15 March 2007

S2M-5632 Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 15 March 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5632, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees that the Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Bill be passed.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I say to Phil Gallie that, if this is legislating in haste, I would hate to see us taking our time. After 10 years, it is probably time that we got round to dealing with the issues.

Let me make a simple but important semantic point. It is a bit unhelpful to use language that talks about offenders serving at least 50 per cent of their sentence in prison. That could suggest that we are continuing early release even though, in mechanical terms, we are doing something quite different. Under the bill, offenders will be given a custodial sentence and a period of supervision afterwards. For that reason, despite our reservations about some of the details, we will support the bill at decision time. I hope that the language that sheriffs use when they impose a sentence on those who have been convicted is, "You shall go to jail for eight years"—or 10 years or four years or whatever—"and you will be subject to a period of supervision of a similar duration thereafter." There will then be no excuse for newspapers to report in terms other than that an offender was given a particular sentence that carries certainty as to when he will be released. There will be no excuse for victims who hear the sheriff's sentence to misunderstand the effect of what is said. Those language issues perhaps still need to be addressed. I hope that sheriffs will listen to today's debate and take tent.

A previous speaker said that the bill will not empty our prisons. On the face of it, that is true, which is a matter of concern. There is not, I think, a huge divide between the Executive and the SNP on the objectives for our prisons, but we still lack certainty about whether the Executive will engage in effective action to ensure that the increase in one part of the prison population that will result from the increase in the amount of time that people spend in prison is balanced by a reduction in the number of offenders for whom—to use the unique Tory phrase that I agree with—it might be said that prison is a place where the bad are sent to be made worse. That phrase certainly applies to too many short-term prisoners. Of course, it is difficult to re-engage prisoners with society by locking them up away from society, therefore any measure that requires that part of the court-imposed sentence be served in society so that offenders can re-engage and reconnect with society is helpful.

One of the archetypal offenders to which reference has been made is the shoplifter. I say to Bill Aitken that banging up shoplifters for longer periods of time simply will not work. What kind of person is the typical shoplifter? By and large, she is a female heroin addict. For the female heroin addict, the fundamental problem with which she is afflicted ain't gonna be dealt with in an effective way in prison.

Jackie Baillie: What is the statistical basis for the member's assertion?

Stewart Stevenson: The statistical basis is that the recovery rate with heroin addiction treatment is 10 per cent worse in prison than in the community.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): One minute.

Jackie Baillie: The member has not answered my question.

Stewart Stevenson: I am in my last minute. Jackie Baillie asked a question and I answered it.

We need to ask whether the bill will address some fundamental questions. Will it make the system work better? Yes, to an extent. Will it help to rebuild public confidence in the criminal justice system? Yes, to a certain extent.

As ever, I listened with interest to Gordon Jackson, because he brings real-life experience to these matters. However, he missed an important point when he claimed that everyone knows that when a sheriff sends someone to jail for four years, they will be out in two. That might be true for professionals, but it is certainly not true for the public. Gordon Jackson needs to consider that.

Prison represents one key thing, which is failure: failure for the prisoner, failure for the victim who has suffered at the hands of the prisoner and failure for the system that we hold responsible. Success is when we reduce the number of people going to prison. We will never reduce it to nil, but I hope that we have started to build a new system that will send fewer people to prison and deliver increased public safety.


Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP