McArthur: Crisis in Scotland’s prisons demands Parliament’s attention

Commenting on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee issuing a call for evidence on prison and alternatives to custody spending, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said:

“I have uncovered spiralling rates of self-harm, people waiting up to 42 weeks to start basic skills courses and that prisons are full to bursting, with Barlinnie almost 500 over capacity.

“On the SNP’s watch, the population has spiralled to such an extent that bosses have had to shut down a critical rehabilitation service altogether. This is bad for prisoners and the communities they return to.

“It’s why Liberal Democrats have already announced plans to end the emergency in our prisons and make community-based alternatives more robust and credible.

“The crisis in Scotland’s prisons demands Parliament’s attention.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling on the Scottish Government to:

  1. Reinvest savings made through reducing the prison population into community-based options, commit to 3-year funding rounds for criminal justice programmes, recognise the importance of council budgets given their role in rehabilitating people, conduct an audit of existing compulsory requirements to establish which are effective, and extend City Deals to allow innovative measures to build community resilience and tackle reoffending;
  2. Routinely record adverse childhood experiences, as recommended by Scottish Government advisor Sir Harry Burns;
  3. Give people on remand the opportunity to undertake short-courses, with the assurance that their engagement with purposeful activity does not imply guilt;
  4. Support people to keep their tenancies and other commitments where appropriate;
  5. Work through the NHS and Scottish Prison Service to fulfil the objectives of the 2011 joint memorandum of understanding on healthcare provision, alongside implementing a healthcare plan for people suffering ill health within 2 weeks of their entering prison, giving them the best chance for their health, especially mental health, to be improved upon release and get on in life;
  6. Make sure the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service begin fatal accident inquiries into deaths in prison within 12 months to ensure lessons that can save lives are learned;
  7. Island proof prisons’ policies, including the expansion of video conferencing for families;
  8. Support purposeful activity in prison to equip people for employment, including literacy and numeracy skills, accredited qualifications, and options aligned to shortages in employment, supported by occupational therapists;
  9. Make sure people have a bank account and have had their social security eligibility assessed before they leave prison, if relevant, for example through a fit to work assessment before release;
  10. Expand throughcare and mentoring, delivered by dedicated additional staff capable of working with people before and after they leave prison to provide continuity, alongside a new right to housing, welfare and healthcare appointments within 48 hours of release, underpinned by Housing First principles;
  11. Work with justice partners, to measure whether people achieve positive post-prison destinations such as education, employment or training, and to publish the results alongside existing reconviction rates, to provide an evidence basis for the future introduction of a youth-guarantee equivalent;
  12. Extend the Scottish Business Pledge to include a commitment to providing a level playing field for applicants who have completed a sentence.

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