– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:26 am on 21 February 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 10:26, 21 February 2008

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-1385, in the name of Bill Aitken, on prisons policy.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 10:33, 21 February 2008

Over the past two weeks, Kenny MacAskill has stomped around the country bemoaning the fact that prison numbers in Scotland are at an all-time high. He is right to be concerned—indeed, all of us share his worries—but we are even more concerned by what he sees as the solution to the problem. As the motion states, the primary responsibility of any Government is to establish a justice system in which the public has confidence and which ensures a secure and safe society. Mr MacAskill's proposals would prejudice that to an unprecedented extent.

Let us be quite clear about what Mr MacAskill wants. He wants to empty the jails of those who have been sentenced to six months or less. He would remove from the prison system many of those who have been convicted for offences such as carrying a knife, house-breaking, domestic violence, reckless driving and driving while disqualified. He seeks to replace custodial sentences with community sentences, in which sentencers currently have absolutely no confidence.

Why should sentencers have any confidence in such sentences when, of the 8,404 probation orders that were made last year, 45 per cent were the subject of a breach application to the court? Of the probation orders that included a requirement for unpaid work, the rate was even higher—it was 46 per cent. Of community service orders, around one third resulted in a breach application. My experience tells me that social work departments will bend over backwards to avoid making such applications.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that, although those statistics are sad and rather shameful, they are significantly better than the statistics on the amount of reoffending by those who are sent to prison for two years or less, 75 per cent of whom reoffend?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I will come to that, if Mr MacAskill will bear with me.

We have to ask how much community service is actually done, but I suspect that we will not get the answer because it will be another statistic that is not held centrally. Fines are ineffectual because of the derisory lack of fine enforcement, which results in many offenders simply not paying.

It seems that alternatives to custody fail under every aim of sentencing policy, namely to protect the public, to deter, to punish and to rehabilitate. The most worrying feature of Mr MacAskill's attitude is that no thought has been given to how so-called tough community sentences could be made to work. There has been not one iota of a suggestion or scintilla of an idea as to how the existing system, which—as Mr MacAskill admitted a moment ago—is failing so lamentably, can be made to work.

Mr MacAskill argues—he did so today—that prison is failing to some extent, and he might have a point. The recidivism rate is far too high. Of course, we can never know how much chaos, mayhem and heartache would be caused by those who are in prison if they were free to commit more crime. If Mr MacAskill has his way, we will soon find out.

We need to address the problems that exist in our prisons. There is a unanimous view that it is appalling that offenders, many of whom are in custody for drug-related crime, find it comparatively easy to access drugs in prison. If we are to rehabilitate offenders successfully, we must give them every chance by keeping them off drugs. It is an appalling indictment of the situation that there are units to which offenders can volunteer to go to ensure that they stay off drugs. There has to be a zero tolerance approach towards drug use in our institutions. If a thorough shake-up of the system is required, we should not hesitate to bring in the appropriate measures, such as closed visits and greatly increased security. We have duties to our prisoners and I suggest that ensuring that there is a drug-free environment is one of the more pressing ones.

Mr MacAskill says that the approach to rehabilitation is inadequate. Again, he has a point, and overcrowding might well contribute to that, but whose fault is overcrowding? In our manifesto, the Conservatives budgeted for the provision of a new prison facility. The Scottish National Party could have done so—Mr MacAskill could have done so in his departmental budget.

I will attempt to be helpful, as I frequently am. I refer Mr MacAskill to a statement that was made by no less than John Swinney in The Mail on Sunday last week. In responding to a similarly constructive question from Derek Brownlee on the Carter review of prison spending down south, Mr Swinney said that he has now written to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury asking for Scotland's share of the £1.2 billion of additional spend following that review. Given that Scotland's share would be about £120 million, the Government has an ideal opportunity to increase prison capacity, and it would have some change left over.

If that is not enough, perhaps it is not too late in the day for the SNP to shake off its blinkered, dogmatic prejudice towards private sector involvement in new prison provision. I accept that like-for-like comparisons can be odious from time to time, but surely it cannot be denied that the cost of running a prison in the private sector is immeasurably cheaper than the cost of the system to which the SNP seems inextricably committed.

Is it not the ultimate irony that, at a time when we have unanimously agreed increased police resources, which will inevitably result in increased police activity and, in turn, more prosecutions, the Government seems almost determined to frustrate our efforts to make Scotland a safer society? Let us be clear that the moves will have serious and damaging consequences. The Government's course is clear.

The recommendations of the Scottish Prisons Commission, which was set up by Kenny MacAskill and is headed by Henry McLeish, have been pencilled in in biro. In an astonishing statement last week, Mr McLeish said that he does not believe in prison sentences. To be frank, that prejudices the commission's report. What sort of message is that to send out?

In going down its chosen route, the SNP must appreciate the dangers of alienating much of the electorate. The Government must support the vast majority of the people and the courts to avoid crime levels soaring beyond the present, unacceptable figures.

I move,

That the Parliament acknowledges the importance of a criminal justice system in which the public has confidence and which upholds the fundamental right of the public to a secure and safe society; notes with concern the current pressure on prison capacity; believes that the courts must be supported in sentencing disposals and, where that includes custody, believes that it is the obligation of the government to ensure that adequate custodial provision exists; views with concern deficiencies in the prison regime to address drug addiction, and deplores the Scottish Government's hostility to deploying the private sector in new prison provision.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 10:40, 21 February 2008

I say at the outset that we will support the amendment in the name of Margaret Smith. I also say to members on the Labour benches that, although the vagaries of the system mean that we cannot support the Labour amendment, we have a great deal of sympathy with what is espoused in it. If Ms McNeill and Mr Martin wish to meet me later, I will be more than happy to discuss how we can tackle matters where it appears to us that there is a national problem that we need to address to ensure that our communities are safer. The desire to do that should unite us, and I am more than happy to work with them on that.

The Scottish Government is committed to a publicly owned and operated prison service. We live in Caledonia, not Utopia, and there are bad people whom we need to detain to protect our communities. However, public safety, and not private profit, must always be our priority.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

In respect of the procurement process for the new Low Moss prison, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice said last year that there would be some delay but that it would be a delay of months rather than years. Can he confirm that that is still the position?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Yes, it is.

