Call for Evidence:
Justice Committee’s Pre-Budget Scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2020-21
Response from Families Outside
Families Outside is a national independent charity that works on behalf of children and families affected by imprisonment in Scotland. We do this through provision of a national freephone helpline for families and for the professionals who work with them, as well as through development of policy and practice, delivery of training, and face-to-face support.
Families Outside is grateful for the opportunity to comment on the Justice Committee’s Pre-Budget Scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget for 2020-21. We do not feel we are in a position to comment on the Budget as a whole but will highlight the issues most relevant to our work and expertise. We are happy to elaborate on any of these should the Committee require additional information or specific references.
Priorities for operating and capital spend for 2020/21 and beyond within the Scottish Prison System
We agree with the statement from the Criminal Justice Voluntary Sector Forum that the recent report from Audit Scotland highlights that the current situation in Scotland’s prisons is not sustainable. The question is how to address this.
For Families Outside, we would want to see a clear and immediate commitment and action to reduce the prison population. This could involve for example a return to greater use of Home Detention Curfew to relieve pressure on the prison population and to provide structured support for people in prison with their resettlement to the community. Greater use of the Open Estate also has the potential to relieve this pressure.
We support the Scottish Government’s recent extension of the Presumption Against Short Sentences. We are concerned however that the community-based support required to make this work is not consistently in place. Without the practical support people need to remain out of prison (finance, housing, mental health, addiction, employment), they may struggle to do so. The provisions in the Management of Offending Bill also centre around supervision and surveillance rather than support, which is a concern: if people in the community on an electronic tag do not receive the support they and their families need for them to stay out of prison, the risk is that such measures will actually increase rather than reduce the prison population.
Reduction in the use of remand is another important issue that needs to be addressed in order to reduce the use of imprisonment. This too however needs consistent provision of community-based support throughout Scotland such as supervised bail.
In the longer term, however, the question is how Scotland wants to use prison and how it prioritises prevention of and responses to offending. Any business model that operates on the basis of an unpredictable and potentially unlimited demand for service (or prison places, in this case) is exceptionally difficult to manage and finance. If we know however that we want (as a country) to prioritise the use of community measures to manage and prevent offending, then we need to fund that – and in order to fund that, we need to define what level of imprisonment we are willing to use compared to our resourcing of the rest of the justice system.
In 2008, the McLeish Commission recommended a restriction in the use of imprisonment, estimating a figure of 5,000 places as appropriate for a country of our size. Capping the prison population allows a Prison Service to plan and budget accordingly, supporting its staff and the people in its custody within a more predictable environment. Other models for this exist: in Sweden, legislation prohibits prison overcrowding, with people subject to early release, waiting lists, and weekend imprisonment as examples of ways to manage this. The government in Finland took a deliberate decision to halve its prison population, releasing people into other provision over the course of a few months. In Slovenia, the Governor of the women’s prison has the discretion to direct women to serve their sentence under house arrest. In Belgium, any prison sentence of less than three years is automatically commuted to a community sentence – with the result that the Ministry of Justice had to restructure its entire operation towards a welfare-based model in order to prevent further offending.
Such models should be explored as a matter of urgency, always with the proviso that community measures will not be effective if meaningful, sustainable support that has the confidence of the judiciary is not also in place.
Effectiveness of spend, progress to date, and spending levels proposed for the current prison modernisation programme
Families Outside is not in a position to comment about the specifics of the proposed spending levels. We welcome the limited use of prisons that are fit for purpose and provide a positive and supporting environment for both prison staff and the people in their care. We also welcome prisons that are close enough to local communities so that people are held within close reach of their homes and families. We do however reiterate that the aim should be to limit the number of people that can be held in prison at any one time rather than to keep building more prisons. From a Families Outside perspective, all available evidence supports the fact that people who maintain positive family ties have a much-reduced risk of reoffending – yet the mere fact of imprisonment fractures families. By far the best thing in general for families – and indeed for the prison staff trying to manage and maintain humane conditions and a positive custodial and working environment and to prepare people for release – is to prevent people from needing to be sent to prison in the first place.
Budgets provided to the public and third sectors for health, education, employment, throughcare, family contact, rehabilitation/reoffending, in-cell technology, and other services provided to people in prison
Realistically, the budget for Justice should extend well beyond the Justice portfolio. Scotland already has a good example of funding across portfolios, namely through the work of prison visitor centres, which are jointly funded between Justice, Health, and Children & Families. Such funding recognises the shared aims of the work and creates a pooled resource to enable it.
Once people reach the justice system, other systems such as health, education, and housing have already failed them. As emphasised above, if community-based supports are not available, then community-based supervision and surveillance will not work. If community-based supports are not available, then the route into prison remains a revolving door. Community-based support means speedy access to decent housing. It means access to welfare benefits immediately on release from prison. It means recognising and addressing substance misuse and mental ill health through health systems rather than through criminal justice – with ready access throughout Scotland, and no waiting lists for urgent cases.
These are the types of issues families raise with us daily at Families Outside. They are concerned for the health and wellbeing of their family member in prison, but also for what happens to that person on release. This worry in turn takes its toll on the families themselves, who then have their own issues with physical and mental health, finance, housing, substance misuse, victimisation, and concern for children to deal with.
