02 April 2015

S4M-12878 Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12878, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

... ... ...

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

I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on this important subject. We all know that control over the release of prisoners is a subject that has needed to be addressed for some time. In session 2, I had the privilege to serve as shadow deputy justice minister, with special responsibility for prisons. I ended up visiting a lot of prisons, including Saughton, Inverness and, of course, Peterhead, which is in my constituency. I was in there more often than I would have wished to be. I also visited a prison in Wales and a prison in France. When I was in Georgia, I met the Georgian Minister of Justice and talked to him about prison policies. It is clear that different jurisdictions take a wide range of approaches.

It is also clear that we need to careful about some of the broad-brush assumptions that we may have been making. The first obvious thing to say is that each prisoner is an individual, and we need to be careful to consider each prisoner as an individual. It is therefore important that the Parole Board is particularly well resourced on the back of the reforms that we are considering. The figures that are provided in the financial memorandum accompanying the bill say that the number of cases that the Parole Board deals with will rise by 230 by 2029, which is a fair distance out. We need to have the resources in place for that.

We have been talking quite a lot about sex offenders. It is important to remind ourselves that there are two kinds of sex offender. There are those who are essentially violent criminals, who express their violence through sexual offences—rape or violence in a sexual relationship. The more insidious cases involve paedophiles and those who groom the people they are going to subject to sexual abuse. We say that reconviction among sex offenders is lower. That is factually correct. However, we must not confuse that—reconviction is lower, but reoffending may or may not be lower. It is substantially more difficult to detect many sexual offences.

Where sex offenders are concerned, we have to be particularly careful. We must ensure that the Parole Board and the other relevant bodies are well resourced to deal with that particular category of offender. The average IQ of a paedophile is a bit higher than that of somebody who is in prison for other offences. They are more cunning, they are more dangerous and they carry greater risk. We need to be careful to address that. I have confidence that we in the Parliament wish to do that, and I have confidence in the Prison Service.

In the end, our objectives in dealing with people who are serious offenders are threefold. First, there is the element of retribution—giving to the person who has offended a real sense of the opprobrium that comes from their having committed an offence against another member of society. The person who has been subject to the offence would certainly wish to see that, and that is right and proper.

Secondly, there is rehabilitation. We have talked quite a lot about rehabilitation, which is the moral thing for us to do, and it is also an economic thing for us to do. It is very expensive to put people in prison, as we know. Every time that we effectively turn someone’s life round and stop them coming back to prison, there is a huge economic benefit.

The third objective is restitution, which I have not heard mentioned in the debate, although it has been mentioned in justice debates in the past. The use of restitution is relatively limited. However, after my mother-in-law had her purse stolen, the court ordered the two individuals who were responsible to repay her the money. That is a proper part of sentencing policy. We have to be very flexible, and we must allow our judges to look at the circumstances and apply flexibility.

Not all prisoners get it. One of the visits that I made as shadow deputy justice minister was to Saughton prison. I found myself in a cell with six lifers, who were in for murder. The prison chaplain stood at the open door so that he could summon the staff if things got too heated. One of the offenders had been released on licence and had been recalled—in his view, entirely unjustifiably so. He said that he had been recalled just because he happened to be with a group of people when another murder took place—he had nothing to do with the murder; he just happened to be there. When we deal with prisoners whose attitude is thus, we realise that it is in the nature of things that it is impossible to get it right all the time. I did not feel uncomfortable about that recall, and I do not think that many other people would.

The bill could restore public confidence in how sentencing works, which is an important point. It takes the first steps, but we will have to go down the whole road in due course. We have to make sure that we have the resources when people come out and that the new arrangements for access to health, housing and other services are in place for prisoners.

I was very impressed by Saughton prison when I visited a few years ago. Peterhead, with a very different category of prisoners, did its own thing. HMP Grampian has a very good approach to working with prisoners. We now have young offenders, women prisoners and a more general prison population all on one prison campus for the first time; it is expensive to do, but it is expensive not to do it properly.

I look forward to working with HMP Grampian. It will be more challenging for the community to have to interact with prisoners as they adjust to going back out than it used to be when we had all Scotland’s serious sex offenders locked behind the walls, entirely disconnected and discharged back to communities elsewhere. That is a price worth paying and I am sure that the staff in the Prison Service will do well with that facility. What happens in HMP Grampian will inform what should happen elsewhere. It will lead to improvements in our programmes and in outcomes.

This is a good, useful one-page bill, which takes us forward on the road that we need to be travelling. I congratulate the cabinet secretary and the Government on the progress that they have made, but I, along with others, will continue to challenge the Government to do substantially more when it is able to do so.


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