Mr Aitken went on about the requirement for prisons. The Government has announced record investment in the creation of a modern, fit-for-purpose prison estate. We have committed to Addiewell, we are proceeding with Bishopbriggs, but within the Scottish Prison Service, and we are preparing for a new prison in the north-east. We have committed to three new prisons and a financial package of £120 million of capital funding a year for the Scottish Prison Service to continue the modernisation of its facilities and finally eradicate the scandal of slopping out.

All those things reflect our commitment to deliver a modern, effective public prison service that makes a real difference in reducing reoffending and adds to the rehabilitation of offenders.

I take the opportunity to announce that we plan to scrap the law that allows children to be locked up in Scottish jails with adults. There are seriously disturbed children in our communities who need to be detained, often not just for the safety of our communities but for their own safety, but they should be detained in secure residential units with other children. They should not be placed in the adult estate, where they face entering academies of crime and where their safety is jeopardised.

We debated prison policy as recently as last September.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

We are all uncomfortable with the fact that children can be kept in prisons or young offenders institutions. There is a unanimous view that that should happen only in cases at the extreme edge. However, can Mr MacAskill guarantee that the new arrangements will guarantee public safety and that violent young people will be kept in an environment that is safe both for them and for the rest of the community?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I can give the member that assurance. I listened to the Commissioner for Children and Young People this morning. I do not know whether Mr Aitken has been to residential secure units, but I have been to several, both as the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and in the past, as a defence agent. Those places are not prisons, because they deal with children, but they are secure, and troubled youngsters are detained there under lock and key.

We set up the Prisons Commission under Henry McLeish to consider the purpose of imprisonment. I believe that we should look forward to its findings and not anticipate them. Mr Aitken seems to believe that some of the script has already been written. There is a national problem, and that is why we are prepared to work with all. We await with interest what is decided.

In the meantime, we cannot ignore the present situation, which includes continuing increases in the number of people who are imprisoned. At a time when the level of offending is decreasing, it is perverse that the number of people in prison continues to rise. For the first time in our history, the number of people detained in custody in Scotland has passed the 8,000 mark. The Scots are not inherently bad or more prone to criminality than the citizens of other countries, yet we continue to lock up twice as many offenders as Ireland and Norway.

Looking behind the numbers, we must all be concerned that a third of the offenders who go into prison have alcohol problems, more than half have drugs problems, and many have mental health problems. Recently, I visited Cornton Vale—an invitation was given to Mr Aitken, but he was otherwise detained. We were given a lecture and some information on the nature of those in the Cornton Vale estate. Some 98 per cent have an addiction problem, 80 per cent have mental health problems, 78 per cent have been the victims of abuse and 50 per cent self-harm.

Those people need to be detained, but in many instances they also need treatment and compassion. Reoffending rates show vividly that prison does nothing for those offenders. Yes, the great numbers of offenders who get short sentences have broken the law, but the sentences do not end offending; rather, they continue the cycle of crime. The figure of 14,000 receptions for sentences of less than six months does not mean that there are 14,000 individuals—it is made up of a hard core.

We cannot go on as we are. Prison is not cost free—it is substantially expensive. There comes a time when we need to invest in the good citizen and not just throw good money after bad on the bad citizen. We need to break the cycle of offending by tackling the root causes, whether they are mental health issues or drug or alcohol addiction. Building more prisons is simply not the answer. They are costly to build and expensive to run, with a cost of £40,000 per annum per prisoner. We must have prisons, but we must ensure that we use them to best effect. Those who commit less serious offences should face tough sentences to pay back their community for the harm that they have caused. Equally, those who offend because of mental health problems or drug or alcohol addiction should be treated in the community with the compassion that they deserve. That is cheaper for us and better for them.

We have a problem with the prison estate. We must ensure that it is used for those who need to be detained to protect our communities. However, we need to break the cycle of reoffending. We must punish toughly in the community and treat with compassion those who have addictions.

I move amendment S3M-1385.2, to leave out from first "with concern" to end and insert:

"that, while the offending rate has been falling, the number of people in prison currently stands at record levels and that Scotland has one of the highest imprisonment rates in the world; welcomes the McLeish Commission into Penal Policy and recognises that, in the case of serious and dangerous individuals, custody is the only appropriate punishment, and notes that the Scottish Government is committed to three new prisons and has increased investment in the prisons estate to an average of £120 million a year."

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 10:46, 21 February 2008

Prison numbers have crashed through the 8,000 barrier and overcrowding is affecting prisoner regimes. Rehabilitation work, schedules and prison officers are under severe pressure. That would concentrate the mind of any Government, not just the present one. The situation has become a driving force of penal reform, as a necessity, and has been the subject of two debates in this session of Parliament. I welcome this morning's debate on the finer points of penal reform.

Every prisoner who is in prison is there because the court believed that that was the best option available to it. I do not support the notion that there are people in prison who should not be there; rather, I believe that there are people who might have been given an alternative sentence if the court had thought that that was the best option. The growth in alternative sentences in the past few years has been stark. We now have restriction of liberty orders and drug treatment and testing orders. I have argued in each of the three sessions of Parliament that the power to impose DTTOs should be extended to the summary courts, particularly for women who are involved in prostitution in Glasgow, because that is primarily a drugs problem. Labour believes in payback schemes and reparation orders. We call on the Government to rethink its stance on those orders.

In previous Administrations, Labour and the Liberal Democrats introduced the concept of restorative justice and provided a range of options as alternatives to prison. It is unclear why the SNP Administration has taken reparation orders off the agenda, as they could be another tool in the sentencing options kit.

What should we do if we cannot cope with prison numbers? The Tories would build more prisons and the SNP would empty them—those are certainly the accusations that we have heard this morning. However, neither option will do, so what is the answer? One key issue that must be addressed, perhaps by the Scottish Prisons Commission, is the repackaging of community sentencing and refocusing on how best to resource it. We must consider how to ensure that sheriffs have confidence in alternatives to prison. We think that it would be useful for the Scottish Prisons Commission to conduct a cross-party summit that involved sheriffs and others to consider the issues around community service orders.

