HMIPS Full Inspection of HMP & YOI Polmont

On 14 December 2023, a full inspection report of HMP & YOI Polmont was published by HMIPS. It showed significant improvements in comparison with its previous inspection report, however, concerns remained in a number of areas e.g. lack of outdoor exercise provision; the continued use of routine body-searching of women; and issues around the understanding and implementation of progression. Interestingly, it mooted the possibility of under-utilised capacity being re-purposed to accommodate men from other overcrowded establishments.

Audit Scotland: 2022/23 Audit of the Scottish Prison Service

On 12 December 2023, Audit Scotland published its 2022/23 Audit of the Scottish Prison Service. It reported that despite an increase of 13.5% in the 2023/24 budget of £540.8m, SPS is still forecasting a shortfall of £19.5m. Without this money being made available it advises that there will be a delay to capital expenditure projects in subsequent years i.e. for HMPs Glasgow and  Highlands, and the additionally planned work for HMP Stirling. The average cost per prisoner space has increased to £44,620. The report reiterated issues previously raised by HMIPS e.g. the unsafe internal environment of HMP Addiewell; the unsuitability of HMP Greenock’s buildings; and the essential need to replace HMPs Barlinnie and Inverness. Whilst it doesn’t give any timelines for the former’s replacement, it advises that “HMP Highland [HMP Inverness replacement] is expected to be operational in June 2025”.

The report also advised that the prison estate currently has a target operating capacity of 8,007. An “extended operating capacity” of 8,475 means it could hold more prisoners, but only under a restricted regime i.e. meeting legal requirements such as access to open air and visits, but curtailing other activities such as work and recreation.

SPS Policy for the Management of Transgender People in Custody

In late 2019, SPS committed to review its Gender Identity and Gender Reassignment Policy for those in our Custody (2014). The introduction of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill and the case of transgender prisoner, Isla Bryson, brought the policy to wider attention and became more politicised than it had been previously.

It was criticised by some for foregrounding transgender rights over the rights of those accommodated alongside and working with transgender prisoners. Much of the criticism was focused around issues of safety and the policy’s interaction with equality legislation. In light of the debate, interim admission arrangements were introduced which meant that no transgender woman with a history of violence against women and girls (VAWG) could be housed in the female prison estate. This included instances where transgender women could be held in segregation in women’s prisons during a period of individualised risk assessment, as in the Isla Bryson case.

On 5 December 2023 SPS published its new policy: SPS Policy for the Management of Transgender People in Custody. An operational policy for SPS Staff (2023) which comes into effect on 26 February 2024. 

The new policy is considerably shorter than its predecessor, which included more detailed explanations of terminology and processes specific to transgender people, and which appeared to be targeted at both internal and external audiences. The new policy largely avoids this by introducing a separate internal Operational Guidance Document. This internal ‘policy in practice’ document covers various topics including admissions; decisions around the accommodation of those convicted of violence against women and girls (VAWG); body-searching; and transitioning whilst in custody. The new policy is also accompanied by a summary of the review process; an Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessment; a Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment; and a Data Protection Impact Assessment.

Scottish Prison Population Statistics 2022-23

On 5 December 2023, the Scottish Prison Population Statistics 2022-23 were published by the Scottish Government’s Chief Statistician. They cover the period from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023, so the headline figure of a daily prison population decrease of 1% is slightly misleading.

Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2021/22

On 28 November 2023, the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2021/22 was published by the Scottish Government. This doesn’t include reported crime, but instead is the result of surveyed experiences and perceptions of crime and the justice system. It showed that the volume of crime, including incidents not reported to police, has fallen by 53% since 2008/09, with violent crime decreasing by 58% and the proportion of people experiencing crime falling from one in five, to around one in 10.