Scottish Government
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Government responds to prisons report

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill today welcomed the publication of 'Scotland's Choice', the independent Prisons Commission's report into the purpose and impact of imprisonment in contemporary Scotland.

The Commission, chaired by former First Minister Henry McLeish, has also been looking at the impact for the courts, prisons and community justice services of bringing an end to the current arbitrary system of early release.

Mr MacAskill said:

"I would like to thank Mr McLeish and the members of his Commission for providing a detailed and informative report despite such a tight timetable.

"I am confident it will help us develop policies which will help end the arbitrary early release of prisoners. These will be linked to the risk posed by the individual and give communities respite from persistent, petty offending through a more coherent penal policy.

"We are committed to coming forward with detailed proposals once we have had an opportunity to consider the report over the summer.

"The situation we find ourselves in is unacceptable. Overcrowding in our prisons has reached record levels and Audit Scotland predict our prison population could increase by a fifth within the next 10 years. We cannot go on as we are, because if we do, our prisons are going to burst at the seams.

"We are making record levels of investment in the prison estate and building three new prisons - the first of which will open at Addiewell in January - but building more and more prisons at the expense of schools and hospitals is not the answer.

"The report sets out a challenging route map for Scotland's future which can only be achieved if we deliver sharper, more focused community penalties which have the confidence of the public and sentencers.

"I have already underlined my commitment to this approach in our review of community penalties. Legislation to revitalise Community Service Orders is being developed and we are pushing ahead with work to speed up the delivery and completion of CSOs. But we expect violent, sexual and serious and organised criminals to be punished and the public protected. Those who do offend will face the consequences of their actions - and prison will still be a major part of that.

"We need a fair and equitable justice system delivering consistently robust sentences. We need to provide services which improve our arrangements for the support and resettlement of offenders, but which also meet the rights of local communities to payback for the harm caused by less serious offending.

"Jointly with our local authority partners we will draw up further proposals to meet these common aims. We are already putting in place with COSLA the arrangments we will need to achieve joint delivery in ways which reflect the need for local flexibility."

Welcoming the report, Councillor Harry McGuigan of CoSLA said:

"We see the issue of tackling reoffending as critical to the wider goal of rebuilding and enhancing community confidence. This report offers a real opportunity jointly to deliver a change in direction, away from overuse of short prison sentences and towards focused, sharp, and robustly enforced penalties delivered in the community and making reparation to the community.

"Our shared goal should be to reduce the prison population and redirect resources to effective earlier intervention, particularly with vulnerable young people.

"We will be working closely with the Scottish Government to deliver on our shared priorities. Smarter joint working between local partners and the Scottish Prison Service will be essential to deliver change, and we see the Community Justice Authorities as playing an important role in fostering that new approach."

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