penal reform

Judged on Progress: the Need for Urgent Delivery on Scottish Justice Sector Reforms

On 10/01/22 the Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee published its report, ‘Judged on Progress: the Need for Urgent Delivery on Scottish Justice Sector Reforms’. It’s a weighty piece with recommendations across the following areas: the impact of Covid 19 on the justice sector; prisons and prison policy; misuse of drugs and the criminal justice system; violence against women and girls; victims’ rights and victim support; reducing youth offending, offering community justice solutions and alternatives to custody; and legal aid.          Importantly, it includes an Action Plan for the Scottish Justice Sector in this session of Parliament, which include monitoring mechanisms e.g. did the Scottish Government agree to the recommendation to deliver the manifesto commitment not to hold under 18s in HMP Polmont – yes/no/in part – with progress against delivery.

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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Howard League Scotland welcomes bold decision on Inverclyde

Responding to the news that the Scottish Government has decided not to proceed with the proposal to build a 350-bed women’s prison at Inverclyde, John Scott QC, Convenor, Howard League Scotland, said:

“Howard League Scotland strongly welcomes this decision by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. Mr Matheson has done exactly as he promised – despite the short time since he took office and the urgency of the situation, he has reviewed all the evidence and submissions, and ensured that the final decision was the right one. It is a bold decision and will be recognised as such by all those who have voiced their concerns about HMP Inverclyde. In deciding not to proceed with the proposal to build a new women’s prison at Inverclyde, the Cabinet Secretary is opening up the potential for greater use of community-based solutions for women who offend and women who are at risk of offending. This will benefit all of us. By dealing appropriately and effectively with this vulnerable group of women, Scotland will be a safer place.

“The 2012 report of the Commission on Women Offenders was clear that most women in prison in Scotland today have “complex needs that relate to their social circumstances, previous histories of abuse and mental health and addiction problems”. The report stated unequivocally that most women who have offended do not need to be in prison and that the impact of imprisonment on women and their families is often catastrophic. It was for this reason that the report recommended that Cornton Vale was closed and replaced with a “smaller specialist prison for those women offenders serving a statutory defined long-term sentence and those who present a significant risk to the public”.

“We commend the hard work carried out by those in the Scottish Prison Service who have been working on the design of the new prison. We hope that the learning derived from this process can be put to good use in a smaller custodial unit which will house the small number of women in Scotland serving long-term sentences and who need to be in prison for reasons of public protection.

“Fully implementing the well researched recommendations of the Commission on Women Offenders will mark Scotland out as a progressive country which determines its penal policy according to the best evidence. We hope that this bold move represents a first step on the road to reducing the size of the female prison population in Scotland. We wholeheartedly support the Scottish Government in this endeavour.

“We express the hope that all of those who have taken part in the debate in this matter will continue to take part in the challenges before us. Today’s decision was a necessary first step but much work remains to be done. Given the interest in the matter across political parties, the Scottish Parliament, and civic Scotland, we hope also that further constructive engagement will be possible. The scale of imprisonment of women in Scotland has been a scandal since before the Scottish Parliament was created. Many strong words have been spoken in condemnation over many years but, until today, the strength of criticism and the best of intentions have proved inadequate. This decision takes us on considerably from good intentions. ”

26 January 2015

New Cabinet Secretary for Justice

Howard League Scotland welcomes the appointment of Michael Matheson MSP as Cabinet Secretary for Justice. We hope this heralds a renewed energy and commitment to achieving penal reform in Scotland. Scotland imprisons 147 people per 100,000 of the general population, one of the highest uses of imprisonment in Western Europe. Howard League Scotland looks forward to working with the new Cabinet Secretary to realise the Scottish Government’s welcome aspiration to reducing the size of the Scottish prison population and to develop just responses to the causes and consequences of crime more generally.








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