When a judge sentences someone to jail, they do so because they believe that it is the last resort. They know that the door of the court shutting will be followed by the door of the jail shutting, with an enclosed environment and a brutal regime that will have an impact on the individual and, in many cases, the community. However, when a sheriff gives someone a community sentence, there can be huge delays. With many community sentences, when the door of the court slams behind the offender, they walk free and carry on with their life until a community sentence is available, so the sentence does not have the instant impact that it should have.

I welcome the general direction of the announcement on not imprisoning children. However, like Bill Aitken, I think that questions arise about what the Government believes should be done with violent young offenders in secure units. What will be the safety valve if we ban putting such people in prison?

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

Does the member agree that, if we ensure that children do not go into prisons, the funding for secure units must be guaranteed and that there should be no threat to secure units?

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I agree whole-heartedly. When Hugh Henry was the Deputy Minister for Justice, he rightly ensured an increase in secure unit places.

After the prison estates review and the commitment from the previous Administration to provide at least two new prisons—which the Government claims as its own—I was concerned that the SPS attempted to sabotage what should have been a public sector bid for the Low Moss project. I welcome the Government's decision on that, but it must give more detail on how the project is progressing. We will have a serious problem if the new Low Moss prison is not on stream by 2012. I was not impressed with the previous SPS chief executive, who seemed to be rather complacent about that date. We must reduce overcrowding, so we need an urgent answer on that. We must hear from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice today how that prison is progressing.

I move amendment S3M-1385.1, to leave out from "acknowledges" to end and insert:

"notes the crucial role of the prison system in the criminal justice system and its role in dealing with a range of offenders; believes that only robust community sentences will provide a real alternative to custody for the Scottish courts and that this requires real investment in community sentences and community disposals; believes that short-term sentences are appropriate for certain types of offenders; further believes that urgent measures should be taken to provide real and appropriate alternatives to prison models for women offenders to reduce the female prison population; calls on the Scottish Government to report to the Parliament on the progress of the planned new prisons which could alleviate overcrowding in the prison estate, and further believes that sentencing policy should be clear, transparent and understood by the general public and should be driven by an underlying policy to protect the public from harm."

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 10:51, 21 February 2008

I welcome the cabinet secretary's comments about no longer placing children in adult prisons, but I echo the sentiments and concerns of colleagues who have raised issues about that. I hope that the cabinet secretary, either in his speech or in writing, will give us more information to confirm that public safety will be paramount. We all agree that the protection of our citizens and our communities must be at the heart of our penal system. However, no one could be content with the present situation, with record numbers in our prisons and a penal system that is obviously failing everybody. We might not agree on exactly how to go about improving the situation, but at least there is overlap between the parties, and certainly in the amendments, which is welcome.

The Conservatives still believe that, as long as we build more prisons, everything will be all right. Of course, those new prisons would be full of even more prisoners if we imposed the Conservatives' three-strikes-and-you're-out policy. Again, we have a bit of muddled thinking from the Conservatives. Edward Garnier, the Conservative shadow minister for home affairs, thinks that prison is hugely expensive and does not work, but Annabel Goldie insists that prison works. Bill Aitken says that the truth is somewhere in the middle. On that, as on many things, I support Bill Aitken. Some serious offenders must be locked up—that is only right—but the decisions about who those people are and for how long they are imprisoned are rightly for the judiciary. We all agree that the independence of the judiciary should not be compromised.

Liberal Democrats are determined to work with the Government and others in the Parliament and elsewhere to deliver an effective prison service and sentencing system. I look forward to meeting Henry McLeish in the next few days to discuss our thoughts on this important issue. We welcome the establishment of his commission and await its conclusions. We hope that it will consider the proposals, from us and the Government, on short-term sentences. No doubt Mr McLeish and his colleagues are now confronted with many of the familiar statistics, such as that three out of five prisoners leave prison only to reoffend or that the majority of prisoners suffer from a cocktail of deprivation and disadvantage that results from poverty, addiction, mental health conditions or an inability to read or write. The problems with which the men and women of the SPS are expected to cope go far wider than ever before and are more than simple criminal justice issues.

The convener and members of the Justice Committee recently visited Cornton Vale prison. Those of us who visit prisons surely ask ourselves how many of the people there should be there and how many could be dealt with more effectively elsewhere, not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of our communities. We are not interested in easy headlines; we want a system that works and which reduces reoffending. The Liberal Democrats believe that that is the best possible way in which to protect our communities.

Many prisoners would be better dealt with by tough community sentences. Is not it better to have a system in which offenders give something back to communities, make reparation and have their behaviour and its underlying causes challenged and, I hope, tackled, rather than pay £40,000 a year to keep them in a prison cell? I hope that the McLeish commission will examine the need for sentencers and the public to have confidence in community alternatives to custody. That means that we must find ways in which to deal with breaches more effectively than we do at present.

We must ensure that community sentences are undertaken quickly. At least dispatching offenders to jail at the end of a trial has the benefit that justice is seen to be swift. Therefore, we are interested in any proposals to quicken the process of community disposals. Community sentences are not a cheap option; we need to ensure that they are properly resourced, and that the option has at its heart the safety of our communities and our countrymen.

Short-term sentences do not work. The vast majority of people who are sent to prison with a short-term sentence come out of prison and reoffend. The comparative figures for community sentences are seductive, but they must be carefully considered. A person who receives a short prison sentence may lose their job, family and home, which means that they are more likely to reoffend on release. Andrew McLellan, Clive Fairweather and other experts tell us that, due to overcrowding in prisons and other factors, a person in prison does not have access to the skills and programmes to which they should have access to tackle their underlying behaviour or addictions. That must be changed. However, staff in facilities such as the link centre in Edinburgh prison and throughout the SPS do good work.

Scotland's prison population is reaching record levels, and we must all be concerned about that. We welcome the chance to take part in this debate and to propose options to Parliament.

I move amendment S3M-1385.2.1, to insert at end:

"recognises the need to reduce the number of low-level receptions into custody for short-term sentences by focusing on tough community sentences that pay back into the community for the harm caused; further notes the need to improve treatment for those with mental health problems and drug and alcohol addictions, thus addressing the underlying causes of offending, and calls on the Scottish Government to build on schemes which provide offenders with education and skills training for work, not crime."

