A Night to Remember

Prisoners’ Week Scotland, organised by Prison Chaplains, has organised a commendable series of events throughout this week. But on Wednesday 21 November, few of the 60 of us attending might have anticipated that an evening in Perth Prison would cause the Scottish Daily Mail to reveal its own Inconvenient Truth.

As a panel member, Graham Grant, the paper’s Home Affairs Editor, unashamedly admitted that his paper’s editorial policy was driven by giving its readers what they wanted to hear. His paper simply sought to reflect the views of its readers.

Earlier, in reply to a question sent in from Peterhead Prison about publishing “good news stories”, he didn’t think that prisons were for “healing souls” or for spiritual healing. The perspective of his readers was that too little was spent on victims. It was hard to find a “champion of prisoners’ rights”.

His parting shot for the evening was that prisoners should serve the full sentence and the Scottish Penal System faced an “identity crisis”.

Perhaps he was pretending not to hear the evening’s careful opening contribution from Mike Ingles, Perth Governor, who had started as a Prison Officer in 1995. Following £80mn public expenditure in Perth Prison, he saw his job as turning this investment into outcomes. The refurbished prison was a platform for safer communities and reducing reoffending.

Clarion Calls for Reform

The Governor might also have been thinking of a series of recent reports advocating reform of Scotland’s Criminal Justice System to reduce reoffending:

  • Scotland’s Choice: Report of the Scottish Prisons’ Commission July 2008.

    In para 3.45 on page 41, under “Community Justice, Prisons and Resettlement”, Henry McCleish’s Commission reported: “The most important drivers of offending and reoffending are beyond the reach of the penal system; some suggest that recognition of the social and cultural causes of reoffending makes it unwise to overstate the role that the penal system can play in reducing reoffending”

  • Audit Scotland’s “An Overview of Scotland’s Criminal Justice System” September 2011.

    On page 33, para 98 the Report says “In 2002, the UK government estimated that the cost to the criminal justice system of each prisoner who reoffended on release was £65,000 (around £80,000 at today’s prices). In 2006/07, 6,890 people in Scotland were released from custody and more than 4,200 had reoffended within two years. The costs to the Scottish criminal justice system resulting from this level of reoffending have not been estimated but they are likely to be similarly high”.

  • Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services “What Works to Reduce Reoffending: A Summary of the Evidence” October 2011.

    Page 44 “Concluding Remarks” says “Key events in offenders’ lives such as parenthood and re-integration in the local community impact on their motivation to stop reoffending” and

    “Rehabilitative interventions with the strongest evidence base are cognitive-behavioural programmes and supportive and interpersonally skilled supervision”.

  • Elish Angiolini’s “Commission on Women Offenders” April 2012.

    This Report goes much wider than Cornton Vale. Page 85, para 312 says:

    “There is also a lack of a shared vision or common goal directed at delivering the best outcomes for women offenders; fragmented and short-term funding; and an absence of any systematic measurement of outcomes or of what programmes are effective in reducing reoffending.”

    Page 85, para 313 continues:

    “This has resulted is inconsistent and ineffective service provision, which has seriously impacted on the positive outcomes which are being achieved for women offenders and undermines confidence in the efficacy of community disposals”

  • Scottish Government’s “The Strategy for Justice in Scotland” September 2012

    Page 49 on “Reducing Reoffending” says “We understand that closer integration of services to rehabilitate offenders is essential to address the root causes of offending, and ensure a longterm solution for future generations. Much better links must be developed with employment, housing, education and health services, helping offenders to access the services they need to desist from crime”.

  • Audit Scotland’s “Reducing Reoffending in Scotland” November 2012.

    Page 34, para 124 says “Given the findings of this audit, improvements are required in all of these areas. Overall, a more coherent approach at national, regional and local levels is required, with a shared commitment to reduce reoffending among all the bodies who work with offenders, including criminal justice bodies, councils, the judiciary, the NHS and the third sector”.

There is a strong and coherent threat running throughout all these Reports – that Scotland’s Criminal Justice System has not been as effective as it might be in reducing reoffending.

But throughout the evening in Perth Prison it was some of the prisoners attending who themselves provided the best response to the Daily Mail. One “lifer” was proud of the hairdressing certificate he had attained. Another recognised prison as a place of rehabilitation. When asked by Gordon Grant who they thought paid their wages, their blunt riposte was that they earned their pay through doing work in prison.

Communities of Grace

One of the more thoughtful contributions of the evening came from a fellow panelist on the platform, Rt Rev Albert Bogle, the new Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Responding to questions about those leaving prison, he offered the services of the Church of Scotland as a hosting place for organisations coming together for supporting released offenders. Some church groups already formed the basis of Family Centres. Though he recognised that communities outside often had concerns about those released from prison, he also recognised the qualities and skills of those working inside prisons and how these might be used beyond prison walls. Churches might offer “communities of grace” to assist in this process.

The Prisoners’ Forum Panel Chair, BBC TV Presenter, Isabel Fraser, reminded us about One Stop Shop Community Justice Centres or “hubs” in Elish Angiolini’s Commission on Women Offenders.

There were several contributions, including from prisoners, about difficulties encountered on release, inadequate temporary accommodation and the temptations of reversion to previous addictions and other problems.

Marina Shaw, Manager of Circle Scotland’s Families Affected by Imprisonment team, urged more preventative work before offenders were caught up in the Criminal Justice System and more restorative justice. She recalled a Barlinnine Prisoner who said that when people in society came to him he felt he could return to society. Plans for leaving should start at the beginning of sentences rather than at the end. Her team sometimes worked with those released and their neighbours for some months.

Pete White, Founder and Coordinator of Positive Prison, Positive Futures, said that despite the Daily Mail’s coverage, some good services were available. There should be more help not to get into prison and more help when coming out. Earlier he said that if society supported the Criminal Justice System, it should also offer more support to those leaving it.

Franny McGrath, Operations Manager for Perth and District YMCA, shared concerns about the quality of accommodation available on release and advocated working with prisoners before they came through the gate. He felt that the Third Sector often showed more consistency.

Public Social Partnerships and Reducing Reoffending Change Fund

During the evening there were several contributions about the roles of public and Third Sector providers and their working together.Huckfield is concerned that there was not more awareness of the Scottish Government policy of Public Social Partnerships and its £7.5mn Reducing Reoffending Change Fund, administered by a very competent team at The Robertson Trust.

There are other Charitable Trust and Foundations which take an interest in projects for previous offenders re entering the community and to prevent reoffending.

And, Finally

At both the Perth evening and at the Barlinnie “No Offence” Conference on Wednesday 07 November, Huckfield was struck by the number of Prison Officers and inmates who attended and were obviously taking a real interest in proceedings. Though some prisoners spoke, you could see that some Officers also had something to say. Huckfield hopes that future occasions will provide an opportunity for Prison Officers’ contributions too. At the recent Prison Officers’ Association Scotland Conference in Peebles on Wednesday 31 October 2012, delegates welcomed what the new Scottish Prison Service Chief Executive said about their role outside prisons too.

Once again, Rev Kenneth McGeachie, the Perth Chaplain and Scotland’s Prison Chaplains are to be congratulated for their organisation of Prisoners’ Week Scotland. Those attending in Perth Prison last Wednesday evening were appreciative of their endeavours in providing a bridge between those working for Scottish Prison Service and those “outside”.