as being beleaguered with long waits for medical treatment, long lock-up times, cold food, inflexible visiting times, doubled-up cells. 

HLS maintains that these problems will not be resolved by simply building a new prison. While modern facilities are welcomed, the issues of prison atmosphere and quality of day-to-day prison life rest in the regime, access to services, staff-prisoner relations, purposeful activity and family visits – all of which are undermined by the acute levels of overcrowding at Barlinnie. The other prison in this report, HMP Grendon, which was built in the middle of the last century is described as exceptional by prisoners there due to its services and regime – despite the buildings age. While bricks and mortar reform is one thing, SPS and the government must address the pressing need for qualitative regime reform and tackle the overcrowding in Barlinnie.

Read the report here: Perspectives from inside: A report from HMP Grendon and HMP Barlinnie | Centre for Crime and Justcie Studies | March 2015

Grampian Prison Radio Station

Grampian prison is to begin broadcasting a new prison radio station. According to news reports, the station was made possible thanks to Lottery funding, and it is the first of kind in the UK.

Read more here:

New radio station for Grampian prisoners, in Press and Journal

Pages

Archive

2018

2015

2014

2006

Subscribe to rehabilitation