Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Official Report 939KB pdf
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Women’s and Girls’ Safety (Public Transport), Motion without Notice, Decision Time, Imprisonment and Release (Effect on Families)
- Time for Reflection
- Topical Question Time
- Women’s and Girls’ Safety (Public Transport)
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
- Imprisonment and Release (Effect on Families)
Imprisonment and Release (Effect on Families)
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-07522, in the name of Rona Mackay, on the cost to families of imprisonment and release. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament acknowledges what it sees as the deepening financial and emotional hardship of families with a loved one in prison after a decade of austerity, the COVID-19 pandemic and the present cost of living crisis; notes the impact of what it considers this harsh reality in a new report by Families Outside, the only national charity that works solely on behalf of families in Scotland, including in the Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency, who are affected by imprisonment; understands that one in three children in disadvantaged areas of the country are now living in poverty; believes that the cost of imprisonment is overwhelmingly borne by single women on low incomes, with single parents hit especially hard financially, along with the added adverse impact on mental health as a consequence of supporting someone in prison; notes the view that more support is needed for people on release from prison, which it considers would in turn help their families; highlights what it considers the role of prison in creating, sustaining and deepening poverty among children and families, and notes the view that more must be done to relieve what it sees as the financial and mental burden carried silently by families for too long, and to ensure that their voices are heard.17:07
The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone in some way or another, but for those with a loved one in prison, the crisis is disproportionately damaging. We know that when someone is sentenced to a prison term, the adverse ripple effect on families is immense. A cost of living crisis, coming on the back of a decade of austerity and the Covid pandemic, is really taking its toll.
The impact of that harsh reality is highlighted in a new report from Families Outside, an excellent third sector organisation that has been supporting families of prisoners in Scotland for many years. The report, “Paying the Price: The Cost to Families of Imprisonment and Release”, sets out starkly the situation in which families find themselves.
The consultant on the report, Dr Briege Nugent, and the superb team at Families Outside, led by Professor Nancy Loucks, highlighted that one in six United Kingdom households—approximately 4.4 million—is in serious financial difficulties. I am convener of the cross-party group on women, families and justice and I take this opportunity to thank all the stakeholders who attend the group regularly. We are fortunate in Scotland to have such a stellar third sector network of organisations and professionals who are concerned with the welfare of families and children affected by imprisonment.
The report reveals that 27 per cent of children are living in poverty. In areas such as Glasgow, the proportion rises to one in three. Single parents, predominantly women on low incomes, have been especially affected and the worries that parents face about putting food on the table and paying bills are described in the report as a “toxic brew” that has an adverse impact on mental health.
For the report, which was funded by abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, Families Outside was able to hear directly from families affected by imprisonment, to understand the impact that that is having.
Currently, approximately 7,400 people are in prison, 96 per cent of whom are male. Of the 280 who are women, 102 are on remand and most have children. Remand is an especially uncertain, stressful and costly time for families—we should remember that people on remand have not been convicted of any crime.
Scotland has one of the highest remand populations in Europe: nearly 30 per cent of all people in prison are being held on remand. I hope that the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill, which is currently proceeding through Parliament, will alleviate the problem. There is no doubt that remand is an especially costly and stressful time for families, who spend, on average, £300 per month providing support. For some, the monthly cost rises to £1,000.
For families of people who have been sentenced, the costs are also stark. For families of people who served six years in prison, the median monthly spend on calls, travelling and visiting was £180—or £2,160 a year to support the person in prison.
Alison, a kinship carer in her 60s, is supporting her daughter, who is in prison on a short sentence. She said:
“I can’t keep doing this. All the stress around us all the time. I have all the responsibility. It is wearing me down … It has affected my mental and physical health.”
The first two months after a person gets out of prison are the most stressful and costly, as the person is often without any money until their benefit claims are set up and housing arrangements are made. Post prison, they do not have the money that they need simply to exist. As is almost always the case, women are left to cope when a family member is in prison or has been released, and they do that by careful management of their already pressured budgets—skipping meals and not buying clothes, and visiting food banks. They stop socialising or engaging in activities that cost money, which leads to a diminished lifestyle that, in turn, affects their mental health.
Of course, rising energy costs are of particular concern and add to the stress of eking out the family budget. Children miss out on activities. Many of the people who were interviewed for the report said that the concept of family time no longer existed as it had done before.
There is no doubt that the Scottish Government’s child payment of £25 per child, which is not available anywhere else in the UK, will be a lifeline to many families at such times. Many prisons have introduced excellent family units and early learning practitioners to help with family contact.
