Until the last chain falls – Our freedom will make slaves of us all

The Scottish government is to spend £100 million building a new super-prison on a 54-acre site at Provanmill near Royston Road, read the headlines. Scotland has a great record of building new super prisons for boys and girls (although they may as well call them unisex after passing the gender bill) – now I have no problem with new and better conditions for prisoners after all people are sent to prison

As a punishment – not to be punished

There are of course some offenders that should be locked up for their own good as well as that of the public, and, on the whole, these are long-term prisoners who go on to serve out their sentence and we see no more of them.

Overall prison population levels rose by just 1% on 2020-21 figures, remaining stable at just over 7,500 in 2021-22. However, the balance between the sentenced and remand populations continued to shift.

The average daily remand population increased by around 14% in 2021-22 (from 1,634 in 2020-21 to 1,862), while the average daily sentenced population remained broadly stable (-1% from 5,658 to 5,597). These changes mean that a greater proportion of the prison population was held on remand than in previous years. On an average day in 2021-22, around 25% of the prison population were held on remand – the largest proportion on remand on record.

Growth in the average daily remand population between 2020-21 and 2021-22 only occurred in three of the index (alleged) offence groups – Group 1 ‘Violence’ +9% to 989, Group 2 ‘Sexual crimes’ +23% to 209, and Group 5 ‘Crimes against society’ +34% to 386.  Around 60% of the average daily remand population in 2021-22 were accused of index Group 1 ‘Violence’ and 2 ‘Sexual crimes’ offences. A further 21% were accused of Group 5 ‘Crimes against society’ offences.

Question – do all these remanded prisoners need to be behind bars?

Re-offending in Scotland is almost twice as high as in any other European country and three times that of the best.

Male offenders recorded an average of 0.51 reconvictions per offender, compared with 0.48 for females – both up on the previous year.

Offenders who committed a crime of dishonesty had the highest reconviction rate (45.6%), while sex offenders had the lowest (10.4%).

The reconviction rate for custodial sentences was 43.8% in 2018-19, up from 41.0% in 2017-18. However, for offenders who received community payback orders, the rate was unchanged at 29.2%.

For individuals given non-court disposal by the police in 2018-19 (such as a warning or fine), or by COPFS, 18% and 15% respectively received another non-court disposal within a year.

Scotland has a revolving door of re-offending

For me, it is not until you look at the background of young offenders (many of whom graduate to senior prisons) that you wonder who is letting who down.

Young adults who received custodial sentences had lower levels of educational attainment, with 36.9% achieving the expected level of English and maths by the end of key stage 2 compared with 53.0% of their peers with non-custodial sentences or cautions, and 72.4% of those without criminal convictions.

A large share of young adults who received custodial sentences was identified as vulnerable during childhood; 41.7% were children in need (CIN) and 17.6% had been children looked after (CLA).

Despite high levels of vulnerability among those who received custodial sentences, receiving a custodial sentence remains unusual; 92.2% of CIN and 84.9% of CLA did not subsequently receive a custodial sentence.

More than half (52.5%) of young adults who received custodial sentences had been persistently absent during schooling, compared with 35.9% of those with non-custodial sentences or cautions; persistent absence was lowest among those with no criminal convictions (10.9%).

Nearly three-quarters (72.2%) of those who had a custodial sentence had received a fixed exclusion compared with half (50.3%) of those with non-custodial sentences or cautions, and 9.0% of those with no criminal convictions.

Young adults who received a custodial sentence by age 23 to 24 years are overwhelmingly male (92.6%); in addition, 68.6% of those receiving a non-custodial sentence or caution were male.

The same old story – poverty, poor housing, a safety net that is full of holes and lets too many vulnerable families down. An education system – one size fits all – that allows slow kids to fall behind – then allows them to drop out of school altogether (what prospects in modern society for a kid that can’t read?) Maybe instead of a new prison, we need new (or better) social services, a new or better education system, and more and better affordable housing not high-rise ghettos……

Stay safe


2 thoughts on “Until the last chain falls – Our freedom will make slaves of us all

  1. Very thought-provoking Walter. Prisons do not seem to often achieve much positive do they….. though it has been known. As for the remand system….. worrying.


  2. Sadly too many people on short sentences – you can not do anything to turn lives around in 6 months. So we get Wearhouseing. You may be shocked at the cost of re- offending – police, courts, prison service. More prison space is not an answer.


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