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party 10:56, 21 February 2008

Members have mentioned that the prison population in Scotland, at more than 8,000, is the highest that has ever been recorded here. In percentage terms, our prison population is among the highest in Europe. Is that the hallmark of a safer society or an indication of failure in our system? Prison population rates in the United States of America and Russia are around five times higher than those in Scotland, but the rates in countries such as Norway and Japan are around half of those in Scotland. Which of those societies are safer to live in?

Two thirds of all those who go to prison in Scotland reoffend within two years, and our female prison population has almost doubled in the past 10 years. That suggests that we are getting something badly wrong. The available data suggest that we are dumping people in prison who could be dealt with by other means. Last year, for example, we sent 6,000 people to prison for defaulting on fines. Most of those people were in prison for less than a fortnight. There must also be concern about the large numbers of women who end up in prison, particularly from the south-west of Scotland. Recent figures that have been made available to me suggest that 14 per cent of the entire female prison population come from that area. In her recent report, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Kathleen Marshall, suggested that women may not be able to get access to community sentencing because of the lack of child care. Tackling that problem is not being soft on crime or criminals. We must deal appropriately with women with child care responsibilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

As we have heard, a person who goes to prison is more likely to return to prison than not to do so. Evidence from the south west Scotland community justice authority shows that reoffending rates for those who have been imprisoned run at 75 per cent, but those for people who have received community penalties are around 39 per cent. I think that that was mentioned.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

The reoffending rates for people who have been in prison and for those who have received community sentences are often quoted, but does the member really think that we can compare reoffending rates for people who have been appropriately sentenced in the community with those for people who have received prison sentences? Is that a fair like-for-like comparison?

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

Such a comparison certainly gives us cause for concern. We must consider and analyse the figures rather than ignore or run away from them. Mr McLeish will probably consider that aspect of the matter in his review.

Some people have claimed that it is virtually impossible to get the jail in Scotland, but it appears that a high number of people who are not otherwise deemed to be dangerous end up in Scotland's jails. The existence of overcrowded prisons means that we may not be able to focus on serious offenders. The commission that is being chaired by Henry McLeish is considering the use of custody. It will be interesting to find out the commission's recommendations in the spring.

The community justice authorities are considering how we could increase community disposals to reduce the high number of short-term sentences. To deliver that, we must re-examine the use and quality of social inquiry reports, which may better inform and assist our sheriffs in considering sentences. Such measures represent a mature and practical approach to the problems that we face with our rising prison population.

On whether prisons should be publicly or privately run, the Government has made it clear that responsibility for the future development of the prison estate lies with the public sector, as responsibility lies with that sector when people are deprived of their liberty. That said, I am sure that prison officers in both public and private prisons deliver a high-quality professional service within the constraints of the resources at their disposal. Their dedication and commitment are first class and must be recognised.

Surely the challenge for us in Scotland is to tackle reoffending and the ensuing high prisoner numbers. We must recognise and act on the emerging trends if we are to have any realistic prospect of tackling the problems.

I am pleased to support the Government's amendment.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 11:00, 21 February 2008

Most people believe that there are people in Scottish prisons who should not be in them, but they also know that prisons house serious criminals and dangerous people who have rightly been put behind bars so that our communities and law-abiding people will be protected.

There is serious pressure on prison capacity in Scotland. I have spoken previously in the chamber about the significant number of people who are serving prison sentences for misdemeanours such as fine defaulting—Margaret Smith, Pauline McNeill and other members mentioned them, too. I do not think that those people should be in prison. They should make reparations to the taxpayer in their communities. They should not cost us money as a result of being locked up inappropriately. Seeking more effective non-custodial punishments for such misdemeanours should be a priority for the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, albeit that proper custodial provision for serious offenders should always be available. Keeping the public safe is the Government's first duty and a main function of prisons. The Scottish people have the right to expect that everything possible will be done to minimise the risk from serious violent or dangerous offenders and to expect the Government to give sufficient priority to that, but members of the public think that the system is frequently not working and they are losing confidence.

There is a role for the open prison system in rehabilitating offenders, although there are problems with it. The system is breaking down in assessing people who find themselves in it and in assessing when a prisoner is fit and trustworthy enough to make unescorted visits from prison. Robert Foye's absconding from Castle Huntly open prison and his subsequent rape of one of my constituents in August last year is a case in point. My constituents in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth think that the system is not working, and they are losing confidence fast. How can they believe that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Government are giving sufficient priority to minimising the risks from serious or violent offenders when such a crime has been perpetrated on their doorstep by someone who had been sentenced for a serious act of violence against an officer of the law? What message does that send to people? What respect do we have for our justice system and our law officers when that person can be allowed out of prison with seeming consent? There can be no excuse for a system that does not result in the proper custodial provision that its prisoners require and which the public expect. The safety of the public must be paramount.

The frequent movement of prisoners, the difficulty in achieving continuity in respect of those who manage offenders and the varying availability of facilities and capacity to address educational, health and other needs of prisoners are obstacles to the punishment and rehabilitation of prisoners. There is a pressing need to take a long, hard look at the prison estate and to ask whether it meets the needs of the modern justice system, prisoners and the community, as well as rehabilitation needs and the need for links between communities and prisoners.

The Government must ensure that there are secure prison environments for the most dangerous long-term prisoners and that its prison estate has adequate provision. In short, a balance must be struck. We must provide for those who require to be imprisoned and ensure the safety and security that the public deserve.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 11:04, 21 February 2008

I struggle to think of any other area of the public sector in which 95 per cent of resources are devoted to men and 5 per cent are devoted to women, and in respect of which the publication of such statistics would not provoke scandalised cries of outrage about discrimination, demands for investigations and inquiries by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and other bodies of that ilk, and a feminist uprising throughout Scotland.

