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Independent Prison Monitors

– in the Scottish Parliament on 15th January 2020.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The first item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-19364, in the name of Alexander Stewart, on the valuable role of independent prison monitors. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that, on 31 August 2015, the first independent prison monitors (IPM) went into Scotland’s 15 prisons, including HMP Glenochil in Clackmannanshire, to ensure humane treatment and conditions for prisoners; believes that, in the months leading up to the launch, HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) had been on a journey of change by developing a new structure for prison monitoring to replace the previous work done by the long-established prison visiting committees; notes that IPMs are volunteers from communities who visit prisons on at least a weekly basis to observe practices and to speak to prisoners about their experiences; understands that this information about conditions and treatment is collated and that the regional and national findings help detect patterns and provide information for continuous improvement; notes that this system is supported by a team of four prison monitoring co-ordinators based at HMIPS along with an advisory group with expertise in human rights, criminology, prisons and healthcare; acknowledges that each IPM holds statutory authority under the Public Services Reform (Inspection and Monitoring of Prisons) (Scotland) Order 2015; believes that the IPMs play an essential role in the justice system in aiming to ensure that prisoners’ human rights are upheld and that life in prison contributes to rehabilitation; considers that the IPM system has brought a new group of people from a wide range of backgrounds into prisons to act as the eyes and ears of prisoners and their families, and believes that the commitment, motivation and enthusiasm of the growing team of IPMs has been tangible over the last four years and this system has gone a long way to improving Scotland’s prisons, as well as informing best practice in independent monitoring to protect prisoners’ human rights.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

I am delighted and grateful to have the privilege of opening this members’ business debate. I pay tribute to my fellow members of the Scottish Parliament who supported the motion, which allowed the debate to take place today.

The independent prison monitor is a brand-new volunteering role for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland. The role, which was launched on 31 August 2015, replaced work that was previously done by the long-established prison visiting committees. I pay tribute to all those individuals who were members of the PVCs, because their role was vital. The new independent prison monitor role takes that work to the next level. Many of the individuals who previously sat on PVCs have chosen to become IPMs. The IPM role, which holds statutory authority under the Public Services Reform (Inspection and Monitoring of Prisons) (Scotland) Order 2015, is essential within the Scottish justice system.

At the end of August 2015, the first IPMs took up their posts. They went into Scotland’s prisons including Her Majesty’s Prison Glenochil, in Clackmannanshire; HM Prison and Young Offenders Institution Cornton Vale, in Stirling; and HMP Perth. All those facilities are in the region of Mid Scotland and Fife, which I represent.

The role of the new volunteers was, in essence, to ensure humane treatment and conditions for prisoners. In the months leading up to the launch, HMIPS had been on a journey of change and had developed a new structure for prison monitoring, which as I said replaced the long-established PVCs.

The independent monitors, who are volunteers, are people from the community. In my capacity as a councillor for Perth and Kinross Council, I was aware of this work because councillors were asked to sit on PVCs and made up a large segment of them; a few still do that today, but not as many and that has created an opportunity to broaden horizons among the individuals who want to participate in the IPM role.

IPMs visit prisons on at least a weekly basis, on a rota, to observe conditions and speak to prisoners about their experiences. They work alongside prison officers and prison management. Having that contact is vital, because it creates confidence in the monitoring process. The skills that IPMs bring to the role are also vital, and I will speak about that later.

IPMs look at conditions and treatment, and subjects such as healthcare and work placements; they can also act as liaison on family matters. The information that they gather is collated by the prisons on a regional and national level, and the findings that are provided ensure that there is continuous improvement.

The system is supported by a team of professional monitoring co-ordinators, who are based at HMIPS and operate in an advisory capacity to ensure that monitors get the training and support that they deserve to enable them to fulfil their role. They have expertise in human rights, criminology, prisons and healthcare.

Monitors play an essential role in the justice system, and in aiming to ensure that prisoners’ human rights are upheld and that life in prison contributes to rehabilitation. The monitor system has brought into prisons a wide range of individuals who act as the eyes and ears for prisoners; they can also have a connection with prisoners’ families, which ensures that there is close contact.

The role of the independent prison monitor is wide and varied, as I said. Monitors need training, because they can find themselves dealing with harrowing situations. They might deal with petty criminals or with dangerous criminals who have committed serious crimes. They might have to visit individuals who have been placed in segregated units for their own protection.

