Reform Scotland’s latest publication, Reforming Prison aims to contribute to the debate on how to better rehabilitate prisoners.
One of the central recommendations is focused on expanding the opportunities for prisoners to maintain contact with their families. Evidence suggests that maintaining close family ties can help prevent reoffending. However, due to distance or circumstance some family members will be unable to see or speak to their loved one as often as they would like, if at all. Central to Reform Scotland’s recommendation is a pilot scheme putting landline phones in prisoners’ cells. This already happens in some prisons in England and Wales, and is considered to be an important tool in reducing reoffending. A National Audit Office report from 2013 also highlighted that it could contribute to prisoner safety.
The report also recommends banning the use of short prison sentences of less than six months.
Prisons are not just there to punish and protect the public. They also need to rehabilitate and to work with prisoners to help prevent reoffending and offer training to help prisoners find employment once released. People make mistakes and we need to help ensure that such mistakes are not repeated. Not just because of the emotional and financial cost of crime to victims, families and society, but because of the loss of human potential. However, the Scottish Prison Service has admitted that there are very limited opportunities for rehabilitation and training for those individuals serving sentences of less than six months. Furthermore, the disruption of a short sentence, including loss of income and employment, and problems with childcare and family relationships, often makes the sentences disproportionate to the crime.
The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 introduced a presumption against sentences of three months or less. Despite this, nearly 30% of all prison sentences in 2015/16 were for three months or less, and automatic early release meant that 65% of offenders that year served three months or less. As a result, Reform Scotland believes a presumption against short sentences does not go far enough and only an outright ban on their use will lead to a change.