However, the fact that 95 per cent of the prison population is male and only 5 per cent is female is cause for complaint not about inequalities, but that the proportion of female prisoners is too high. One would expect the make-up of the prison population to reflect the proportions in which men and women commit crimes that merit imprisonment, but that is not the case. The most recent figures show that, overall, 16 per cent—not 5 per cent—of convicted criminals are female. Women commit 12 per cent of crimes of violence, more than 8 per cent of homicides and serious assaults, and 21 per cent of crimes of dishonesty. If women make up only 5 per cent of the prison population, it would appear that our judges, in passing sentences in individual cases, are already less willing to jail convicted women. Notwithstanding that, the present Government's policy, and that of its predecessor, is to deplore the fact that as much as 5 per cent of the prison population is female, to lament the increase in the number of women in prison, and to seek a reduction in that figure as an act of policy. What nonsense.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

By all means; let us hear more nonsense.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I am quite alarmed at David McLetchie's view. Many sheriffs say that they are concerned about the women that come before them and they think that prison is the wrong place for them. Perhaps the member should take a different perspective.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I take a different perspective, and I will tell the member why.

We can all visualise the statue of justice: it is a woman bearing a sword in her right hand and scales in the other. In many depictions, she is blindfold, not because justice should be blind to the truth—far from it—but to illustrate the principle that the law must be administered without fear or favour, and without reference to the rank, wealth, race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, and, yes, gender of the accused. That is a fundamental principle of our justice system, which we discard at our peril.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative


If a person is found guilty of a crime that would merit a sentence of imprisonment for a man, it should merit a sentence of imprisonment for a woman. It is as simple as that.

I keep hearing how many women prisoners are victims of abuse and exploitation, drug addicts and the like, and that that is in some way an explanation for their conduct and a justification for non-imprisonment. However, our jails are full of men who could point to equally depressing personal histories, so I find that rationalisation to be deeply unconvincing.

Our justice system works on the basis of free will, of people knowing the difference between right and wrong, and of them being culpable and punishable for actions that they have undertaken freely or recklessly. That should be the case irrespective of the gender of the guilty person. The idea that some female criminals should somehow escape imprisonment as one of the range of punishments that is available to our courts is nonsense, and a total betrayal of one of the fundamental principles of our justice system. It is to the shame of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, the present Administration and its predecessor, that they pander to such nonsense. We on this side of the chamber will have none of it.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 11:08, 21 February 2008

I have seldom seen David McLetchie so passionate, but he is being passionate about a cul-de-sac up which we ought not to go. There are more significant issues to be dealt with than the line that Mr McLetchie encourages us to take. Therefore, I move from women to children and welcome the cabinet secretary's announcements on the ending of detention for children. We are dealing with numbers in the 20s, and it is eminently possible to deal with the issue within the confines of the current estate.

There is a fairly stark difference between the Conservative motion and the major alternative that is being offered by the Government and Liberal Democrat amendment. My goodness—we know where we are with the Tories; they believe in prisons. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they believe that prisons deter and reform people. They want more of them and, despite the fact that Scotland already has more people in prison than any other country has, the Tories want more people, including more women, to be put in prison.

However, it is an imperfect world. In their haste to roll over for a few crumbs from the SNP Government's table, the Tories agreed to a reduction in prison funding to pay for more policemen. There is some doubt about where that leaves the Tories now; perhaps they will enlighten us during the debate.

No one in the chamber seriously suggests that dangerous prisoners who have been convicted of serious crimes should not be locked up for the protection of the public. The issue is about those at the lower end of the scale, where some consideration of why they have offended and what can be done about them is in the public interest. We know that a high percentage of those who come before the children's panel at the age of five as a result of parental abuse and neglect end up coming before the court at the age of 17 or 18 for criminal or antisocial behaviour. We know that 70 per cent of prisoners have some form of mental health problem, 50 per cent have a drugs problem, one third have an alcohol problem on admission, and substantial numbers have learning and literacy difficulties. We also know that the average cost of a prison place is around £40,000 per year per prisoner. We must at least ask whether the public get good value for that money.

From those statistics, it is possible to identify a general picture of the high cost to the public of short-term prison sentences that do not and, because of their shortness, could not succeed in rehabilitating the prisoner. They certainly give limited protection to the public for the period of detention, but that is relatively short, and the prisoners have to come out at some relatively near point in the future, possibly with tensions that have not been dealt with.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

Which of the following short-term prisoners should not receive a custodial sentence: the knife carrier; the wife beater; the person who drives whilst drunk and disqualified; or the shoplifter who has done it 50 times?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I will not get into that sort of debate, because that is not the issue. At the end of the day, prisoners who are serving short-term sentences have to come out in a short period of time. We need to consider the contributory factors to criminality in our fractured society and decide what we want to do to reduce crime and get better benefit from the public's money.

The Prison Reform Trust recently produced a report, based on interviews with Scottish prison staff, which estimated that up to 2,250 prisoners out of 7,000-odd have a technical learning difficulty or require some additional support with learning. Scandalously, the report also said that few procedures were in place to identify and deal with such issues in prison, and that little information arrives with the prisoner, despite the need for a social inquiry report before prison sentences are handed out.

I lodged a motion in the Parliament on that issue, which was signed by no fewer than 34 members from all parties, including Mary Scanlon. I hope that the minister will say whether he is in a position to take the issue forward. The protection of the public will be dealt with by changing the behaviour of the person who has come before the courts, and by dealing with some of the reasons why people are aggressive and take to alcohol.

I have been sparing in my praise of this Government's actions in the past, but establishing the McLeish commission is worth while. Its report will give the measured support to progressive and effective penal policies that, regrettably, the Conservative motion does not give.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party 11:13, 21 February 2008

Once again, I find myself coming relatively low down the batting order in a very interesting debate and wondering what is left to say. I will start with some basic principles that have not yet been articulated but which underpin much of what has been said.

When I studied the subject, I found three reasons why we punish offenders. The first was stated to be retribution. It gives us a sense of justice, or an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If someone thinks something is good for me, I want them to find out what it feels like. That leads to the second reason, which is deterrence. At this point, I dive into the prison debate and ask whether there is any evidence that the possibility of going to prison deters people from doing criminal things. For the people who are in the chamber at the moment, it might, but I respectfully suggest that, for the people who end up in prison, it is not an issue. Prison as a deterrent is not worth any further discussion.