We know that for a number of years there have been problems of overcrowding, drug use and violence in our prisons and that many prisoners require medical support, depending on their needs. From time to time there are suicides in prisons, and monitors might be involved in that regard—a monitor might have interviewed the prisoner a few days or hours before. Monitors must sometimes deal with individuals who protest—some prisoners go on hunger strike and others take part in dirty protests.

Individuals who volunteer as monitors have to take on board that whole range of circumstances. A monitor brings their experience of the outside world when they go into a prison, whether it is a young offenders institution, an open prison or a maximum security prison.

As a result of my role as a councillor, I am aware of many such individuals. I pay tribute to them all. My sister Heather became a prison visitor in the old prison visiting committee system back in 1999 and she has continued in her role; I am aware of the commitment that she has given to her role.

Monitors are there to give an independent view and, if an investigation needs to be made, to ensure that the results are dealt with in a balanced way. In addition to observing and monitoring, all monitors produce reports on their findings. The regular monitoring and inspection of prisons and other places of detention provides an important safeguard and a reassurance to the public. Monitors identify areas of good and bad practice.

We know that some individuals in the prison environment want to create difficulties. However, it is important that prisoners have the chance to sound off to an independent person who is not a prison officer or the prison governor and is therefore not part of the prison regime.

Monitors are required to produce regular reports, which is important. They ensure that standards are upheld and that the law and international and professional guidelines are complied with, so that we can all be confident that our prisons are well run. The reports contain statements of fact in that regard.

First and foremost, the independent prison monitoring system is designed to assist in the running of prisons and to encourage transparency and openness.

The commitment, motivation and enthusiasm of the ever-growing team of independent prison monitors is tangible. Over the past four years or so, the system has gone a long way towards informing best practice, thus safeguarding human rights and ensuring that Scotland’s prisons are better places.

I pay tribute to everyone who has taken on the role of prison monitor. The experience that monitors bring to the role makes a difference. Monitors are professional individuals who give their time and talents to support prison inmates and ensure that rehabilitation is the focus, throughout Scotland.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I thank Alexander Stewart for giving us the opportunity to debate the important subject of prisons.

In session 2, I was my party’s spokesperson on prisons. Because of that role, and because there has long been a prison in my constituency, I have been to many prisons—not just in Scotland; I have been into prisons in Wales, France and Georgia, in the Caucasus. Different jurisdictions have different approaches to incarceration and the treatment of prisoners, but all prisons deal with the same, difficult part of our communities, that is, people who have got themselves into trouble through their deliberate—or sometimes inadvertent—actions.

People in prison are likely to have lower IQs than people in the population as a whole. There is a greater incidence of mental ill health in prisons, and a much higher proportion of prisoners are functionally illiterate and/or innumerate. There are substantial problems with the people who end up in prison, which are not necessarily as pervasive in the general population.

I have interviewed and listened to prisoners in a number of our prisons and it is always revealing to do that. The first thing that I learned is that most of the people in prison are remarkably similar to the people outside: they are not thinking criminal acts 24 hours a day or planning to be in prison.

As a community, we should be interested in punishment—the deprivation of liberty is a punishment—and we also want to protect our society from the more violent members of our prison population, which is a very small proportion of them. However, even more important, we also want to promote new behaviours and new beginnings for prisoners when they leave the prison.

The prisoners are, of course, isolated from their families and social circles. Therefore, the role of prison visitors, and now of the independent prison monitors, is very important in ensuring that those people have a proper connection with the outside world and someone independent of the system to whom they can take their concerns, whether those are valid or invalid. It is proper and necessary that they can bring their concerns to somebody’s attention.

As an example, I sat in a cell at Saughton with six, or it may have been eight, murderers who were on life sentences. The prison chaplain was at the door in case I was at risk, ready to shout to the staff if necessary, but I had a private conversation with the prisoners. One of them was quite interesting. While he had been out on licence, he was at the scene of another murder. He did not perpetrate the murder, but he wondered why he was recalled to prison. It is interesting that there is often a disconnect between the thinking of people in prisons and the criminal justice system and the thinking that we would like them to have.

Independent prison monitors play an important part in helping prisoners to understand what behaviour outside prison should look like and in keeping them, particularly those with long sentences, in touch with any changes that are happening. In my constituency, Peterhead prison was Scotland’s centre for sex offenders with sentences of more than four years. Some prisoners had been there for well over 10 years—sometimes more than 20 years—and they were totally disconnected from the world outside. They had few visitors, because many of their offences were committed against members of their own families.

