Increase prison funding levels and promote alternatives to custody, says Holyrood’s Justice Committee


The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has concluded that real-terms increases in the revenue and capital budgets for the Scottish Prison Service are needed for 2020/21. The Committee is also calling for changes to the post-conviction landscape in Scotland.

In its pre-budget report, published today, the Committee is calling for standards in Scotland’s prison estate to be made fit for 21st century. It is also calling for wide-ranging work to increase confidence in, and the availability of, alternatives to prison.

The Committee has announced plans to host a multi-agency meeting with the Scottish Government, Community Justice Scotland, the judiciary, Police and the third sector to explore how these ambitions around alternatives to prison can be met.

It is also calling on the Scottish Government to set out budget proposals outlining how it plans to deliver a move away from putting people in prisons towards alternatives to custody, as well as preventative spending to avoid people re-offending or committing crimes in the first place.

Scotland has one of the highest per-capita prison populations in Europe, though a presumption against sentences of less than 12 months was passed by Parliament in June 2019. The prison population has also risen significantly in the last 12-18 months, with Home Detention Curfews (HDCs) used less frequently, due to what one Committee witness described as “error terror” on behalf of those taking decisions on whether the grant an HDC.

Speaking as the report was launched, Committee Convener, Margaret Mitchell MSP, said:

“In its pre-budget scrutiny the Justice Committee decided to concentrate on spending in Scottish Prisons.
“Whilst it was evident, from the visits undertaken to HMPs Barlinnie and Kilmarnock, that there is no silver bullet to solving the problems our prisons face, resources and policy do both play decisive roles.

“With our prisons worryingly over recommended capacity and high levels of remand prisoners, it is not possible to build our way out of the problem.
“The Committee is therefore clear that a wider conversation about plans to increase the use of alternatives to custody and preventative spend must be held in order to move forward and in an effort to properly address this issue.

“To ensure that the Justice Committee’s recommendations in its cross-party report are at the heart of that debate, Members will convene a meeting to discuss  what is necessary to ensure effective alternatives can be provided, and crucially how they might enjoy judicial and public confidence.

“Given the challenging conditions in our prisons, which include an ageing prisoner population, an outdated prison estate and the prevalence of psychoactive substances, the Committee fully recognises and praises the outstanding efforts and skill of Scottish Prison Service staff in managing inmates in these circumstances.”

Recent reports on Scottish Prisons from both Audit Scotland and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) have highlighted areas of concern with prisons, including substantial overcrowding, high-levels of staff absences, falling levels of educational/employment activities, the prevalence of drugs (particularly New Psychoactive Substances) and violence.

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