01 October 2013

S4M-07867 Rehabilitation of Offenders

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07867, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, on the rehabilitation of offenders.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

What we once thought of as criminal, we no longer see in that way; Rod Campbell talked about that change over time. One of my interests is genealogy, and if I go back some 250 years to a parish record that I have read, a poor wean is burdened to this day by a description in the record that says:

“The wean was conceived in antenuptual fornication.”

That was thought to be a high criminal offence. She was never rehabilitated because no mechanism existed for that to happen.

Thankfully, we have a different environment today. Let me start by rather didactically laying out what is a good scheme for rehabilitation. It is one that can be understood by the offender in the long term, that can be understood and operated by employers and which can command general public understanding and broad—if not necessarily universal—support. Good decisions are objective and proportionate and encourage offenders’ positive re-engagement with society. Good penalties protect society, are cost effective and minimise damage to the innocent—as Mary Fee mentioned—in that they protect families from unduly bearing the cost of offending relatives.

Peterhead prison in my constituency opened in 1888—which is the same year as Celtic Football Club was founded; I do not think that that is necessarily a coincidence—and many of my constituents have worked in the criminal justice system to very good effect. As a result of a collaboration between the then justice minister James Douglas-Home and Alex Salmond, who was then the local MP, we ended up with Peterhead moving from being the hard-man’s prison to being Scotland’s serious sex offenders prison. It is worth my while to quote what was said to the Justice 1 Committee in 2001—when closure of Peterhead prison was being contemplated—about the achievements of my constituents in that prison through the programme of rehabilitation.

“Since the programme commenced in 1993, it has had a total of 244 participants. One hundred and sixty-two of those prisoners have been liberated, 69 are still in custody, 173 prisoners completed the programme and 71 failed to finish it. Six have been reconvicted of a sexual offence and four have been recalled because of a breach of licence conditions.”—[Official Report, Justice 1 Committee, 13 November 2001; c 2752.]

That is a pretty impressive record for what is a specialist form of rehabilitation—I absolutely accept that—and for a crime in which it is much more difficult to detect reoffending. Nonetheless, it gives us some insight into the value of rehabilitation.

How do the staff who work in Peterhead prison and who deal with those difficult prisoners—serious sex offenders who have been sentenced to four years and more—feel about working in that establishment? At the time when there was a threat to close it, an officer who had been there for 12 years said:

“I have been through its troubled times with hostage taking and prisoner unrest. I survived these and carried on my duties ... Although the above was not the ideal day to day employment, we persevered and eventually the prison, after some readjustment, became the Centre of Excellence for the treatment of sex offenders ... we are now regarded as one of the top three prisons in the world in this field.

The prisoners here are classified as long term vulnerable ... if returned to the mainstream prison system, they will revert back in their shells and all the excellent work done ... will have been for nothing.”

In my constituency, I have something that has an economic value of maybe £15 million a year to the local economy, but it is something that has also delivered added value, as prisons across Scotland and elsewhere do when they tackle the difficult people in our society and offer rehabilitation.

Mary Fee mentioned families. In the serious sex offenders prison, very few offenders received visits, because in many cases the offences were committed against their families. There are serious difficulties with which we need to engage.

Many really gifted people have engaged with the subject of sex offenders. When the late Clive Fairweather was Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons, he was very much a reformer—notwithstanding the fact that he came from the Special Air Service, which one would not think was the natural breeding ground for prison reformers, but which I think gave him terrific insight. He engaged particularly with Peterhead prison to huge benefit.

I want to highlight another minister. This time, it is Richard Simpson, who at the time when there was a threat to close Peterhead prison was a junior justice minister in the then Scottish Executive. He made absolutely common cause with me, as the constituency member, to try to address the issues that were faced by the crumbling Victorian institution, which was still slopping out and did not meet modern standards. The physical environment made it difficult to run the kind of programmes that would successfully rehabilitate prisoners.

Christine Grahame: It is a long time ago, but I think I convened the Justice 1 Committee during that period, which also supported and recognised the value of the specialist facilities at Peterhead.

Stewart Stevenson: Indeed. I recall that the committee conducted evidence sessions across the wires to Canada and played a very significant and non-partisan role in saving the prison.

I spent 977 days working for Kenny MacAskill as the shadow deputy justice minister with responsibility for prisons and drug policy. [Interruption.] I always know the number. I am sorry about that—I just count things. I had the great privilege to get involved in lots of interesting things. When I was running workshops in the Caucasus I talked to the Georgian justice minister about prison policy there. His proud achievement was that since coming into office he had halved the waiting time for the queue for visiting one’s relatives in prison—it was down to only three days. If we think that we are not doing as well as we might, we should remember that the challenges are somewhat greater elsewhere.

I visited Bapaume prison, which is north of Paris, to see how it treated sex offenders, which was interesting. This comes back to a point that Maureen Watt made; the prison had a manufacturing facility that made switches for Peugeot cars, so people all over the world are driving Peugeots with parts that have been produced by prisoners in Bapaume. In the women’s part of the prison was a call centre. It was not a dummy call centre, but a call centre that was actually making outwards calls to people. In that prison, they were very effectively training women for real life after prison. There was also a mother-and-baby unit, so in the women’s wing, which housed about 120 prisoners, they had youngsters no older than 2 in with their mothers. That did not half transform the atmosphere in the women’s wing, because every woman in it was a mother to the four bairns there.

There are many opportunities for doing things differently to help to rehabilitate prisoners. Bapaume prison also had a prison kayaking team, which was going to participate in the national championships shortly after I was there.

When I visited Saughton prison, I was in a cell with six murderers. The prison staff were out of earshot and one of the men complained to me that he had been out on licence but had been recalled entirely unfairly, he thought, simply because he had been present when another murder had taken place. Not every prisoner will be successfully rehabilitated and not every prisoner will understand the requirements on them.

I will conclude with an observation. When John Vine was chief constable of Tayside Police, he told me that offending behaviour in one part of someone’s life is likely to indicate that they will offend in another part and that it is always worth inquiring of people who park in disabled parking spaces illegally, because they are four times as likely as other people to commit other crimes.

John Finnie and Graeme Pearson touched on the issue on which I want to close: whether judges could take over some of this responsibility. Three headings apply to that. A judge can suggest for how long somebody should be in rehabilitation before their conviction is spent. He should also suggest the tests that must be satisfied before a conviction is spent and, perhaps, the tasks that must successfully be completed, because we cannae see all the way into the future to know whether rehabilitation will be successful. Judges have a key role to play; perhaps that means that we should legislate less prescriptively, but empower them to play that key role.


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