Criminal Justice Committee: Pre-budget Scrutiny Report 2024/5

On 24 November 2023, the Criminal Justice Committee published its pre-budget scrutiny report, summarising the evidence received, with its conclusions and recommendations best summarised by the following:     

“[t]he Committee is of the view that the funding situation facing the criminal justice sector cannot be allowed to continue …. We cannot … continue to provide ever increasing small sums of finance seemingly to effectively stand still in a business-as-usual fashion…. The Scottish Government and others through its Justice Board should identify and implement what the Cabinet Secretary herself recognises are spend to-save reforms. With some upfront investment, such reforms should yield cost savings over the longer term and have clear timescales … [D]ebates around the numbers of people we send to prison and the need for effective alternatives to incarceration through community disposals have been longstanding with no discernible move to realising this…. There is still inconsistent provision of effective community justice disposals …. In time, this reform should reduce prison numbers which in turn reduces costs, reoffending and the number of prison places needed, or even the number of prisons. Savings from these reforms can be reinvested in the system.”

Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Act 2022

On 23 November 2023 the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Act 2022 (Extension and Expiry of Temporary Justice Measures) Regulations 2023 was passed. The regulations expire some of the temporary measures and extend the remainder until 30 November 2024 e.g. the increase in the length of time someone can be held on remand in summary cases has expired, but the increase in the length of time someone can be held on remand in solemn cases has been extended to 30 November 2024; and the provision to allow the emergency early release of prisoners in response to the effects of Covid-19 has also been extended until 30 November 2024.

Prison Population Projections

On 14 November 2023, the Scottish Government published its Prison Population Projections for the six month period from October 2023 to March 2024. The projected population range is between 7,500 and 8,650. It followed receipt of a letter that the Prison Governors' Association had sent to the Scottish Parliament's Criminal Justice Committee in which its Chair, Natalie Beal, wrote: “If we continue this path, we are at best providing humane containment, albeit even this may be at a stretch, with many prisons already operating restricted regimes, resulting in the provision of little or no positive rehabilitative work”.

HMIPS Full Inspection of HMP Perth

On 05 October 2023, HMIPS published its full inspection of HMP Perth. Yet again serious concerns were raised including overcrowding; cell-sizes which don’t meet Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee agreed standards and the poor condition of the buildings. The pre-inspection report’s findings didn’t always chime with the findings of the main inspection, however, it did contain some worrying findings: 57% of respondents reported having witnessed staff members abusing, threatening, bullying or assaulting another prisoner and 36% reported                      experiencing this themselves; whilst of those who were due for release in the next 6 weeks, 56% said that they did not feel well prepared for a life outside prison; 73% of them also said that they were not getting the help they need to set up support for their mental health upon their release.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Statement to the Scottish Parliament

On 03 October 2023, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Scotland’s prison population. She advised that she was still “absolutely committed to    a replacement for HMP Barlinnie”, however, there is still no finalised timeframe for its delivery (“[o]nce the design plans are finalised, we will have a much better and more accurate estimate of both costs and timescales, but it is a journey that we are determined to pursue”).

HMP Barlinnie’s Governor-in-Charge, Michael Stoney, has recently repeated his concerns, saying, “[w]e sit on a knife-edge of worry that it might not happen … our hearts and souls are in it, but 2026 is looking highly unlikely. It will be 2027 at best.”