JUSTICE: Rehabilitation service scrapped because prisons are too full

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP.

By Democrat reporter

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has called the decision to scrap a key rehabilitation service “completely perverse”, as it is revealed that the through-care service that helped 100 prisoners a month move on and away from re-offending has been dropped because of overwhelmed prisons.

The through-care service paired prisoners up with a support officer who helped them make arrangements for housing, medical provision and benefits, both before and after release.

The service was suspended “temporarily” in summer 2019, as the 45 staff trained to deliver through-care were redeployed to manage the record numbers being in held in Scottish prisons. At the time, the Justice Secretary said the service would restart “when circumstances permit”.

Now it has been revealed that it was never restarted, with only a commitment to “exploring” future through-care support. No through-care staff have returned to their previous rehabilitation roles.

Liam McArthur commented:”This rehabilitation service has been suspended for 18 months already. This news looks like the end of the road.

“It’s completely perverse to ditch rehabilitation services just because there are too many people in our prisons. Support like this makes the difference between a life rehabilitated, and a life of re-offending. Communities are less safe if we let people fall through the cracks.

“We’ve heard countless stories of people leaving prison with only a few pounds to their name and nowhere to go. The Scottish Government should be finding ways to offer more support, not removing the little that was being offered.

“Bosses recognise the benefits of this service and it wasn’t a choice they wanted to make. But the SNP have presided over a prisons crisis. Even before the pandemic struck, I had uncovered record overcrowding, 42-week waits to start basic courses and spiralling rates of self-harm.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have set out common sense policies that will make our communities safer. We want to see everyone pocketing an education and new skills while they are in prison. This should sit alongside basics like ensuring people have a bank account on release, somewhere to sleep, the same people working with them before and after they leave, and new checks on whether they achieve a positive post-prison destination such as employment.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats’ plan, submitted to the Justice Committee last summer, is as follows:

  • Reinvest savings made through reducing the prison population into community-based options, commit to 3-year funding rounds for criminal justice programmes, recognise the importance of council budgets given their role in rehabilitating people, conduct an audit of existing compulsory requirements to establish which are effective, and extend City Deals to allow innovative measures to build community resilience and tackle re-offending;
  • Routinely record adverse childhood experiences, as recommended by Scottish Government adviser Sir Harry Burns, pictured right;
  • Give people on remand the opportunity to undertake short-courses, with the assurance that their engagement with purposeful activity does not imply guilt;
  • Support people to keep their tenancies and other commitments where appropriate;
  • Work through the NHS and Scottish Prison Service to fulfil the objectives of the 2011 joint memorandum of understanding on healthcare provision, alongside implementing a healthcare plan for people suffering ill health within 2 weeks of their entering prison, giving them the best chance for their health, especially mental health, to be improved upon release and get on in life;
  • Make sure the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service begin fatal accident inquiries into deaths in prison within 12 months to ensure lessons that can save lives are learned;
  • Island proof prisons’ policies, including the expansion of video conferencing for families;
  • Support purposeful activity in prison to equip people for employment, including literacy and numeracy skills, accredited qualifications, and options aligned to shortages in employment, supported by occupational therapists;
  • Make sure people have a bank account and have had their social security eligibility assessed before they leave prison, if relevant, for example through a fit to work assessment before release;
  • Expand through-care and mentoring, delivered by dedicated additional staff capable of working with people before and after they leave prison to provide continuity, alongside a new right to housing, welfare and healthcare appointments within 48 hours of release, underpinned by Housing First principles;
  • Work with justice partners, to measure whether people achieve positive post-prison destinations such as education, employment or training, and to publish the results alongside existing re-conviction rates, to provide an evidence basis for the future introduction of a youth-guarantee equivalent;
  • Extend the Scottish Business Pledge to include a commitment to providing a level playing field for applicants who have completed a sentence.

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