National strategy on purposeful activity in prisons urged by Justice Committee


A strategy to ensure all prisoners in Scotland are offered equal access to purposeful activities such as work, education and rehabilitation programmes, has been urged by the Justice Committee in its report published today.

The Committee believes that access to purposeful activities can help prisoners address their offending behaviour and ultimately lead to a reduction in reoffending rates.

Given the significant economic and social costs associated with reoffending, the Committee believes a more focused strategy on purposeful activity could lead to long term savings.

Justice Committee Convener Christine Grahame MSP said:

“Purposeful activities are a vital way of giving prisoners key skills that help them in their rehabilitation. 

“While we are very supportive of the new Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service and welcome his operational review, the Committee remains concerned that a stronger emphasis needs to be given to issues around prisoners’ access to purposeful activities.

“In particular, there should be better access for short term prisoners to activities and a focus on the broader range of skills which can equip a prisoner for life after release, such as basic literacy skills and family contact. We hope these concerns will be addressed by a new strategy on the provision and delivery of purposeful activities from the SPS and Scottish Government.”

The Committee report also highlighted the following recommendations:

  • There needs to be a review of the way that learning opportunities are promoted, incentivised, delivered and measured.
  • Prisons could do more to develop a ‘9-5 working routine’ to prepare prisoners for employment after release.
  • Prisons could make better use of technology to timetable purposeful activities to improve access.
  • Prisoner to prisoner mentoring schemes should be embedded in any strategy on purposeful activity.
  • That statutory throughcare should be considered for short term prisoners.


The Justice Committee agreed to hold a short and focused inquiry into purposeful activity in prisons at its meeting on 4 December 2012. The remit of the inquiry was to consider issues around the opportunity prisoners have to engage in purposeful activity in the course of their imprisonment.

Members visited Barlinnie, Edinburgh, Inverness, Low Moss, Perth, Polmont and Addiewell prisons in the course of the inquiry.

Audit Scotland, in its report Reducing reoffending in Scotland, argued that £419 million was spent by the SPS, Scottish Government and community justice authorities to deal with people sentenced in court in 2010-11, of which the SPS spent £235.6 million. The SPS has reported that the annual cost of keeping someone in prison in 2010-11 was £32,371.


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