What more can be done? Families Outside, which offers amazing practical and emotional support to families, has made many commonsense recommendations. I have time to mention only a few of its asks: removal of charges for electronic payments into prison accounts; permission for families to hand in items rather than post them; free access to video calls; free allocation of minutes for phone calls; free basic hygiene products and packs in prison; and a reduction in the cost of the food that is available in visitor centres, which is often way too expensive.
Access to funds must be improved and financial support for families, such as benefit schemes and travel passes, should be available immediately on release from prison, to help the ex-prisoner back into society. People should always be placed in prisons close to their homes and an assessment of the potential impact on family contact should be required before a person is transferred to another prison.
Finally, we must reduce the societal stigma that is faced by families who are affected by imprisonment. There are a number of ways of doing that, including removal of the “HM Prison” stamp from post from prison establishments and implementation of measures to promote education and equalities through training on the impact of imprisonment, including as part of personal and social education classes in school.
We must provide alternatives to prison, particularly for women. Many women who are incarcerated are victims of domestic abuse and have addiction and mental health issues. We have the evidence: prison wrecks families. It creates, sustains and deepens poverty among children and families. Those children and families are guilty of no crime and we must do everything that we can to support them.17:14
I am grateful to Rona Mackay for securing the debate and I welcome the findings of Families Outside’s report on the cost to families of imprisonment and release. The cost can be devastating for families. We need to acknowledge concerns that prison has a role in creating, sustaining and deepening poverty for children and families, as well as the emotional impacts. It is a shocking statistic: around 27,000 children in Scotland are affected by a parent’s imprisonment, which is more than those affected by divorce.
We must acknowledge the issue of remand. Scotland has a large remand population and in the majority of cases people are later released. We need to consider reforming the system while protecting public safety to ensure that families are not affected by that shock of someone ending up in prison temporarily before being acquitted. That is one reason why the Scottish Government’s Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill is much needed and I look forward to seeing it progressed.
The report from Families Outside states that the families of people held in prison overwhelmingly live on very low incomes, often below the minimum income standard. At the same time as bearing the loss of an average household monthly income of £890, some families find themselves spending a considerable proportion of their disposable income on supporting loved ones in prison. That is being made worse for families by a decade of Tory austerity, which has now been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis.
The cost of support does not fall after release: the Families Outside report highlights that families face average costs of £300 a month in the first months after release. Rona Mackay’s motion calls for more support for people leaving prison, which, in turn, would help their families. Research indicates that better mainstream opportunities for employment after release reduces the likeliness of reoffending, and some good work is being carried out in that regard.
I recently visited a Timpson store in East Kilbride and was pleased to learn about the Timpson Foundation charity. We all know Timpson as the business that fixes our shoes and cuts our keys, but the foundation’s work could offer a blueprint for industry to offer opportunities to people. The Timpson Foundation specialises in recruiting from marginalised groups within society, including those who have been in prison. Approximately 10 per cent of Timpson’s 6,500 employees are people who have criminal convictions, and the staff retention rate is around 75 per cent. By choosing not to judge people by their past, treating its recruits and employees with respect, and offering them autonomy through training and employment, Timpson is actively addressing the stigma faced by people who have spent time in prison.
The Timpson Foundation goes further than simply employing people who have been in prison: it has invested in training academies that are situated in prisons across the UK. It also trains prisoners who are on release on temporary licence, helping people to enter employment after leaving prison.
I would be interested to know whether the Scottish Government can support businesses and the public sector to follow the Timpson Foundation’s lead. I thank Families Outside for the work that it does to support families affected by imprisonment as well as for carrying out important research such as the report that we are talking about today.17:18
I am grateful to Rona Mackay for bringing the debate to the chamber.
Scotland has a prison population of around 7,500, with around 25 per cent of prisoners being on remand. Many prisoners have families in our communities: partners, children and elderly relatives. In committing their crimes, they have knowingly put their loved ones at risk. There is financial hardship, stigma and mental burden, and those pressures are happening at a time of continent-wide economic downturn, a global energy crisis and a war that threatens to overspill raging in central Europe.
In recent years, our courts have seen marked increases in common assault, rape and attempted rape, as well as threatening or abusive behaviour. Scottish Government statistics show that the number of people who are in prison for sexual offences has doubled over the past decade, and the proportion of the prison population who are being held on remand has also increased substantially.
Our criminal justice system incarcerates people in order to protect the public at large, sometimes by breaking up crime syndicates. Removing perpetrators from society is a punishment for them, but prisons also provide support for rehabilitation, which is important in reducing reoffending.
Rehabilitation stands a much better chance of success if we are strict about eradicating drugs from the prison estate and we strengthen mental health support. It is estimated that 15 per cent of Scotland’s prison population have a long-term mental health condition, with 17 per cent having a history of self-harm. The Scottish prisoner survey found that 39 per cent of those convicted had used illegal drugs at some point while in prison.
