Prisons chief’s report calls for greater use of short sentence alternatives and help for former prisoners

David Strang

Scotland’s chief prisons inspector has called for greater use of alternatives to short sentences as well as more help for prisoners reintegrating into society upon their release as Scotland’s prison population falls to its lowest in seven years.

In his Annual Report for the year 2015-2016, David Strang, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland said that the most significant development for the Inspectorate during the year was the introduction of “Independent Prison Monitoring”. There are now over 120 people across Scotland acting as independent prison monitors in the 15 prisons in Scotland.

The monitors are all volunteers from local communities who give of their time to monitor the conditions in prison and the treatment of prisoners.

They respond to prisoners’ requests and observe every aspect of life in prison. During the first seven months of monitoring, Monitors carried out over 500 visits and responded to over 500 prisoner requests.

During the year the Inspectorate conducted five full inspections of prisons in Scotland: HMP Dumfries, HMP Addiewell, HMP&YOI Cornton Vale, HMP&YOI Grampian and HMP Open Estate.

The overall prison population in Scotland fell slightly in 2015-16 and is at its lowest level for seven years.

Mr Strang said: “I believe that there are still too many people being sentenced to a term of imprisonment. I would welcome the extension to the presumption against short sentences – from three months to 12 months – and the greater use of electronic monitoring, or tagging, to provide robust and credible alternatives to imprisonment.”

Following the HMIPS inspection of HMP&YOI Cornton Vale, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson announced that over 100 women would be transferred to Polmont. This took place over the summer months.

Mr Strang added: “In all of our inspections this year we commented on the positive relationships which exist between staff and prisoners. This makes an important contribution to the safety of our prisons – which we should not take for granted. People who work in prisons often face significant demands and challenges. As a society, we should all recognise and acknowledge the good work they do on behalf of us all.

“There is a challenge too for society to do more to welcome people leaving prison back into their local communities. Too often people leave prison without the necessary arrangements in place to meet their basic needs: men released from prison not knowing where they will sleep that night; people with healthcare needs unsure whether their addiction support will be in place in the community; young people leaving with insufficient money in their pocket to last until their benefits are due.

“We know that accommodation, healthcare and financial support are vital to encourage successful reintegration and to reduce reoffending. This will require coordinated effort by other service providers such as local authorities and the NHS to work with the SPS.”

He added: “I would like to see better integration of the case management arrangements, starting in the prison and linking to services provided at the end of the prisoner’s sentence. This is a crucial role for personal officers working in prison; they need to have the training and the time to fulfil this role. When successful, this contributes to the Scottish Prison Service’s goal of ‘Unlocking Potential and Transforming Lives’.

“There is much that Scotland can be proud of in how its prisons are run. But there is still more that we all need to do to ensure that prisoners are supported well when they return to their community at the end of their sentence.”

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