Because of this, Families Outside enthusiastically welcomes the introduction and roll-out of in-cell technology. Again, people who maintain positive family ties are up to six times less likely to reoffend on release, as these are the ones who will have a place to stay, social support, financial support, links to employment, etc – factors essential to successful resettlement. Positive family ties during imprisonment are also related to improved mental health and a more settled prison environment. In-cell telephones will help this, but we would also encourage greater use of ‘virtual visits’. As noted in our oral evidence to the Justice Committee, many models for this exist in and out of the UK, with some involving no additional cost (e.g. the Tasmanian model using unpaid local volunteers) or requirement for additional staff (e.g. video visits in the main visits hall at HMP Parc in Wales, or the use of secure laptops in all three prisons in Northern Ireland).
The use of video visits for family contact with people in prison was a recommendation of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child following their Day of General Discussion in 2011 (specifying that this was to supplement rather than replace face-to-face visits). The 2018 Council of Europe recommendations regarding children of prisoners also recommended the use of technologies as a means of contact – something that reduces disruption to the lives of families and creates access for those who struggle for a variety of reasons to travel to prisons. Video visits also have the potential to reduce costs for the prisons, as video links are less expensive compared to provision of travel costs through Help for Prison Visits (previously the Assisted Prison Visits Scheme).
In saying this, Families Outside still believes that support for people to travel to prisons for visits should be supported beyond the current minimal provision. We commend the Sacro Travel Service, but by dint of current funding this is limited in scope geographically and operates at a financial loss. As far as we are aware, funding from the SPS for family support is entirely for the limited pool of Family Contact Officers, who operate at a basic grade rather than through the strategic role of Family Contact Development Officer (FCDO) devised and recommended originally.
Both the SPS and local authorities have – perhaps understandably in view of their own financial constraints – greatly restricted their funding for third sector services in recent years. However this throws away access to accessible, flexible, and committed expertise that often operates across a number of local authorities. Better collaborative working through pooled and sustainable funding would invariably improve value for money and increase access to vital support – particularly more specialised services such as those for women and families – that may otherwise be unavailable in a particular area.
Longer-term challenges and financial requirements to tackle issues such as staffing levels in prisons, overcrowding, drug use, safety and security of staff and prisoners, the use of the Open Estate, and an ageing prison population
As noted above, these are all issues that would be greatly relieved through preventative funding across portfolios and reduction in the use of imprisonment. These are also issues likely to require closer collaboration between local authorities, both in terms of ensuring timely support (e.g. for substance misuse and mental health) is available in the community for people who need it, but also recognising that not having a prison in their area does not relieve them from responsibility for the care of people from their local authority who may be housed in one. Funding for Health & Social Care and for funeral costs are routine examples of where funding responsibility is passed back and forth between local authorities, health boards, and prisons.
Achieving a rebalancing over the longer-term in expenditure on prisons and community-based measures, including the challenges of provision in remote or rural areas
As noted above, this is something Scotland can do now. It requires a bold approach, but the question is where our priorities lie as a country: do we want to spend our money on prisons, or do we want to support people to become productive members of their own communities? The prison population needs to be reduced as a matter of urgency, but these means are within our reach, if we are willing to use them. A dramatic reduction in the use of imprisonment, at least to the levels recommended in the Prisons Commission over 10 years ago, and in the Safer Way report in relation to women’s imprisonment over 20 years ago, allows the SPS to plan and provide a safe and humane environment for their staff and for people for whom no option other than prison is feasible.
Also as noted above, this will require greater collaboration between local authorities in terms of funding and staffing resource to ensure immediate and appropriate support is available to address the needs of those they serve. The Ayrshires provide an excellent example of how this can work, combining their efforts across three local authorities and actively engaging with the third sector to support this.
Spending priorities for 2020/21 in the justice portfolio, including third sector funding
In sum, Justice would benefit from working more collaboratively across portfolios, recognising that offending is something that they cannot, and should not, address in isolation. Community-based supports for health and mental health, substance misuse, housing, poverty, and so on are critical in terms of preventing both offending and reoffending, and community-based penal measures will fail without them. This will require collaboration across local authorities as well, usefully engaging with third sector partners, who can often work more flexibly and responsively to address changing demand and needs.
Finally, we need to decide as a country whether we want to prioritise our spending on prisons, which provide protection from people who commit the most serious violent and sexual offences but arguably have limited efficacy otherwise compared to community measures; or whether we want to limit and control the use of imprisonment, giving them a chance to work positively with the people in their care while prioritising spending on support and prevention in the community, both in and out of the justice context.
 The mileage rate for Scotland reimbursed by Help for Prison Visits, as determined by the Scottish Prison Service, is only 13p per mile, whereas Sacro’s volunteer drivers are reimbursed at the standard Government rate of 45p per mile.
 Peart, K. and Asquith, S. (1992) Scottish Prisoners and their Families: The Impact of Imprisonment on Family Relationships. Glasgow: Centre for the Study of the Child and Society, University of Glasgow, with Save the Children and the Scottish Prison Service.