29 April 2004

S2M-1219 Reducing Reoffending

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 29 April 2004

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

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Reducing Reoffending

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1219, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on reducing reoffending and improving the effectiveness of custodial and non-custodial sentences, and one amendment to the motion.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): If we are prepared to change, we must change how we prepare. This consultation document is very thin.

I want to address some specific issues that may illuminate the debate. In doing so, I remind us all that, on 5 September 2002, the Minister for Justice said:

"We have always recognised the work of the staff at Peterhead as world class. We have always pledged that their work and the ethos that they have created will be protected."

He continued:

"Peterhead will remain open and will be the centre for the treatment of long-term sex offenders in Scotland."—[Official Report, 5 September 2002; c 13375 and 13386.]

At the time, I welcomed those comments warmly, both from a constituency interest and in the wider public interest of people in Scotland. It was and remains my view that where Peterhead has led on reducing reoffending, others should and can follow. Rehabilitation and the reduction of reoffending are at the heart of the ethos and focus of all staff at Peterhead and form its core commitment—as exemplified by the international recognition of its achievements and the award of beacon status by the office of the Prime Minister. If we do not reduce reoffending after conviction by using prison and people repeat their offence—if we simply cycle them out and they roll back in the door within a short time—the whole purpose of the conviction and punishment that brought them into prison is lost.

It is disappointing that the minister's consultation document makes no substantive reference either to the achievements of Peterhead in showing a way forward with a particular class of prisoners or to the way in which a single correctional agency might incorporate a national centre for long-term sex offenders. Peterhead is excellent in performance, if not yet in facilities. How does it fit in?

One would imagine that the Scottish Prison Service would wish to praise the regime at Peterhead to the skies, but there is not a word about it. It is hard to escape the belief that SPS management continues to pursue an agenda to downgrade the work of the prison. We are making good progress on installing power in cells but, after 20 months, we have yet to find a way of eliminating slopping out. This morning's statement by the First Minister did not help in that regard.

There is little point in improving our record in reducing reoffending elsewhere if at Peterhead we lose the ability to do that for long-term sex offenders. This is not just a personal obsession of Stewart Stevenson, the member for Banff and Buchan, where Peterhead prison is located. Last week I received an e-mail from a prisoner—who has now been released—that praised the holistic approach of Peterhead and the staff who make it work. When considering reoffending and its reduction, the minister must not be dragged down the road of imagining that only programmes in prison will make the difference. Reducing reoffending—reorienting offenders in prison—is a dawn-to-dusk activity that involves all those with whom prisoners come into contact.

Prison visitors, chaplains, contractors and even MSPs do not meet prisoners unless they have been briefed on the aims and purposes in relation to changing prisoners' attitudes and beliefs. That is to ensure that none of us creates the opportunity for prisoners to escape from the relentless but humane pressure to reform by understanding the nature of their crimes and what they must do to prevent themselves from reoffending.

I am not persuaded of the need for a single, unified body, although I am less bigoted about that matter than is my colleague Nicola Sturgeon. I am delighted that Margaret Smith said that she was not yet persuaded of the need for such a body, but how she can then refuse to support an amendment that has that thought at its core baffles me. To support the SNP amendment is not to oppose the Executive. I say to her and to other members, "Courage, mes amis," and urge them to read the SNP amendment carefully and then vote for it at 5 o'clock.

I have in the past extended an invitation to the minister to visit Peterhead. I note in the consultation document that she intends to go round the country. I repeat my personal invitation to her to visit the staff of Peterhead prison and the Peterhead community, which supports what goes on in the prison and realises the importance of that work. Let me add a bit of spice to my invitation to the minister. Within a short drive from the prison is the United Kingdom's vegetarian pub of the year, which also has a good selection of vegan dishes. I will buy the meal if the minister will buy into Peterhead's lessons on reducing reoffending. I support my colleague Nicola Sturgeon's amendment.


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