Prison inspectors to focus on segregation
Inspectors are to assess the use of segregation in Scottish prisons amid concerns over the impact lengthy spells in isolation have on inmates.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland is expected to enter a number of establishments in the first two months of next year to look at the segregation and separation of prisoners.
The announcement came as the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, David Strang, presented his first annual report after taking over from Brigadier Hugh Monro.
Strang also sounded a warning over increasing healthcare demands caused by an ageing prison population and called for increased levels of joint care planning between health and social care providers.
Speaking to Holyrood, he said: “I am interested in looking at particularly those who are held for long periods of time in separation or segregation units.
“Sometimes people are there just for two or three days and that serves its purpose.
“But there are a number of prisoners who, because of their behaviour, have been kept in segregation for long periods of time. Now, some of them may be the most difficult and it is their behaviour that makes them like that, some have severe mental health problems.
“What I am wanting to look at is the management of long-term prisoners who have been kept separate, what the impact is, and what the management plan for their future is.
“It’s a very small number but there are some people that have been moved from prison to prison. It is a challenge for the prison service because they are the most difficult people to manage but also there is a vulnerability in them being kept in isolation.”
Strang said he had been impressed with the quality of relationships between prison staff and those in custody, although he said he was concerned over overcrowding and insufficient access to ‘purposeful activity’.
The responsibility for healthcare in prisons has now transferred from the Scottish Prison Service to local NHS boards, and while Strang said it remains positive he warned the demands of an ageing prison population were likely to increase, particularly with growing levels of prisoners with disabilities or dementia.
He said: “I’ve seen people in wheelchairs [and] then the demands on the prison are that they have to adapt the cells for all the showers and so on to make them accessible. There’s a limit to the number of cells that are adapted, there are a small number in each prison.
“With dementia, that’s a different level of care that's needed and so, in a way, it is recognising demand for the health service because obviously healthcare in prison is provided by the local NHS boards.
“For the future that is becoming more difficult, and whether the SPS can look at some other solution to that I’m not sure.”
Previously chief constable for Lothian and Borders Police, Strang sat on the Scottish Prisons Commission, which in 2008 called for a presumption against custodial sentences of six months or less. Although that was subsequently watered down to three months by the Scottish Parliament Strang remains of the view this should be extended.
“There’s potential to look at more radical solutions and particularly about remanding people in custody,” he added.
“A sizeable proportion of people in prison are unconvicted, they are there on remand awaiting trial and I think there could be other things like bail hostels or better use of electronic monitoring that would mean that you didn’t have to send people who technically are innocent to prison.”
Work to smooth the reintegration of prisoners on release back into the community has been welcomed, though Strang called for a greater emphasis on throughcare, especially for short-termers unable to access statutory support.
“The SPS have a number of different models at the moment and I commend them for that creativity and innovation,” said Strang. “But what I think they need to do is move to the next stage, which is evaluating them and then deciding what is the best model or maybe two models and then roll those out.
“It will depend a bit on what services there are locally, so things in Dumfries and Inverness will be very different from things in Glasgow or Edinburgh.”
Prisoners feel safe in custody within Scotland, added Strang. But he called for a greater level of consistency in the implementation of the current SPS anti-bullying strategy or an alternative that is fit for purpose.