The third reason for punishment, and for imprisonment in particular, is that it should protect the public. We have said quite a lot about that point. Surely the most convincing reason for locking anyone up is that there is no safe place other than prison for the offender to be, given their history of interaction with the public. If we could hold on to that idea, we could halve our prison population.

It is the other half that we should consider—what happens when somebody goes into prison when they do not need to? It costs us a great deal of money. I suspect that the sum is dropping slightly; the walls are not getting any more expensive and more people are going in, so I guess that the figure of £40,000 is coming down, for all the wrong reasons.

When someone goes into prison, it must harm their children and their dependants. Prisoners are very likely to lose their accommodation, their job and contact with family. We know all that, so I will not rehearse it. They also suffer deterioration in mental and physical health and they are likely to be introduced to drugs, if they have not met them before, and the criminal culture, if they were not already part of it.

Who is in prison? We have many more folk in prison than certain European countries, and we must ask ourselves why. I am sure that Henry McLeish and his colleagues are doing so.

I will pick up on various points made by members. I must agree with Pauline McNeill that people are in prison because judges and sheriffs think that they should be there. We in Parliament should not challenge what justices, judges and sheriffs are doing. If they feel that people should go to prison, that is because they do not see a credible alternative. I am with all those who say that we must work to ensure that there are credible alternatives. Until those who give the sentences believe in the credibility of the alternatives, nothing will change.

Having said that, I also agree that people should not be imprisoned for defaulting on a fine. That costs us a huge amount of money. There is no value in sending someone to prison for fine default.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

Can Nigel Don say how many fine defaulters are in prison?

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

No, I cannot. I would rather stick to principles than facts. I accept that the number is not huge, but the point is that if someone is not going to pay their fine, they should not have been given it in the first place. The basic principle is that we need to have alternative disposals, so that sheriffs and judges can hand down disposals that are credible, effective and enforceable and which will keep people for whom prison is wrong out of prison.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 11:17, 21 February 2008

My constituents in the Seaton area of Aberdeen know why prisons matter. They know who it is who commits most of the housebreaking and petty thefts in their neighbourhood. They know when he is up in court and how long he will serve when the sentence is handed down. They know when he is coming out of prison and they check that their doors are locked and that the kids have not left anything valuable lying outside.

Prisons matter to those constituents of mine because prisons give them respite, not from the crimes of a serious criminal but from the crimes of a persistent repeat offender. Seaton is no different in that respect from communities throughout the land. Prisons matter because the public require protection from those who break the law and because the victims of crime rightly demand that the perpetrators should be punished.

Crimes are committed daily in Aberdeen, as they are in every city. Courts deal with offenders week in, week out, and some of them are sent to jail. Aberdeen prison has often been the most overcrowded in the land, not because more crimes that justify imprisonment are committed in Aberdeen but because the prison is an old, cramped, Victorian building that is not fit for purpose in the 21st century.

The decision to replace Craiginches with a modern purpose-built prison ought to be welcome, but its intended replacement is not in Aberdeen. Instead, SNP ministers announced in the summer that a new prison is to be built in Peterhead to serve both as a serious sex offenders prison for the whole of Scotland and as the local prison for the north-east, including Aberdeen.

Elected representatives of all parties on Aberdeen prison visiting committee believe that Aberdeen should continue to have a community prison. They have not argued that the existing prison should be retained, but they have asked ministers to consider providing at least a remand unit in the city, so that prisoners who have not yet been convicted are not held in a prison that houses serious sex offenders and is 40 miles away by road from Aberdeen sheriff court. I am sorry to say that they received neither a direct answer from ministers nor any response to their request for a meeting with ministers.

Remand prisoners need to appear in court for their cases to be considered and they often need to appear more than once. It is surely fundamental to prudent prison estate management that ministers should seek to place prisoners who are on remand as near as possible to the court in which they will appear, to avoid the on-going cost of transporting them many times further than is now the case.

Aberdeen prison visiting committee has not asked ministers for a commitment to a new prison in Aberdeen, although there is a case for putting a prison where prisoners' family members can have access to it, in the interests of the rehabilitation of the prisoners. The members of the committee have not even asked ministers for a commitment to a new remand centre in Aberdeen. They have simply asked the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the First Minister to meet them to discuss their concerns, and they have asked ministers to support a feasibility study to consider whether there is an economic case for the Scottish Prison Service to invest in a modern, purpose-built remand centre in Aberdeen.

Ministers should meet those with knowledge and experience of the issues in Aberdeen and they should agree to consider the case for a remand centre in the absence of a prison in Scotland's third city. That does not seem to me to be too much to ask.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 11:20, 21 February 2008

Prison reform is an important and emotive issue and I welcome today's debate. Like other members, I welcome the minister's statement with regard to children.

As members including the minister and Robert Brown have said, proportionally Scotland has one of the largest prison populations in the world. Despite that, reoffending rates continue to rise. As it stands, the system is ineffectual and expensive and there are widespread problems with drugs and overcrowding. Sixty per cent of those who enter prison reoffend within two years. Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, Dr McLellan, has consistently warned that overcrowding is making it impossible for those who work in prisons to contribute as well as they might to the reduction of reoffending.

We are long since past the stage when it could be said that the people of Scotland are best served by the current system. If we are to move forward, as the Scottish Liberal Democrats have always maintained, the culture of our prison system must change to incorporate further community sentencing for minor offences and thus cut reoffending. The statistics speak for themselves: more then 20 per cent fewer criminals who are given community sentences reoffend.

As Margaret Smith said, we must ensure that such disposals are well resourced and immediate. Willie Coffey referred to the problem of women with families doing community service. I suggest that that shows that more resources are needed.

Obviously, such a change will not happen overnight, and more research is required in some areas. Among the possibilities that must be explored further is the notion of weekend prisons, where people are deprived of their leisure time to complete useful work projects in the community. The scheme could be used for the offenders to whom Cathie Craigie referred. As Nigel Don said, those offenders are not a threat to society, so why are they in prison? They should not be there. A pilot scheme in England and Wales met with some success but struggled to be cost effective. That barrier must be overcome if the idea is to be developed further.

There are numerous examples of effective systems from abroad. Indeed, in this month's Holyrood magazine, Keith Simpson, the head of restorative justice at Sacro, pointed to Finland as a valuable example of a country where community sentences, backed up by strong deferred prison terms, have proved effective.