I congratulate everyone who takes up the role of independent prison monitor. They have my thanks and, I suspect, the thanks of everyone here. They are a vital part of the system in helping prisoners to come out of prison a wee bit better than when they went in. I hope that they have every success in future.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

I, too, thank my colleague Alexander Stuart for securing this members’ business debate. Scotland’s independent prison monitors deserve our appreciation and recognition today.

The role of independent prison monitor was introduced and developed under the Public Services Reform (Inspection and Monitoring of Prisons) (Scotland) Order 2015, as has been mentioned. IPMs undertake the task of visiting prisons, of which there are 15 in Scotland, to ensure that the human rights of prisoners are met and that their treatment favours a path towards rehabilitation. The IPM team is made up of volunteers from local communities. They come from diverse backgrounds and bring a range of experience outside one set mould. For example, there is expertise in the current team in the areas of advocacy, educational management, criminal system reviews, detention monitoring and social work, to name but a few.

Each prison in Scotland is visited by one of the monitors at least once a week. Through that regular contact, the volunteers have a duty to observe prison life, noting how prisoners are treated and what their living conditions are like. Moreover, monitors investigate any issues that prisoners raise with them. That pathway is designed to be accessible, with prisoners able to contact the monitors in person during their visits, by making use of the IPM freephone number or by using a request box in prisons.

Scotland’s incarceration rate is one of the highest in Europe and the role of the independent prison monitors is therefore vital. Through their findings and reports, we can understand the nuanced and complex issues that prisoners may experience, which can often be hidden from view. Not only that, but their work can reflect the wider, systemic problems in our prisons that need to be addressed, such as staffing pressures relating to the rising prison population. That, in turn, helps to pinpoint patterns in our prison system at both regional and national levels.

At the heart of this voluntary role is a human rights-centred approach. Every individual deserves to have their human rights protected and that does not change when it comes to prisoners. Linked to that approach is the importance of confidentiality. When approached by prisoners, the IPM team endeavour to respond with the utmost sensitivity, fairness and respect. In addition, the team promotes HMIPS standards while maintaining the objectivity that is needed for handling sensitive cases.

The nature of the role of the IPM means that they enter prisons without preconceived ideas and it is paramount that they do so. By being wholly objective in their findings, the team members work with integrity to ensure that they make recommendations that are based on sound judgment and accurate records, after continual visits to prisons.

In 2018-19, the third full year of operation, a team of more than 120 IPMs recorded practice and assisted with prisoners’ requests. During that time, the IPMs volunteered more than 5,000 hours to this work and handled more than 900 requests from prisoners. The majority of such requests related to medical questions and issues with the prison regime. In my region of West Scotland, HMP Barlinnie had 65 IPM visits, with 100 prisoner requests. That speaks to the clear necessity of having IPMs drawing well-founded conclusions as part of our justice system in Scotland.

The work of the independent prison monitoring team could not be achieved without the co-operation of the governors and staff in each prison across Scotland, for which I am grateful. The observations that are made by the IPMs would certainly be more restricted in scope, and therefore less wide ranging in their recommendations, if such transparent and collaborative efforts were not made. Therefore, it is encouraging to see that those efforts are made.

Scotland’s independent prison monitors make a much-needed contribution to the improvement of our prisons. Their work, which is founded on diverse experience and sound observational judgment, deserves our on-going support.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I congratulate Alexander Stewart on securing this afternoon’s members’ business debate on the important issue of independent prison monitors.

As Alexander Stewart pointed out in his contribution, the first important thing to recognise is that the prison monitors are volunteers. People are giving up their time to go into prisons, liaise with prisoners and assess conditions, so it is excellent that Parliament is able to recognise and congratulate them on that important work. Their work in prisons is crucial, and some of the issues to do with prisons in Scotland that have been highlighted recently underline that fact.

Recently, the Justice Committee visited Barlinnie, which is due for renewal but not until at least 2024. It is fair to say that the committee was taken aback by the stark conditions in the prison. Recent reports from HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment highlighted some of the issues and challenges that we face. For example, there is serious overcrowding in Scottish prisons. Barlinnie is more than 50 per cent over capacity and many of the prisoners are sharing cells that were designed only for single occupancy. I have raised the issue in Parliament and I know that the Government has underlined its concerns.

