What We Do

Scotland is uniquely well placed to find, more enlightened and effective ways of reducing and dealing with crime.

Although the primary focus of HLS is penal reform, we necessarily take an interest in broader questions of criminal justice and social policy. This is because the longer term solutions to many ostensibly ‘penal’ issues lie outside the criminal justice system in initiatives that address poverty, inequality and violence at source.

The evidence tells us that more reliance on effective community responses to crime and dealing with criminality will have a greater chance of success in reducing crime. This is the direction that has already been successfully taken by many of our Northern European neighbours. Of particular interest to HLS are:

  • links between poverty and crime
  • early intervention and prevention
  • relationships between drug and alcohol abuse and crime
  • treatment of young people in the criminal justice system
  • reducing the unnecessary use of imprisonment
  • the rehabilitation of offenders and the effectiveness of interventions, and
  • improving prison regimes.

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’.

HLS wishes to see a Scotland where there is less crime, where prison is reserved for the most serious offenders, there is a sustained reduction in prisoner numbers and there is greater use made of alternatives to custody.
HLS does not receive government funding and, therefore, can speak independently on penal reform. HLS has a long tradition of both provoking public debate and engaging with official bodies to improve and refine penal practice in respect of prison regimes, resettlement, prisoner voting, women's imprisonment and the provision of community disposals.

HLS seeks to achieve its aims by:
• gathering evidence about what works, to inform all it does
• providing evidence to the Scottish Government and parliament on its criminal justice and penal legislation
• producing Scotland-specific penal policy and research
• widening the support base for penal reform by stimulating debate about sound
• engaging all available media to gain a platform for progressive thinking on penal reform

HLS believes that that penal reform is crucial if Scotland is to become a fair and socially just society. Effective and humane penal practice is achievable, but only by vigorously challenging poor, ineffective and unjust practice, policy and legislation.