16 December 2004

S2M-2158 Reoffending

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 16 December 2004

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

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The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2158, in the name of Annabel Goldie, on justice issues with specific relevance to reoffending, and three amendments to the motion.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Let us start with a nice consensual point that can stretch across the Parliament. The title of the motion is relevant and important—"Justice Issues with Specific Relevance to Reoffending"—so no disagreement there.

Donald Gorrie spoke about illiteracy, but perhaps the real issue is innumeracy. On that issue, the Tories will clearly be in the dog-house and in jail for some time, because this morning they have relied on the straw-man approach to debating. Bill Aitken claimed that the rate of reoffending was only 2 per cent less for people on community service orders compared with those who had been in prison, but he could not provide us with any numbers. My numbers are 60 per cent and 42 per cent, which others who have consulted parliamentary sources may also have.

I asked Annabel Goldie about the figures for reoffending under the Tories, because she was trying to persuade us that it was axiomatic that the figures were better than they are now. However, she could give us no numbers. The reality is that the debate is based around a myth of a golden age under the Tories, which is not supported by any sensible examination of the issue.

Phil Gallie: I made the point that the incidence of offences after early release went up under the Tories, but only after we introduced automatic remission.

Stewart Stevenson: I was going to praise Phil Gallie and I take this opportunity to do so, but one honest Tory on the benches does not an honest Tory party make.

Reference was made to Fairbridge. Like others, I recently visited that project. Only 20 per cent of its graduates appear to reoffend. Such projects are well worth the effort that goes into them. With the Justice 1 Committee, I visited the 218 project in Glasgow, which works with many people who have been involved in prostitution and are in a cycle of incarceration, which it is to be hoped will be broken.

In its response to the Justice 1 Committee's inquiry into reoffending, Aberdeenshire Council said:

"By its very nature, the prison environment cannot of itself ... be conductive to achieving the desired outcome of reducing re-offending."

The majority of parties in the chamber have reiterated that view today. I quote from the Executive's "Re:duce, Re:habilitate, Re:form" in-street interviews, which go to the nub of what people are saying on the street:

"I think the minimum prison sentences are actually a waste of money. I think prison is a last resort for people who really are a danger to the public."

We welcome moves by the Executive to improve local relationships between criminal justice social workers and the Prison Service. Prison is part of a justice system that must address retribution, reform and rehabilitation, but the greatest of those is rehabilitation. Rehabilitation starts in prison, but must finish in the community. We must have a seamless way of connecting the good work that is done in prisons with the programmes to which offenders will connect once they leave prison. To do otherwise is to spend large sums of money to deliver little. I am happy to say that I will be supporting—as the opportunity arises—the Executive's amendment.


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