I mention the overcrowding issue to give the context in which the independent prison monitors carry out their work. It is crucial that, building on the previous excellent work of prison visiting committees, we have groups of individuals who visit prisons throughout Scotland to speak to prisoners, make an assessment that can be fed back to prison governors and speak to the families outside the prison. Crucially, all that work helps to ensure that prisoners learn from their experience as they go through the system and are able to re-enter the community and play a positive role as a result of their rehabilitation. In the end, that will reduce reoffending rates, which will take the strain off the prison population and lead to a more settled community in the outside world.

One of Maurice Corry’s points that I want to emphasise is the importance of healthcare in prisons. From my experience in dealing with constituency cases, it is clear that healthcare can become a major challenge due to the conditions in which some prisoners are having to inhabit prisons. It is crucial that we ensure that prisoners have adequate support, particularly as they enter the final stages of their prison sentence and look to re-enter the community, so that they are returned to their families in a healthy state.

I again thank Alexander Stewart for bringing forward the debate. I recognise the role of independent prison monitors in dealing with the serious issues that we have in the Scottish prison system, and I thank them for their contribution.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I congratulate Alexander Stewart on lodging his important motion. I thank not only prison monitors but their predecessors, the prison visiting committees. When the change took place, there was concern that the work of the prison visiting committees was not valued, but that is not the case.

I want to talk about the basis for the work of IPMs, which is the optional protocol to the United Nations convention against torture. The United Kingdom chose to take up that option in 2003. Where the optional protocol differs from other aspects of the UN human rights system is in its emphasis on proactive prevention rather than reaction. We have heard examples of that. The main obligation that is placed on a state that ratifies the treaty is to set up an independent national preventative mechanism to undertake regular visits to places of detention and formulate recommendations to the authorities. It is about providing a constructive climate, which is what we have in Scotland’s prisons.

We have too many people in Scotland’s prisons—I know that that is not what today’s debate is about—and we need to have robust community alternatives and to ensure that the people in our prisons deserve to be there.

Prison monitors work to the inspector of prisons and I thank David Strang, who was previously in that post, and Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, who is the present inspector. I also thank Colin McConnell and all the staff of the Scottish Prison Service.

Like my colleague on the Justice Committee, James Kelly, I attended the visit to Barlinnie, which was illuminating. Many of us have visited prisons on many occasions.

I will now look at the two most recent examples of independent prison monitors’ reports on my local prison—Inverness prison—which are in a helpful format to act as briefing papers for parliamentarians. Decency is one of the issues that they look at, which I am sure members will agree is fundamental if we are taking a rights-based approach to a penal system. They talk about the staff and prisoners who work in the kitchen having a positive working relationship—we know how fundamental staff prisoner relationships are to having good order in prisons.

James Kelly talked about healthcare. There is a reference to healthcare in the prison monitors’ report on Inverness prison for April to June 2019, in which they talk about speaking to

“prisoners and staff regarding the provision of healthcare services. No issues or concerns were made.”

We would imagine that that would be the end of it, but they go on to say:

“Steps are taken by staff to ensure that prisoners suspected of having taken illegal substances are safe”.

I like that emphasis on the wellbeing of prisoners. There is an enforcement role to be played and we know that illegal substances are a challenge—

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

Having spoken to a number of prison staff over the past while, I know that their priority is ensuring that prisoners are safe. However, there is a huge issue regarding the health and safety of prison staff, who enter prison cells not knowing what prisoners might have taken. The impact on some prison staff has been pretty devastating.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I absolutely agree with Mr Findlay on that point. The issue is not confined to people in the Prison Service; it affects police officers in the community, other people who work in the community, and people in hospital services. That is why robust procedures to prevent the import of substances is very important.

The most recent report from the independent prison monitors talks about the fabric of the prison and a situation in which there was a lockdown but the prison staff made efforts to ensure that prisoners got a proper opportunity to access fresh air. Under the category

“Respect, autonomy and protection against mistreatment”, it very helpfully talks about the monitors observing

“staff providing guidance to prisoners on how to make use of the SPS complaints system”.

That is very important.

Finally, Mr Kelly and I encountered in Barlinnie prison the growing prevalence of people with additional needs in prisons and the inability of the estate to cope with that.

