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6 February 2002

S1M-2363 HM Prison Peterhead (Beacon Site Status)

Scottish Parliament
Wednesday 6 February 2002
(Afternoon)
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]
... ... ...
HM Prison Peterhead
(Beacon Site Status)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The final item of business is Stewart Stevenson's motion S1M-2363, on HM Prison Peterhead and beacon site status.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates HM Prison Peterhead on becoming the first prison in Scotland to be awarded Beacon Site Status as part of the Modernising Government initiative and looks forward to the prison fulfilling its role under the scheme whereby it will share the secrets of its success with groups of visitors from across the United Kingdom and Scottish governments.

17:03

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is customary to congratulate members on securing time for members' debates. I invite those who are speaking today to desist in favour of those who are the subject of the debate. It is the staff at Peterhead prison who should be the focus of any plaudits that are on offer. Before I get to the meat of the debate I thank members of all seven political persuasions in the Parliament who put their signatures to the motion.

The treatment, as distinct from incarceration, of sex offenders is a comparatively new idea in the Prison Service. Such prisoners are universally despised for their crimes, not just outside in the community and by their victims and the victims' families, but by others who are held in our prisons. I intend to address the special qualities of the staff—who are all volunteers for the job of reforming serious sex offenders—and to describe their success in doing so. As the constituency member for Banff and Buchan, I do that with pride and in the hope that I might share in the reflected glory of others' achievements. It is more important, though, that I seek to show that Peterhead prison is genuinely a model of achievement of which the public services must be proud and of which private companies should be jealous. We can all learn from the prison's success. We must all understand the factors that created that success and we must nurture, develop and transplant the lessons for the good of all services for which we, as legislators, share responsibility.

The beacon award that was won by Peterhead prison and its staff is a rare and precious beast. Westminster's modernising Government initiative is the parent of that award scheme. Its objective is to identify excellence in public service and to create exemplars—beacons—that open the door to others. By doing that, the lessons of success are made available and standards are driven up in public services.

To date, only 39 beacons have been established in the United Kingdom, five of which are in Scotland. That excellence is a rare and precious thing. Peterhead will be opening its doors for the first time under the scheme in May, when 12 people will attend a course there. They will see the best in action, sharing their experiences and spreading excellence. "Raising standards by sharing excellence" is the motto of the beacon site scheme.

What are Peterhead's achievements and how did the staff make them happen? Peterhead used to be the hard man's prison—lock 'em up and forget 'em—and the staff were guards more than they were anything else. The opportunity for change arose when Lord James Douglas-Hamilton—in co-operation with the local MP, Alex Salmond—established Peterhead as the sex offenders unit for Scotland. That set in train a series of long-term changes for staff, for prisoners and for the local community, which are unprecedented in private companies and in the public sector, as I know from my business experience and from my more limited experience of the public sector.

After visiting Peterhead prison, the Cosgrove committee said:

"we saw evidence of committed work with convicted sex offenders ... that staff at all levels were showing commitment to tackling various difficult issues, not least in delivering programmes".

I know from my visits to the prison that everyone from the governor to the cleaners understands their roles in the treatment and reprogramming of the sex offenders in the prison. For the first time, an environment has been created in which sex offenders feel sufficiently safe genuinely to confront the effects of their crimes. When they were held in other non-specialist prisons, or in units within such prisons, sex offenders feared for their own lives and did not consider those whose lives they had damaged.

The role of the community within which the prison operates cannot be ignored as a factor in the prison's success. Initial suspicion has given way to whole-hearted support. People in the community see people they know leaving for work at the prison and wearing their uniforms with pride. They have observed the operation of the prison over many years. Community trust cannot be earned quickly. The proposed location in Glasgow of a unit for recovering psychiatric patients has caused difficulties, but those difficulties could be as nothing compared with moving 300 sex offenders into a new community.

Some have mooted the idea that if Peterhead is not the answer, dispersal is. I say, "No." A return of prisoners to units all over Scotland is a guaranteed recipe for destroying the culture in Peterhead that has delivered success. Peterhead's total focus and total culture is absolutely necessary to underpinning the prison's achievements. The other day, I asked a Peterhead prison officer what makes him get up in the morning. His answer was simple and straightforward. He said, "If I can stop one child being harmed by one of our prisoners, I achieve what few others have the opportunity to do."

What have Peterhead staff actually achieved? The prison governor told the Justice 1 Committee on 13 November 2001:

"Since the programme commenced in 1993, it has had a total of 244 participants. One hundred and sixty-two of those prisoners have been liberated, 69 are still in custody, 173 prisoners completed the programme and 71 failed to finish it. Six have been reconvicted of a sexual offence and four have been recalled because of a breach of licence conditions."—[Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 13 November 2001; c 2752.]

That compares with previous recidivism estimates, which showed that in excess of 60 per cent of those who are released reoffend within two years. The Peterhead programme has already rehabilitated 90 more sex offenders, who would probably have reoffended if not for the prison's efforts. The key benefit is that at least 90 families have been saved and 90 victims are unharmed; society has been protected by the prison system in a previously unattainable way.

Based on the Scottish Prison Service's target cost per prisoner of £32,000 per year, the system at Peterhead could also save the SPS about £12 million, which is what it would cost to lock up those who reoffend. Who cares? We all should because, by coincidence, the money that is required for redevelopment of the prison accommodation at Peterhead is about £12 million. Peterhead's cost per prisoner is well below the average SPS prisoner cost and it is reducing further in the face of rising costs for the SPS as a whole. Peterhead delivers quality management of outcomes for the community, the prisoners and our budgets.

Does such success in a public sector provider embarrass anyone? It should not. On Sunday, in a rather controversial speech in Cardiff, the Prime Minister said:

"We believe in strong public services".

He continued:

"Public services are what make us a community of people".

In his speech to Parliament as First Ministerial candidate, Jack McConnell said that Scotland needs
"public services that attract the efforts and work of the most talented".—[Official Report, 22 November 2001; c 4514.]

The beacon award to Peterhead comes on top of a string of other awards to the prison and its staff and international recognition from Professor Bill Marshall, who said:

"I consider the operation of Peterhead Prison, in so far as it affects the implementation of an effective sexual offender treatment program, to be exemplary and forward thinking. I strongly recommend that it be retained as Scotland's model sexual offender institution".

The First Minister said that he wants rehabilitation of offenders to prevent reoffending to be a key objective of his Administration. As a member of the Opposition, I am prepared to help him to do that if he is prepared to help Peterhead in fulfilling its role.

I ask the Deputy Minister for Justice three things. First, I ask him for his support for the motion, which should be easy. Secondly, I ask him to come rapidly to the conclusion that Peterhead is doing exceptionally well and that two years of study have turned up no reason for further delay in reinvestment. Thirdly, I ask for the uncertainty to end and for Peterhead's achievements to be rewarded. It is time to build on outstanding public sector success.

17:12

Stewart Stevenson
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