Vision for Scottish Penal Reform in 2018

Vision for Scottish Penal Reform in 2018

Conviction and Citizenship, Penal Reform for 2018

The centenary of women’s right to vote has been a powerful and timely reminder that citizenship is not automatic, even in democratic societies. We are reminded also that when people are reduced to second class citizenship, and thus socially excluded, it is all too often the result of policy and legislation. The anniversary of women’s right to vote demonstrates that equality for disenfranchised and excluded citizens can be achieved through campaigning, though often in the face of political opposition and public hostility.
When we deny people the right to belong, when we curtail their citizenship and socially marginalise particular groups, we degrade the quality of the democracy across our entire society. During 2018, Howard League Scotland plans to focus our campaigning efforts on Conviction and Citizenship. We aim to highlight some of the ways the criminal justice system impedes citizenship and belonging, and intend to engage with others to discuss how we can best promote these ideals in prison policy, community justice and sentencing. This of course includes our long-running campaign on prisoner voting. Scotland, along with England and Wales, remains one of the few European nations that denies prisoners the right to vote. But the criminal justice system creates many other hurdles that severely hampers people’s ability to contribute and fully belong to Scottish civic life. Other issues, such as the disclosure of criminal records, high imprisonment rates, and access to a high standard of education, training and good quality employment in prisons, should also be viewed in the context of citizenship.
In 2018 we will campaign for:

  • A reduction in the prison population size. Scotland has one of the highest imprisonment rates in Western Europe. This must be reduced if we are to create a strong and resilient Scottish society that is characterised by equality, social justice and fairness. People who receive a term of imprisonment tend to be disproportionately drawn from Scotland’s most economically marginalised communities. There is a startling link between high rates of imprisonment and high rates of deprivation. Howard League Scotland continues to campaign for a reduction in the use of imprisonment in Scotland because prison negatively impacts the life chances of people sent there. Men and women who have been in prison have higher mortality rates, and a higher risk of homelessness, unemployment and ill-health than the general Scottish population. Scotland’s high imprisonment rates also have hugely detrimental effects for the local communities who are the most impacted by imprisonment as their economic marginalisation becomes further entrenched, family life is de-stabilised, and ordinary local relations become fractured.


  • Improved prison education and work. Access to work and education is vital for supporting people’s post-prison social reintegration, developing their sense of belonging and personal worth as well as contributing to desistance. SPS must provide an array of meaningful activities and vocational training options. Scotland should aspire to be amongst the best countries in the world in providing an array of meaningful activities, educational opportunities and vocational training options in prisons and other criminal justice settings.These programmes should be about more than reducing reoffending, but aimed at personal development and future reintegration.


  • Spent convictions legislation must be overhauled. Scotland has unduly lengthy periods of time that a person is expected to disclose their past conviction to potential employers. This is a serious hurdle to employment, undermining the process of rehabilitation and social integration, while also stigmatising people with convictions who have to reveal themselves as being ‘ex-offenders’. In 2018 the Scottish government has proposed new legislation which will overhaul the current spent convictions legislation. Though the content of the proposed new legislation is not yet published, HLS strongly supports a robust overhaul of the current arrangements. While the balance of the Act must also support employers who work with vulnerable groups, it should strive to also work in favour of social and economic equality for people with convictions.


  • Prisoner voting rights. Since the devolution of electoral matters to Holyrood by the Scotland Act 2016, Scotland now has the opportunity to be the first polity in the United Kingdom to extend the franchise to convicted prisoners. This is not just for reasons of rehabilitation. Prisoner voting is not a criminal justice matter, it is an electoral issue: in its current form it exposes the inequality that currently undermines Scottish democracy. While England and Wales continue to deny prisoners the right to vote, despite the European Court ruling that it is unlawful, by extending the vote to all prisoners, Scottish government can buck this trend, sending the clearest signal yet about its commitment to justice, fairness and inclusion.

We hope that as our supporters, you will join with us in 2018 in addressing these policy issues. By becoming a member, following us on twitter and liking us on facebook, or by making even a small donation, you can add your voice to our campaign for penal reform. Together, we can reduce the number of people in Scottish prisons, transform imprisonment regimes and community justice, and ultimately promote safer and more equal communities in Scotland.
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