As I would expect, the Conservative motion, without saying so explicitly, implicitly presupposes the maintenance of the current prevalence of custodial sentences. The Conservatives have talked a lot about early release—a policy that the previous Conservative Government at Westminster introduced—as well as the shortage of prison places with respect to current demand. I am concerned that such an approach offers no answers to the problems that are inherent in Scotland's prison system. Rather than being an attempt to examine the viable options, it represents simply a failed status quo. However, I agree with Bill Aitken that we must tackle the problem of drugs entering prisons.

The core of the problem is self-evident. As my colleague Margaret Smith said, Edward Garnier, the Conservative shadow minister for home affairs at Westminster, concedes that imprisoning criminals

"is hugely expensive and not working."

I began by welcoming a debate on prison reform and will close by saying that it is reform that is required, not the maintenance of the failing status quo. Our reactive and overly custodial-based sentencing system is what has got us here. What is required is a proactive system that concentrates on cutting reoffending. The cabinet secretary used the word "compassion" several times; perhaps we all need to show a bit more of that. I support the Executive's amendment and our amendment to it.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour 11:24, 21 February 2008

The amendment in the name of Pauline McNeill makes our position very clear. We differ from Nigel Don in that we believe that prison acts as a deterrent and plays a crucial role in ensuring that the perpetrators of crime are aware that prison sentences are always an option. As Bill Aitken said, community disposals, which are alternatives to prison, should be robust measures and carefully audited to ensure that they are not seen as a soft option for the perpetrator.

Some members might not relate this issue to today's debate, but we are clear that victims of crime must be considered in this discussion. I offer a constructive criticism of the current Government: much of what we have heard from it so far has supported the perpetrators, but we want to ensure that the victims of crime are also supported.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Does Paul Martin accept that to best protect the public we must stop people's disposition to commit crimes in the first place and therefore deter them through reforming and rehabilitating their attitudes?

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

Robert Brown will admit that following that philosophy is easier said than done, although what he says is a serious challenge to us all. We on the Labour benches are clear that we must put victims at the forefront of many of our strategies. We did that in partnership with our Liberal Democrat colleagues and delivered for victims. I ask the McLeish commission to take seriously the views of the various victims organisations throughout Scotland.

Of course we support rehabilitation and alternatives to custody; that has always been the case. Most of us in the chamber support that philosophy. However, we need to acknowledge that our communities need to be protected from the individuals in our communities who pose a serious threat. We will not support the scrapping of short-term sentences. We will not release 600 housebreakers, 1,600 individuals who have been convicted of common assault or 60 who have been convicted of serious assault. I ask the minister in his summing-up to confirm that those statistics are correct and I challenge him to make it clear that he will be releasing those individuals if he scraps short-term sentences.

Nigel Don referred to the need for sheriffs to be free to make disposals. However, it would require legislation to deliver that philosophy. The early actions document that the SNP produced as part of its manifesto process said that an SNP Government would deliver a criminal justice bill, which would give us the very opportunity that Nigel Don mentioned. If the minister is serious about delivering alternatives to custody and opportunities for rehabilitation, why will it take over two years for him to deliver the criminal justice bill that he said would be an early action of the Scottish Government? The minister needs to answer that question and he needs to say where the money is. He said that he would make available £35 million to deal with rehabilitation. Again, he needs to make his position clear. I ask members to support the amendment in the name of Pauline McNeill.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 11:28, 21 February 2008

This has been a useful and worthwhile debate. A great deal unites us in the chamber, notwithstanding Mr Martin's best efforts. It is clear from the speeches of Labour and Liberal Democrat members that there is a great deal of consensus on how we can work together to tackle a national problem. Mr Martin is right that we have to provide resources and put victims first. Indeed, on Monday I was in Glasgow—although not in Mr Martin's consistency—to visit Victim Support Scotland. All that is valid, but we cannot go on as we are.

Pauline McNeill is right that we have to ensure that those who sentence have faith in the community sentences available—our judiciary does not hand down sentences out of relish for putting people away. We have to ensure that communities feel that community sentences are working and that the judiciary feels that it has sentencing options available.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I seek to be helpful. Will the cabinet secretary share with us his thoughts about how such community sentences can be made to work more effectively? The problem is that sentencers and the community have no confidence in the sentences.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I will gladly move on to address that point. In response to Ms McNeill's point about reparation orders, I say that the reason why we decided to dispense with such orders was that they were not being used. We recognise that options have to be available to sheriffs, but when sheriffs do not use them, we should dispense with them. We are more than happy to meet members and discuss that matter, as well as family contact centres. We want to ensure that there is payback—whether through a formal reparation order, community service, probation or whatever else. Such matters can be worked out and, as I said, the door is open to try to do so. We accept Pauline McNeill's point.

On Low Moss, the delay that came about from the nonsensical, absurd system that saw millions of pounds—

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

When will Low Moss be open to prisoners?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The position remains the same as before; we are on track to meet the appointed date, but with a slight delay because of what we had to do. I am more than happy to return to the matter with the member. I give her an assurance that I am as anxious as she is to make sure that Low Moss is available to ease the pressure on our prison estate.

We heard from Willie Coffey, Cathie Craigie, Robert Brown and others who recognise that we have to have tough community punishments. It is perverse that, when somebody in our community is injured by a crime being inflicted on them, the agony is compounded by taxpayers having to pay for the criminal to have free bed and board and television. Because of the nature of our system, we cannot even give them any work. It is much better that they should be put out there to do some work in the community to repay through the sweat of their brow the damage that they have done. That is what our communities want. [Interruption.] Cathy Craigie is right to challenge me—I tell her that I am not criticising her in any way. It is up to us to deliver what our communities want.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I am sorry; I want to make some movement in my speech. I do not seek to put words in the member's mouth and I accept that it is the Opposition's legitimate role to challenge the Government. We can work together to tackle that perverse situation that I described.

I will deal with the Conservatives. Mr Aitken and I have discussed today's subject, whether over a pint in Babbity Bowster or in the chamber. I accept his points and know where he is coming from. However, I was somewhat scandalised by Mr McLetchie's position. It showed cant, hypocrisy and a total lack of humanity, which is what we might expect from him.

