Prisons: Overcrowding - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:09 pm on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Lord Cullen of Whitekirk Lord Cullen of Whitekirk Crossbench 1:09 pm, 7th September 2017

My Lords, I wish to say something about the position in Scotland, which has had its own national prison system since the middle of the 19th century. After steadily increasing over a number of decades, the total prison population in Scotland is showing signs of stabilising. Indeed, the average daily prison population in Scotland has been decreasing. In 2011-12, it was 8,179, whereas five years later it was 7,552. In August of this year, it was under 7,500. Since the number of bed spaces in the 15 prisons in Scotland is currently over 7,900, it is not surprising that there is little evidence of overcrowding in Scotland’s 15 prisons.

The most marked decrease has been in the number of young offenders. This points to the success of a whole system initiative which has encouraged a number of actions such as early intervention, opportunities for diversion from prosecution and support from the court process. For initiatives such as this the relatively small size of Scotland has assisted in bringing together the responsible agencies, sharing good practice and developing good teamwork.

The adequacy of prison accommodation can be thought of in terms of bed spaces, but that, of course, is not the whole picture because the question is, what accommodation is provided that is adequate and suitable for the various categories of prisoners? One I mention briefly is that of older men of 60 years or more. That category has been increasing in Scotland, perhaps due partly to the increase in the number of prosecutions for historic sexual offences. That makes a demand on a system. The Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland recently reported that there is insufficient accommodation available for older prisoners who have problems with mobility and chronic health conditions.

The other category is that of women prisoners. In recent years there has been a doubling of their number. Many were frequent reoffenders and had complex needs to do with their social circumstances, histories of abuse and mental health and addiction problems. A commission under Dame Elish Angiolini, a former Lord Advocate, concluded that Cornton Vale Prison, which housed the majority of women prisoners, should be removed as it was not fit for purpose and should be replaced. Overcrowding had caused problems for the management and staff and inhibited opportunities to rehabilitate women and reduce their reoffending. Their mental health needs were not being addressed adequately and there were high levels of self-harm and a lack of constructive and meaningful activity. I am glad to say that Cornton Vale is now being replaced with a smaller prison for more serious offenders and a number of community systems which will cope with offenders closer to home. I am glad that these steps have been taken.