Real-terms increases in the revenue and capital budgets for the Scottish Prison Service are needed for 2020-21, along with changes to the post-conviction landscape in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee claims in a new report.
In its pre-budget report, the committee calls for standards in Scotland’s prison estate to be made fit for thew 21st century, along with action to relieve overcrowding, including wide-ranging work to increase confidence in, and the availability of, alternatives to prison, and preventative spending to avoid people re-offending or committing crimes in the first place.
The committee has announced plans to host a multi-agency meeting with the Scottish Government, Community Justice Scotland, the judiciary, police and the third sector to explore how these ambitions around alternatives to prison can be met.
"The evidence taken by the committee is overwhelming and almost uniform in the views expressed that something has to change", the report states. "At the time of drafting, Scotland's prisons are only 222 prisoners short of SPS's operating emergency capacity of 8,492 prisoners."
A presumption against sentences of less than 12 months was passed by Parliament in June 2019, but the prison population has risen significantly in the last 12-18 months, with home detention curfews (HDCs) used less frequently, due to what one committee witness described as “error terror” on behalf of those taking decisions on whether to grant an HDC.
The committee also calls for funding of non-custodial alternatives for more than just year to year, noting concern from third and voluntary sector bodies that funding uncertainties "were causing sheriffs to lack confidence that alternatives to prison supported by these bodies in their area would be available year-on-year to support offenders".
Speaking as the report was launched, committee convener Margaret Mitchell MSP said: "In its pre-budget scrutiny the Justice Committee decided to concentrate on spending in Scottish prisons.
"Whilst it was evident, from the the visits undertaken to HMPs Barlinnie and Kilmarnock, that there is no silver bullet to solving the problems our prisons face, resources and policy do both play decisive roles.
"With our prisons worryingly over recommended capacity and high levels of remand prisoners, it is not possible to build our way out of the problem.
"The committee is therefore clear that a wider conversation about plans to increase the use of alternatives to custody and preventative spend must be held in order to move forward and in an effort to properly address this issue."
She added: "Given the challenging conditions in our prisons, which include an ageing prisoner population, an outdated prison estate and the prevalence of psychoactive substances, the committee fully recognises and praises the outstanding efforts and skill of Scottish Prison Service staff in managing inmates in these circumstances."