We cannot let up on mental health support, which should also be provided to our huge remand prisoner population, who are not entitled to quite the same meaningful activity as convicted prisoners are. My colleague Jamie Greene has been very vocal on that problem and on the issue of self-harm and suicide among prisoners on remand. The mental health of partners and particularly of children who have been separated from offending family members is often stretched to the limit. That issue cannot be swept under the carpet.
However, the Scottish Government has failed to tackle countrywide backlogs in mental health support, just as it has failed to tackle our country’s mounting number of drug and alcohol deaths. Teenagers in Scotland who are referred to child and adolescent mental health services with eating disorders, suspected attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism are being told to expect a two-year wait for CAMHS appointments. Parents with savings are being asked to go private at a cost of about £1,500 for an assessment, but that is simply not an option for many families, especially the families of prisoners.
As for prisoners and their family members who suffer with addictions, our proposed right to recovery bill should be at the heart of a health-led approach to combating addiction, which is often the source of offending. In the Scottish prisoner survey, 45 per cent of prisoners reported being under the influence of drugs at the time of their offence, while 40 per cent said that they were drunk. Everybody who seeks treatment for addiction should be able to access their preferred treatment option unless it is deemed to be harmful by a medical professional.
The focus of the motion for today’s members’ business debate is prisoners and their families, but there is one glaring omission: the victims of crime and their families. Victims also suffer financial stress as a result of theft, higher insurance premiums or the loss of paid work, and they experience anxiety and a loss of confidence. Many are victims of sexual or physical violence. Some victims feel forced to move away or change their job, but others simply do not have that option. Families who are affected by the imprisonment of criminals should be treated with fairness so that they can be supported to live healthy lives, free from stigma. That should apply to the families of prisoners as well as to the families of victims.
Over the coming three weeks, I am looking forward to hearing from the Scottish National Party leadership candidates on how they intend to reverse the alarming increase in sexual assaults and violent crime. Will they, for once, start to emphasise the rights of victims? What are their plans to support all families who are impacted by offenders?17:22
The report from Families Outside rightly highlights the extraordinary strain that the imprisonment of a family member places on some of our poorest families in Scotland. As previous speakers have pointed out, all those strains have been greatly amplified by the current cost of living crisis, which has led to any flexibility in income being greatly reduced. It is right that the Parliament considers those impacts, so I thank Rona Mackay for securing the debate.
The report highlights the importance of the immediate post-release period. Families Outside found that, all too often, the burden of providing support falls solely on families, who have already endured so much during the period of imprisonment. The report highlights that families spend a huge part of their income on supporting prisoners while they are inside.
There is an urgent need for quality throughcare support for people leaving prison and their wider families to ensure as best we can that people do not return to prison and that the cycle of poverty is not further entrenched. Quality throughcare support is especially needed for those who are struggling with substance misuse, and my remarks will focus on that pressing issue.
In 2019, the Dundee drugs commission report raised the challenges that exist in accessing good-quality treatment both before and after release. In July 2022, the national Drug Deaths Taskforce report recommended nine actions relating to prisons. One of those calls on the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service to establish an integrated case management approach so that individuals receive support from before sentencing right through to after they are released from prison. That work is directly complementary to the conclusions of the report that we are discussing. I would appreciate it if the minister, in summing up, would give an update on that vital work.
Whenever we allow a newly released prisoner to emerge to chaos, poverty and hunger, we greatly increase the chances that they will soon be back in prison or that—this happens in far too many cases—their life will be lost within mere days of parole. We can then ask what the purpose of all of that was.
The report is clear that the first two months after someone leaves prison are especially challenging, particularly with regard to finances. I find the report particularly insightful and illuminating about the fact that our devolved system of welfare was meant to allow for payments to be scheduled for release but that, in practice, that almost never happens. The door opens to poverty, and the path leads back to crime.
More must be done to allow those who have been released from prison to reintegrate into society and find work, and to prevent the cycle of poverty and the feelings of despair that can lead to further substance misuse. The cost of Government inaction in all of that is counted out in lives lost and weighed out in the pain of loved ones who are left behind.
According to the national drug-related deaths database report, in 2017, 10 per cent of all drug-related deaths in Scotland were those of people who had been released from prison in the previous six months. In 2018, the figure was 9.7 per cent. Data for the subsequent years has not yet been published. I find that entirely unacceptable. I continue to struggle to see how any policy approach can be properly assessed when we wait five years for data on who lives or dies. We can only speculate on the impact that the pandemic and the cost of living crisis may have had.
