Flexible prison release dates among new measures announced
New legislation to make prison release dates more flexible will help reduce reoffending by ensuring people leaving custody are able to have better access to vital support services.
Release on a Friday, on public holidays or over the weekend can often hamper attempts to access vital support such as housing, healthcare, employment, welfare, alcohol and substance abuse services and can lead to reoffending. Legislation is being brought in to ensure those leaving custody can access such services during the working week.
The change is part of a series of actions from Scottish Ministers to improve support for people leaving prison and help reduce re-offending.
The Scottish Government has made 18 pledges that will deliver improvements for those reintegrating back into our communities after they are released from short term prison sentences.
Between 9-10,000 people serving short term sentences leave custody every year and this group accounts for the highest number of people who go on to re-offend. Among the Ministerial Group on Offender Reintegration (MGOR) actions are:
• New legislation to allow greater flexibility over prison release dates. Release from custody on Fridays, or the days before public holidays, can make it difficult for people to access vital support services.
• Supporting improvements in drug and alcohol services being delivered in prison and during the transition from custody to the community.
• Extending the age range of the Community Job Scotland scheme to help more people who are experiencing barriers to employment into jobs.
• A housing project at HMP Perth is looking at ways to address the barriers to finding secure stable accommodation for people on release from prison. Working with local councils, immediate housing issues are being resolved in the target of five days.
• With at least a third of adult men and a tenth of women likely to have a criminal record, the ongoing consultation on reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and any action taken following consultation, will be another step to tackling the barriers to employment faced by those who have left prison.
The commitments were unveiled by Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, and Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills & Training, Roseanna Cunningham, at the start of a Third Sector Employers Forum gathering in Glasgow today (16 September).
The actions will form part of a new model and national strategy for Community Justice in Scotland being developed with local government and other key partners, focused on reducing re-offending, increasing public safety and reassurance, reducing stigma and lowering costs.
The Justice Secretary said:
"Reoffending creates victims, damages communities, wastes potential and costs the Scottish economy around £3 billion every year.
"Tackling reoffending is a key part of this government's justice strategy and we have already made good progress in this area. The reconviction rate in Scotland is now at its lowest level for 16 years and recorded crime is at a 41 year low. We have a vision of justice in Scotland where people are held to account for their offending and are then supported to be active and responsible members of society.
"Factors outside of the control of the justice system affect reoffending and the commitments in this report cover a range of Ministerial portfolios which will help those returning to their communities make a positive contribution.
Scottish Prison Service CEO, Colin McConnell, said:
"I welcome the publication of this report and fully support the drive to a better integrated approach to the reintegration of people leaving our prisons. Over the past couple of years I have been delighted to see the development of closer working between a variety of partners across the sector to deliver better outcomes for people returning to the community. I have also been greatly encouraged by the support which has been forthcoming from across the community as Making Scotland Safer is a task for us all. I look forward to working with others to deliver the services and supports envisioned in this report."
Positive Prison? Positive Futures… National Coordinator, Pete White, said:
"The lives of many, many people will be changed for the better thanks to not only the work of this group but also the building of understanding that reducing reoffending is a community wide issue and not simply the responsibility of a single agency or government department.
"In particular we commend the group for honouring their commitment to making it possible for some prisoners to be released one or two days early to provide them with better opportunities to connect with services and support before a weekend or public holiday. This, combined with the introduction of Throughcare Support Officers by the SPS, is a huge and welcome step forwards."
The Wise Group Chief Executive, Laurie Russell said:
"I welcome the comprehensive approach that the Ministerial Group on Offender Reintegration has taken and the commitments for action that have been made in the report launched today. The report highlights the complex issues that people leaving prison face with reintegrating into their communities such as finding accommodation and work. The Wise Group New Routes Partnership is part of the Scottish Government Reducing Reoffending Change Fund and is working to break the cycle of re-offending among young males leaving custody throughout Scotland. This can involve support to tackle the health, financial and skills issues that are essential for finding work and a better future."
The Ministerial Group on Offender Reintegration was formed in October 2013, covering five portfolios which contribute to reintegration after custody:
• Cabinet Secretary for Justice
• Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs
• Minister for Housing and Welfare
• Minister for Youth and Women's Employment
• Minister for Public Health
The group met between October 2013 and June 2015 to discuss:
• Understanding the importance of reintegration for people leaving custody
• Exploring access to housing
• Employability and access to welfare
• Provision of healthcare
• Ministerial commitments
The commitments developed by the group are in various stages of development, with some already in progress and others currently being planned for implementation.
The findings of the Ministerial Group will underpin development of a new model of community justice in Scotland. The Community Justice (Scotland) Bill, introduced to Parliament on 7 May 2015, will replace the existing model for community justice services which is based on eight regional Community Justice Authorities.