Prison Population - September 2014

Past, Present & Future - Women's Penal Policy

Howard League Scotland has been clear about its objection to the proposed new women's prison HMP Inverclyde. We recently provided evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee voicing concerns that the decision to build the new prison is not in keeping with the recommendations of the 2012 report of the Commission on Women Offenders.

It is worth casting our minds back to the early 1970s, when the decision was taken to build HMP Cornton Vale. This documentary, made in 1972, considers the rationale for building Cornton Vale (which the reporter notes "sets the pattern for future Scots prisons"):

Scotland on Screen -Women’s Prisons 1
Scotland on Screen -Women’s Prisons 2

And this following episode of STV's 'Scottish Women' sought to address the spate of suicides that took place in Cornton Vale in the 1990s.

As Scotland embarks on building a new prison for women, can we be sure we have learned the lessons of past failures?


HMP Grampian - Incapacitant Spray Used

Howard League Scotland are concerned to learn that the disturbance at HMP Grampian in May this year involved the use of incapacitant spray – an indication of the seriousness of the incident. This is not the first incident at the new prison and it remains to be seen whether these recent incidents can be regarded merely as ‘teething problems’. Serious incidents within prisons must be subjected to proper scrutiny to ensure that no human rights standards have been breached and that appropriate guidance has been adhered to.

Read more here:
Herald Scotland, Powerful spray used in new jail
BBC News, Peterhead prison officers use PAVA spray for first time
Press and Journal, Pepper spray used on rioting prisoners for the first time



A Shine Mentor on Women Offenders: From Where I Stand...

In Shine Mentoring's most recent newsletter, Mary Thomson, a Shine mentor, reflects on her work with those most vulnerable people in our criminal justice system. Her work as a one-to-one mentor has provided her a unique position to see that women in the criminal justice system do not suffer from some sort of criminal pathology, but are people shaped by poverty, abuse and extreme social deprivation. Shine works to support change rather than punish women:

'When the Report of the Commission on Women Offenders, by Dame Elish Angiolini, was published on 17 April 2012 I had already been working as a mentor in Sacro’s Women’s Mentoring Service in Lanarkshire for almost two years. As a mentor, I was supporting women aged 16 and over who had offended to make changes to their lifestyles and reduce their chances of receiving a custodial sentence. During this time I had worked with some of the most vulnerable and damaged women in our community. Typically the women referred had experienced multiple abuse: sexual, physical and emotional. Many had issues with substance misuse and poor mental health. Almost all were on welfare benefits. When you add low educational achievement and lack of self-esteem into the equation it was no surprise that most of the women referred to our service required substantial, long term interventions to help them make changes to their lives, now and in the future.

Sometimes my work is crisis intervention e.g. helping our service users to access food banks or emergency medical treatment. At other times we work to a pre-prepared action plan and support our service users to work towards goals they have set for themselves. I established group sessions to encourage the women to get together to learn new skills and build self-esteem; these proved to be very popular. Women were regularly being identified and referred by social workers or health care professionals who might benefit from the support of a mentor to improve their lifestyle and reduce offending.

I was constantly frustrated at the imbalance between the need for support and the lack of funds to provide it. I believe that Dame Angiolini’s recommendation for more mentors directly resulted in additional funding being made available to recruit and train more mentors. Extra funding brought three new mentor posts to Lanarkshire through the Shine Mentoring project, effectively providing support for 90 more women in Lanarkshire per year. It is vital that this funding is made available long term. It would be pitiless to support a woman and then have to withdraw this support prematurely due to lack of funding. With the changes to the welfare system and welfare sanctions that we are seeing on such a regular basis, I feel that women need the support and encouragement of a mentor now, more than ever to help her navigate through crippling levels of poverty yet desist from offending'.

Find out more about Shine's work here:

SPS Annual Report 2013-2014

The Scottish Prison Service has released its Annual Report which covers all prisons across Scotland.

Some key figures include a stabilising, although still comparatively high, imprisonment rate of a daily average prison population of 7851. HLS remain concerned about the fact that 19% of these people were on remand, and we know that many of these will not go on to receive a custodial sentence.

The report also illustrates what are the SPS's key performance indicators:

Read the full report here: SPS Annual Report 2013-14