13 December 2001

S1M-2545 Scottish Prison Service

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 13 December 2001

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

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Scottish Prison Service

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a Scottish National Party debate on motion S1M-2545, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Scottish Prison Service, and on two amendments to that motion.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It would be remiss of me not to welcome the support that Lord James Douglas Hamilton offered for Peterhead prison and the kind remarks that Maureen Macmillan made. I would also like to mention Richard Simpson, who will be a valuable addition to the front bench with his knowledge and experience; I know that he has a track record of supporting the work of Peterhead prison.

Continuing in that vein, I would like to welcome something, if not everything, in the minister's amendment. At the end of the amendment, the minister says:

"work to upgrade the estate must deliver prisons capable of providing sufficient humane and secure accommodation while delivering value for money."

Great stuff. Clearly and unambiguously, that gives paramouncy to what prisons do over what prisons cost. After the prevarication, distortions and errors—I use that word out of charity—in the evidence given by the head of the Scottish Prison Service to the Justice 1 Committee on 23 October, it is clear that ministers are not going to heed Cameron's single-minded focus on cost and are going to take a broader and more balanced view.

Running a public service like a business, as Tony Cameron has often said that he wishes to do, is to fail to understand that the dividends that we want from the service are societal, rather than fiscal. We want protection for society, punishment for the offender and reform of their future behaviour.

When, earlier this year, prison staff struck for the first time in 61 years, it reflected their lack of morale in the present circumstances. The Prison Service—I use that word advisedly—is in a state of some disarray because of the delays in taking essential decisions. Is there other evidence of morale problems? Yes. Ian Gunn, the governor of Peterhead prison, in answer to a committee question on 13 November on the delay in the estates review, said:

"The lack of a decision is draining for staff"—[Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 13 November 2001; c 2753.]

To be fair, he went on to say that he did not think that it had affected morale.

However, the conversations that I have had with prison officers tell a very different story. When officers see a world-class facility kept in a state of uncertainty for an extended period and when the special skills that they have built up over seven years are devalued by their chief executive, who has made a statement to a parliamentary committee that was subsequently shown to have no basis in fact, it is no wonder that morale has plummeted.

I will provide a little illustration of the numbers that Lord James gave us—of the 162 graduates of Peterhead prison's rehabilitation programme, only six have returned. Tony Cameron should think on this: given that it costs £26,000 per year to keep someone in prison, that represents a saving of £2.5 million every year from Peterhead prison's success in reducing recidivism.

I support the SNP motion.


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