I thank Mr Stewart for lodging the motion. That we have independent volunteers who play the role that they play is a very positive thing.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I echo the thanks to Alexander Stewart for securing this important debate and for the way in which he set the scene. It is entirely appropriate that we put on record our collective gratitude to all those who have acted as independent prison monitors since their establishment in 2015.

Of course—John Finnie alluded to this—moving away from the previous system of prison visiting committees was not without its challenges or, indeed, its critics. I well recall that my colleague Alison McInnes and others voiced concerns at the time. There were questions about how expertise might be retained and how routine and comprehensive the oversight would be. Nevertheless, as Alexander Stewart explained very well, the current system has succeeded in allaying those fears and proving its worth over the past four years.

As the motion rightly observes, the 120 or so IPMs are drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds. That is the great strength of the approach. They act as

“the eyes and ears of prisoners and their families”, and they respond to issues that have been raised by prisoners or from observations that have been made during the course of prison visits, reporting formally on their findings to the chief inspector.

Since 2015, monitors have volunteered more than 5,000 hours of their time in prisons on 917 occasions and have dealt with more than 900 requests from prisoners. I think that James Kelly made that important point. Their purpose, of course, is to ensure that prisoners’ human rights are upheld and that life in prison contributes to rehabilitation.

As we are all aware, the role has been made increasingly difficult as a result of the spiralling prison population and the levels of overcrowding that we now see across Scotland’s prison estate. That is pertinent to the debate. We lock up a higher proportion of our population than any other country in Europe, with the exception of Turkey and Russia. Unfortunately, rather than seeking to find solutions to address that, some of Mr Stewart’s colleagues appear intent on exacerbating the situation. I strongly suspect that Mr Stewart feels as uncomfortable as many of us do with some of the more bellicose rhetoric that is used by his colleagues north and south of the border, which certainly risks making an already difficult situation worse.

As the chief inspector of prisons, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, made clear in her most recent report,

“regular monitoring of prisons by IPMs and the professional inspecting of prisons by inspectors, make a significant contribution to improving the treatment and conditions for people in prison.”

However, she went on to observe that overcrowding is making it more and more difficult to do effective rehabilitation work with prisoners, and it is contributing to rising rates of violence. Two thirds of our prisons are now at or over capacity, and double-bunking is increasingly the norm, as James Kelly and John Finnie have observed—I think that it affects over 90 per cent of prisoners in Barlinnie. In response, the Scottish Prison Service has had to suspend its throughcare support in order to redeploy staff to other roles. That is an unhealthy and unsustainable position that puts prisoners and prison staff at greater risk.

Last year, the number of assaults in prisons increased from 2,500 to just over 3,500, and the number of serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults has doubled in the past five years—the number has increased from 94 to 135 in the past year alone.

Ultimately, of course, any reduction in rehabilitation activity also leaves the wider public less safe, as those who leave our prisons are less ready to reintegrate back into their communities.

Similar concerns have been raised by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which recently shone a light on a range of issues from the treatment of remand prisoners to the incarceration and isolation of women, many of whom have serious mental health issues.

Therefore, the work of independent prison monitors has never felt more important or necessary. At the same time, the Government and the Parliament urgently need to take bold steps to address the concerns that IPMs and others are raising and to deal with their root causes.

In the meantime, I again thank Alexander Stewart for bringing the debate to the Parliament. I also thank all those involved with IPMs and their predecessors on prison visiting committees.

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Alexander Stewart and congratulate him on securing this important debate. I thought that he gave a very detailed and informative speech. I also thank other members from across the chamber who have contributed to what has been an interesting and informative debate.

A number of members mentioned visits that they had undertaken to prisons. Maurice Corry and James Kelly mentioned that they had visited Barlinnie, and John Finnie also said that he had been there with members of the Justice Committee. Stewart Stevenson said that he had visited Saughton, which I, too, have visited.

Several members mentioned the issue of prisoner numbers, which the Scottish Government is taking a range of actions to address. I will not go over them all; instead, I will highlight a couple of the steps that we are taking. We have extended the presumption against short sentences to cover custodial sentences of 12 months or less rather than those of three months or less, and we expect that to have an impact on prisoner numbers. We are also investing £1.65 million over three years to increase access to supervised bail as an alternative to remand. We are adopting a number of strategies because no single approach will solve the issue. We expect the various steps that we are taking to have a cumulative effect that will start to have an impact in the short to medium term.