As the old saying goes, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I will give some examples. A gentleman who was sentenced to serve four years for perjury and perverting the course of justice was released after two years spent in open prison, including in an open prison called HMP North Sea Camp. I speak of Jeffrey Archer and I do not remember scandalised Tories speaking out against that. Jonathan Aitken received 18 months for perjury but was released after serving only seven months, much of which was spent in the open estate. The situation was compounded by his being released on an electronic tagging order to serve the balance of two months. Again, I do not remember the Tories being outraged. But oh dear me, when it comes to the wee lassie of heroin-addicted parents from Pennywell or Penilee, the Tories will detain her, if need be, until the day she goes to meet her maker. As everyone in the chamber acknowledges, some people are a danger to our communities and we have to protect those communities.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I am sorry; I am in my last minute. It is unacceptable that the Tories fail to show the same compassion to the heroin-addicted girl from Pennywell or Penilee that they show to the cad and bounder who was caught with his fingers in the cookie jar and then rehabilitated and welcomed back to the club. We will always treat with compassion the wee lassie who was neglected by her ma, abused by her da and separated from her gran—the only one who ever loved her—and who is more likely to hang herself in Cornton Vale than to harm anyone else if she were released. We recognise how such people need to be treated. The cant and hypocrisy from the Tories is outrageous.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative 11:34, 21 February 2008

I welcome the change in the Cabinet Secretary for Justice's approach. It appeared to me that, so far this year, Mr MacAskill has been using justice debates to pick constitutional battles with Westminster in an attempt to hype up the tension between the Labour Government in London and the SNP Administration in Edinburgh. However, when I watched the television earlier this week, I realised that the constitutional battle for this week would not be justice related but would instead be about the Scottish Government's—or, more particularly, Alex Salmond's—territorial claims to the great border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Although I would always warmly welcome the people of Berwick to my Berwickshire constituency, I remind the Government that it should be getting on with the job of governing Scotland rather than picking constitutional fights, seeking to push Scotland's border southwards and promoting the First Minister's empire-building agenda.

The debate has been useful for a number of reasons, not least because it has given us the opportunity to consider the failure of the previous Administration's policy on prisons and to highlight the issues that the new Government must tackle.

We believe that prison should serve four functions in our society: to protect the public; to deter; to punish; and to reform criminals. I am sure that most members—at least, those of us who are Conservatives—agree that the most important of those four functions is protection of the public from the crimes that are committed by the minority.

However, as Pauline McNeill, Margaret Smith and others have pointed out, the role of the Scottish Government should be not to decide sentencing policy but to support the courts in making sentencing disposals and to ensure that adequate provision exists to allow those disposals to be implemented. The judiciary must be allowed to maintain its independence, and judges and sheriffs should be left in charge of sentencing.

I am concerned that that view is not necessarily shared by the SNP Government. For example, the SNP and others have stated that women do not belong in prison, but we must face up to the fact that half of the prisoners in Cornton Vale are there because they committed a violent crime. As David McLetchie said, to single them out for special, kid-glove treatment just because they are women is wrong. A crime is a crime, regardless of the sex of the offender.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I want to make some progress; I am very short of time.

It is also important to remember that, according to the Government's figures, the average daily female prison population is only 5 per cent of the total average daily population of prisoners and young offenders.

That is not to say that I disagree with the idea that some people should not be in prison. We have long argued that fine defaulters of either sex should not go to prison and that their fines should be deducted from their pay or the benefits that they receive.

The Scottish Conservatives have a zero tolerance approach to drugs in prison, as Bill Aitken said. A proactive programme is needed in every jail, whereby agencies work with addicts both while they are in prison and when they get out. Prisoners who want to get off drugs should be given help and encouragement to do so. We welcome the Government's new policy on tackling drugs, but we hope that it will also penetrate the misuse of drugs in our jails.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that, as Lewis Macdonald said, if our dedicated prison staff are to do what they are qualified to do, which is to work with people to address addiction problems and underlying problems such as dyslexia and low levels of literacy and numeracy, they must be able to concentrate on those people? That means that they cannot simply be asked to provide control of prisoners for a day or two, a week or two or a month or two. If we are to allow SPS staff to fulfil their core functions, we must stop putting low-level offenders in prison for short periods of time. It is by enabling our excellent qualified prison staff to deliver what is necessary that we will tackle heroin abuse.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

The Government's agenda appears to be focused on the criminal rather than the victim. We need to face the harsh reality that people who go into prison often come out with a drug habit or develop a worse drug habit than they had when they went in. Until the Government of the day, regardless of its political persuasion, tackles that problem, we will not address the core problem behind the rising crime rates in Scotland.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I want to make some progress; I am very short of time.

We welcome the Government's new drugs policy, but we are concerned that it will not do enough to tackle drug misuse in prisons.

Robust measures must be applied to everyone who supplies drugs to prisoners. Visiting privileges should be withdrawn and, in persistent cases, criminal charges brought. In short, a carrot-and-stick approach must be used to help those prisoners who wish to be helped and to deal responsibly with those who break the rules.

The vital first step must be the comprehensive application of drug treatment and testing orders to every prisoner when they are admitted to prison and at regular intervals thereafter. If we do not know the extent of the problem, we cannot hope to address it. If a prisoner refuses to comply, they must be treated as if they were dependent on drugs and their privileges must be ended. The benefits to society will be great if we find the political will to take on that task. It will result in lower rates of reoffending, less crime and a safer prison environment, and—given that so much crime in Scotland is fuelled by drugs—will be good for addicts, for families and for society as a whole.

It is clear that the Scottish Government is more interested in emptying Scottish jails than in protecting the public. When it comes to tackling crime, the public want prisoners to be in prison rather than out in the community. However, the SNP seems to want prisoners to be out in the community, given its policy of ensuring that people who get sentences of six months or less receive their punishment in the community. The Government should learn lessons from the mistakes of the previous Administration. It should steer clear of sentencing policy and, if necessary, should continue to build more prisons to accommodate our criminals and to keep the people of Scotland safe. I support the motion in Bill Aitken's name.