11 May 2005

S2M-2762 Rehabilitation in Prisons

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 11 May 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

… … …

Rehabilitation in Prisons

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2762, in the name of Pauline McNeill, on behalf of the Justice 1 Committee, on its report on its inquiry into the effectiveness of rehabilitation in prisons, which is its third report in 2005.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Given that I speak as the deputy convener of the Justice 1 Committee, I will start on a consensual note by highlighting one thing on which the deputy minister and I clearly have exactly the same policy: we both went to the hairdresser this week to let the sun in at the top.

I hope that colleagues will not misunderstand me when I say that I know many people who are currently in prison—of course, they are mainly staff rather than prisoners. On an administrative matter, I know that the convener of the committee, Pauline McNeill, had to leave the debate early. There was no discourtesy intended; she had a long-arranged meeting with a minister. Sometimes parliamentary business fights against such things. I know that she and other members of the committee will read the Official Report carefully. We thank all those who contributed to the debate; everyone has said something worth listening to.

The committee has received responses to its report from both the SPS and the Executive. I will examine those responses and consider the extent to which they address what the committee said in its report and what was said in the debate today. The SPS's initial response—as it is described—states:

"in custodial settings ... imprisonment - and particularly short-term imprisonment - tends to make things worse rather than better".

There is broad consensus on that. It also states:

"Rehabilitation requires the willing and indeed consistent co-operation of the offender if it is to make a difference."

The committee's report is about rehabilitation in prison, although it became apparent almost at once that rehabilitation could not, must not and shall not finish at the prison gates. Indeed, prison is merely an opportunity to commence rehabilitation; certainly in only a very few instances is it the opportunity to complete rehabilitation. Therefore, we must not raise overly our expectations about what the Prison Service can do on its own. Indeed, the response from the SPS makes the point that

"offence-specific work is ... positive ... for a whole raft of reasons, though the impact on subsequent recidivism is likely to be marginal."

That reflects the reality of the situation. As Kenny MacAskill and others have said, prison is not rehabilitation in itself; it is merely an opportunity to start the process of rehabilitation.

The committee's report has a significant number of recommendations, although I might argue with the SPS's belief that there are 35 of them. The SPS makes the fair point that implementing all the recommendations will require the investment of additional money that it does not currently have. Perfectly properly, what the committee has done has been ambitious, but we have not imposed undue constraints by setting timetables for the implementation of all the recommendations. I hope that the recommendations will stand the test of time, will be prioritised and will, over time, be resourced to ensure that they are implemented.

The SPS says that it will need to evaluate the impact of implementing the recommendations to determine the likely value for money of each proposal. We cannot gainsay that. The effect of implementing many of the recommendations—and, indeed, of doing many of the things that we do in the criminal justice system—is extremely long term. We will not know whether we have made real differences for, perhaps, a decade. However, within that decade, we must make decisions that assume that the interventions that we are going to make will have particular effects. We must not draw back from acting on a number of the recommendations in the report if the consensus is that they will deliver value, even if there is currently an absence of objective, factual feedback that says that they will definitely work. We have to go forward on the basis of believing that they will work and we have to test that belief against the information that becomes available over time.

I welcome the fact that—if I have read the SPS's response correctly—the task force of the international round-table for correctional excellence is chaired by the SPS. That shows leadership on the part of the SPS.

The SPS and others will know that I have not always been the firmest friend of the Prison Service. However, when I kick lumps off it, I do not deny that many excellent things are done in the service. I welcome the fact that Alec Spencer and Tom Fox are at the back of the chamber, listening carefully to what we have been saying today.

The SPS's response makes observations about the complex interactions that exist in relation to reconviction data. That is absolutely factual and we must be careful in that regard. The response adumbrates a number of reviews.

The Executive's response to the committee's report is perhaps not entirely clear in relation to what we said about literacy and numeracy. It refers to the learning for life programme. I hope that that programme is addressing the committee's concerns in that regard. I think that it probably is.

The Executive makes the rather bold claim that the SPS believes that an outcome of the Management of Offenders etc (Scotland) Bill will be the elimination of offending behaviour. Would that I could accept that that is true.

As the minister said, 6,808 people were in prison last night. However, let us not forget that that means that 5 million people were not in prison last night. When we put people in prison, we do so for the benefit of those 5 million others. Furthermore, although most people in our prisons come from our most impoverished communities, we must never forget that the overwhelming majority of people in those communities are law abiding and deserve our support.

I close by repeating the obvious. Rehabilitation can start in prison, but in our efforts we must ensure that there is continuity of rehabilitation from prison, through release and into the community, for as long as it takes.


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