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that Scotland is a modern, inclusive nation that protects, respects and realises internationally recognised human rights. People in prison are hidden from society. Some lack basic life skills and others have committed crimes that leave them isolated. Many struggle with addictions or have issues with self-esteem. In recent times, our prison population has changed, and we now see an increasing number of older people coming into custody, some of whom have complex social care needs. To ensure that individuals who are removed from society and placed in conditions of detention do not face any risk of ill treatment, it is vital that we have a robust and independent system in place for monitoring the conditions in which they are held and how they are treated.

Scotland has a long tradition of monitoring how prisoners are looked after. For the best part of a century, that was done through the work of prison visiting committees, which a number of members mentioned, but, over time, that system became outdated and incapable of providing the level of scrutiny that is needed of a modern prison service. For example, the visiting committees focused on the wellbeing of prisoners, as John Finnie mentioned, and there was no overarching structure that considered aspects such as training and support.

In 2011, the Scottish Government therefore announced its intention to create a new system of independent monitoring of prisons. Following extensive consultation, in January 2015, the Parliament approved the Public Services Reform (Inspection and Monitoring of Prisons) (Scotland) Order 2015, which set out the statutory arrangements for the system of independent prison monitoring that we have today.

As well as complying with the optional protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment—known as OPCAT—the new system introduced a range of other features. First, it brought in independent prison monitoring under the auspices of Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons for Scotland, which provided strategic oversight for the first time. Secondly, it enabled the results of monitoring to be captured at a national level so that cross-system issues could be identified, thereby supporting an ethos of continuous improvement. The establishment of prison monitoring co-ordinators—or PMCs—has also ensured that independent prison monitors receive appropriate support and training to perform their duties effectively, as Alexander Stewart mentioned. Finally, the prison monitoring advisory group is responsible for keeping the effectiveness of monitoring under review and the guidance and training arrangements up to date.

During 2015, the Scottish Government and Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons in Scotland co-chaired a steering group that oversaw the implementation of the new arrangements and developed detailed guidance for monitors. They then undertook an extensive round of recruitment, initially appointing four prison monitoring co-ordinators, who subsequently worked to recruit and appoint more than 100 individuals to the role of IPM.

IPMs are central to the success of our current monitoring arrangements. They are volunteers—that point came out strongly during the debate—who willingly give up their time to ensure that prisoners are treated fairly, with dignity and respect. Monitors work together to ensure that each prison is visited at least once a week. They make announced and unannounced visits to prisons and meet prisoners who request their help in dealing with a particular issue or issues. They also raise issues locally and record information on their findings so that wider analysis can take place.

The structure of the new arrangements ensures that IPMs are provided with the training and support that they need to confidently undertake their role. That includes training in human rights issues and in the HMIPS standards for inspecting and monitoring prisons in Scotland.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

I appreciate that the minister is heading towards the end of her speaking time. Will she address some of the issues that have been raised around the use of new psychoactive substances and other such drugs in prison, and around the health and safety aspects of those?

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

We are seeing some of that in prisons at the moment. The SPS is undertaking a range of new actions to identify those drugs before they get into prisons, but I appreciate what the member is saying. I do not have time to go into detail now, but, if the member would like, we could have a meeting to discuss the matter further or I could write to him with more information.

Since the revised arrangements came into effect, IPMs have conducted nearly 4,000 monitoring visits, dealt with in excess of 4,300 requests from prisoners and spent over 17,000 hours in prison. The new arrangements have contributed to a more diverse demographic of monitors, with an increased number of young people, women and individuals in employment taking up the role.

The benefits of the new independent monitoring arrangements are clear. A single, consistent process is in place across the country for prisoners who wish to speak to an IPM as well as a process to follow up with a prisoner when they move prison while there is still a live request. There is improved information sharing and, through the work of the PMCs, we now have improved training and support for IPMs.

There are also opportunities to share best practice, such as exchange visits with the Independent Monitoring Board in England, and opportunities for IPMs to visit other prisons in Scotland are being introduced. As a result of those changes, Scotland is now seen as a model of good practice. For example, prison services in Turkey recently asked to visit Scotland so that they could learn about our monitoring arrangements.

I offer my sincere thanks to our IPMs for their dedication, their hard work and the amount of time that they volunteer to look into the conditions in our prisons and how prisoners are treated.

13:53 Meeting suspended.

14:00 On resuming—