Scottish Prison Commission Report

Published: 30 June 2008

Researchers at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, based at the University of Glasgow, have helped develop an independent report on the future of crime and punishment in Scotland.

Researchers at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR), based at the University of Glasgow, have played a key role in developing ‘Scotland’s Choice: The Report of the Scottish Prisons Commission’ launched today (1 July 2008).

What should punishment in Scotland look like in twenty years time?

That is the question being posed by the Scottish Prisons Commission (SPC) as it publishes its report, Scotland’s Choice, on the future of crime and punishment north of the border.

The Commission is making 23 recommendations which taken together offer a systematic and evidence based response to the challenges that Scotland’s criminal justice system is facing.

Its recommendations cover six themes; rethinking punishment, prosecution and court processes, sentencing and managing sentences, community justice, prisons and resettlement, the Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Act and the prison open estate.

Some of the issues covered include better targeting of imprisonment, the use of community payback and increased efficiency in the court system.

There are also recommendations tackling the issues of illegal drugs in prison through, for example, the introduction of drug free wings, young offenders, improved through care for offenders on release, the use of conditional sentences and the eventual termination of the Home Detention Curfew scheme.

In its consideration of the Custodial Sentencing and Weapons (Scotland) Act, the Commission recommends that if the act is to be implemented, it should be a staged implementation reserved for those serving custodial sentences of two years or more.

The creation of both a National Sentencing Council and a National Community Justice Council is also being recommended to ensure consistency, enhanced public understanding and confidence in sentencing of all kinds and to drive forward change.

At the launch of today’s report chair of the commission, Henry McLeish said:

“The work done by this Commission over the past nine months has been both detailed and demanding. It has brought us to a crossroads where Scotland must choose which future it wants for its criminal justice system.

“Our priority is keeping the public safe and at the same time, reducing the number of victims and the damage caused to communities by crime. This requires us to use the best available evidence to work harder and be smarter in challenging and changing offenders and at tackling the underlying social and cultural factors that so often drive their offending and reoffending.

“Scotland has one possible future where its prisons hold only serious offenders, prison staff regularly and expertly deliver programmes that can affect change and there is a widely used and respected system of community-based sentences.

“There is another possible future, one in which there are many more prisons, as overcrowded as those today. Dedicated and skilled professionals lack support and suffer from low morale, the public’s distrust of the criminal justice system reaches record levels and fragile communities are ignored.

“We have to make a choice between these two futures. One requires us to do nothing at all; the other will require us to think differently about what we want punishment to do and to make changes in how we go about achieving this.

“In this report we propose a set of solutions aimed at moving us onto the path we should take. If this is to work, all of us – politicians, the judiciary, the media, professionals, communities, families and individuals – have to embrace this opportunity for change.”

Paying tribute to the work of the SCCJR team, Henry McLeish added:

“The work of the Scottish Prisons Commission required consideration of a massive amount of data and evidence. The SCCJR team ensured that our work adhered to the highest standards of rigour and quality."

Notes to Editor:

1.  The Scottish Prisons Commission was convened in September 2007 to examine Scotland’s use of prison in the 21st century. Its remit was to:

consider how imprisonment is currently used in Scotland and how this fits with the Government’s wider strategic objectives,

* raise the public profile of this issue – providing better information to allow a deeper understanding of the options, outcomes and costs, and,

* compare the underpinning rationale with current law and practice, including the impact for courts, prisons and community justice services of early release provisions of the Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Act 2007.

2. The membership of the Commission represented a range of perspectives and skills:

The Rt. Hon. Henry McLeish (Chair)  - former First Minister of Scotland, Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong learning, Minister for Devolution and Home Affairs.

Dr Karen Dotter-Schiller – Acting Director-General, Prison Service in the Federal Ministry of Justice in Vienna, Austria; founder member of the International Corrections and Prisons Association.

Sherriff Alistair Duff – Dundee; Chair, Dundee branch of the Scottish Association for the Study of Offending.

Geraldine Gammell – Director, The Prince’s Trust in Scotland.

Richard Jeffrey – President, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce; Chair, Edinburgh Tourism Action Group.

Lesley Riddoch – broadcaster and journalist.

Chief Constable David Strang – Lothian and Borders Police.

3. The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) is a partnership between Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling and Glasgow Caledonian Universities in alliance with a wider consortium of individuals and groups working in other Scottish Higher Education Institutions. SCCJR is an academic research centre which aims to produce research which is both scholarly and of relevance to the needs of those involved in the formulation, development and implementation of criminal justice policy. It provides high quality research, disseminates information through publications and reports, and offers training, consultancy, and policy advice to the public, policy-makers, criminal justice practitioners, and those working in the voluntary sector.

3.  The full report of the commission can be found at

Further information:

SCCJR Research Team Contacts
Dr Sarah Armstrong, Senior Research Fellow, Tel: 0141 330 8257
Dr Fergus McNeill, Senior Lecturer, Glasgow School of Social Work, Tel: 0141 330 5075

Martin Shannon, Senior Media Relations Officer,
University of Glasgow Tel: 0141 330 8593

First published: 30 June 2008

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