19 November 2015

S4M-14879 Community Justice (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14879, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on stage 1 of the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

When I got elected to Parliament in 2001, one of the biggest issues in my in-tray was the plan to close the prison in Peterhead. That prison had been opened in 1888—the only other thing that I know about 1888 is that it was the year that Celtic Football Club started. It was built at a cost of £57,400 and the land on which it was built cost £5,000. I am delighted that, after a long community-based campaign, which I was very happy to support and contribute to, we now have a community-facing prison—at a rather more substantial cost than the £57,400 that the original prison cost. It is already showing signs that it will contribute materially to the way in which things operate in criminal justice in the north-east.

The staff at Peterhead prison are what make or break what goes on there, and the same is true of prisons elsewhere. In the whole community justice space and in dealing with offenders and people who look as if they might end up being offenders, we need good people in place, and I think that, by and large, that is exactly what we have.

However, prisons ain’t the answer. Pure economics tells us that. The cost of keeping someone in prison can be as much as £40,000 a year. We know that, as well as being more successful in achieving its aim, treating people outside prison so that they are less likely to reoffend is likely to cost a quarter of that. Therefore, what people who say, “Bang them up, put them in prison and throw away the key,” are actually saying is that we should take money away from socially useful ways of spending money and waste it on something that will not deliver anything very meaningful at all.

I see that Margaret Mitchell is just coming into the chamber. She and I spoke in the chamber on victims and witnesses in 2005. We have not heard an awful lot about victims in the debate; I hope that we will hear a little bit more because, at the end of the day, the victims are the most important people in any consideration of criminal justice. They are the ones who, frankly, are often marginalised in the process, much as we have tried to do more for them.

Our incarceration rates are far too high, that is for sure. The rates in Scandinavian countries are about a third of what they are here. The good news is that the rate in the United States is four times our rate, so I suppose that we are considerably better than some countries. However, we are not as good as we need to be.

In a consultation in 2004, the then Scottish Executive used the headings “Reduce, Rehabilitate, Reform”, and I think that that is an excellent way of looking at the activities that we must undertake.

Even the Prisons Act 1835 had as a central purpose the intention to reform criminals. Reforming criminals is not a new idea, although it would be fair to say that punishment was probably also pretty central in 1835.

The Justice 1 Committee carried out an inquiry into reoffending in 2004. Aberdeenshire Council, in its submission to that inquiry, said:

“the prison environment cannot of itself … be conducive to achieving the desired outcome of reducing re-offending.”

I do not think that anyone in today’s debate has said otherwise.

Clive Fairweather, the late, lamented HM chief inspector of prisons, was a great supporter of out-of-prison rehabilitation. We miss him and his sage advice. He was not a man with whom I agreed on every political matter, I hasten to add, but on this matter he was very clear.

We have heard a little about the definition of community justice in the bill. I, and the rest of us, should be heartened slightly by the Government’s document “Future Model for Community Justice in Scotland”, which came out in September 2015. The definition of community justice begins thus:

“The collection of agencies and services in Scotland that individually and in partnership work to manage offenders”


“prevent offending”.

That is crucial, and I hope that those words from the Government in a document that it has published will be roughly similar to those that we end up seeing in the bill.

Section 17 of the bill refers to the outcomes improvement plan. First, I am heartened by the use of the word “outcomes”, because it anchors what the plan must be about. We should not be unduly prescriptive about methods—we should focus on outcomes. The structure of the bill provides an opportunity for those plans to address the issue of preventative spend to reduce offending, because that ought above all to be the outcome that we seek.

I am always reluctant to add another layer to any organisation. I have yet to be convinced—I have not engaged on the issue as the bill has gone through committee—that adding another layer will, in and of itself, help very much. It may well help, and it can help, but I instinctively need to be persuaded.

Similarly, on the whole process of planning, it is clear that the plans must come from the community planning partnerships up to national level. However, when a plan is produced by person A but must be implemented by person B, one runs the risk of there not being buy-in. I am hugely enthusiastic about plans where they come from the grass roots and reflect the experience of people at that level, as there is more chance that they will be successful.


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