Scottish Labour welcomes “Paying the Price: The Cost to Families of Imprisonment and Release”, and we look forward to hearing what action the Government will take to address the problems that it has correctly diagnosed.17:26
I congratulate my colleague Rona Mackay on bringing the debate to the chamber and on her continued work to promote a fair and progressive approach to prison policy and to Scotland’s justice system, and I thank the Families Outside charity for all the work that it does to support families who are impacted by imprisonment.
I will touch on the Families Outside report and the work of Prisoners Abroad, which is a charity that supports the families of people from the UK who are serving sentences in other countries.
The evidence is clear that the cost to families of imprisonment is stark. I will give a few key statistics relating to families in Scotland. For prisoners who are held on remand, the average distance travelled per visit by families was 74 miles and the cost was £70 a month. Some £60 per month was spent on food snacks on visits, £100 was put into the personal account, and £55 was spent on other costs.
Rona Mackay mentioned the food costs on visits. It costs £1 to purchase a Galaxy chocolate bar from the vending machine in the Parliament, for example, but it costs £2.50 for the same chocolate bar in Polmont, and the profits go directly to the private vending machine company. Why are the prices in the Parliament and prisons so different? I was interested to find out that fact. Are the prices so different simply because there is a captive audience in prison? Is that simply for pure profit?
If a person is sentenced, the costs increase significantly compared with the remand costs. Rona Mackay outlined some of those costs. If a person was serving six years in prison—that was the average that was looked at—the family travelled twice a month to visit and the average distance was 106 miles for a return journey. That cost £77 a month for travel, £36 for supplemental snacks, £88 into the personal account, and £75 for other costs. The costs are therefore pretty significant. The median total spent per month was £180, or around a third of the household income, and £2,160 a year was spent supporting the person in prison. I know that Rona Mackay has already mentioned that, but it is worth reiterating. The financial costs are significant. Of course, we also need to reflect on the emotional impacts of having a family member in prison.
There are clear ways to improve things. Families Outside reported that it would like toiletries, prison clothes and footwear to be free, telephone calls and canteen prices to be cheaper, and prisoner wages to be improved for the in-person work that is carried out. That would allow people in prison to be more self-sufficient and not totally reliant on their families, many of whom are already impacted by increased costs and, of course, the cost of living crisis. As the Scottish Government continues to make Scotland’s justice system a more progressive system that focuses on prevention, education and rehabilitation, I ask the minister to seriously consider those recommendations and to outline the Scottish Government’s position on them.
Finally, I turn to families who have family members in prison abroad. There are 750 people from the UK in prison abroad, 196 of whom are being held in the United States in federal or state prisons. The cost to families of visiting family members abroad—this applies to visits to family members in prison in the US, in particular—is in excess of £2,500 per visit. That includes air fare, insurance, car hire, accommodation and food, as well as the cost of paying for additional snacks, toiletries and use of the canteen. Therefore, the same issues of additional cost that we are seeing in Scotland are reflected in the USA.
Prisoners Abroad, the UK-wide charity that supports families of prisoners abroad, has called on the UK Foreign Office to consider the feasibility of creating a grant scheme that would allow family members to visit family in prisons abroad. I ask the minister whether such a scheme could be considered or whether she could raise the issue with the UK Government, as we know how vital it is for the welfare of families and for people in prison to maintain family contact.
There are many complex issues associated with prisoners and families; I have highlighted only a few. I look forward to the minister’s response.17:31
I thank Rona Mackay for bringing this extremely important debate to Parliament and, if I may say so, for making one of the most thoughtful opening speeches in a members’ business debate that I have heard for a very long time. It is right that we reflect on the human cost of imprisonment, the anguish and the hardship of families outside, and the impact not only on children but on parents, aunties, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters and the wider family network. Their voices must be listened to and heard—all those worlds turned upside down, the devastating toll that it can take.
I want to focus on the toll that one family has faced: the ultimate toll. I speak of the family of Allan Marshall. Anyone who has met Allan Marshall’s loving family, as I have been privileged to do, or has witnessed from afar the denial of justice to them, will welcome the Lord Advocate’s announcement just this morning that, on her instruction, his death in custody back in 2015 will at last be the subject of a police investigation. That investigation might lead to the prosecution of the Scottish Prison Service for corporate homicide.
Of course, we cannot prejudge the outcome—there is a live police inquiry—but what we do know is this: Allan Marshall was just 30 years old. He had two young children: a son and a daughter. He was in Saughton prison, not convicted but on remand—on remand for breach of the peace and for non-payment of fines. We know as well that 13 prison officers held him down or—to use the jargon—restrained and controlled him. They did it with such force that a fatal accident inquiry concluded that his death was “entirely preventable”.
That is why today’s decision by the Lord Advocate is welcome. It is a completely unprecedented move that may end up with the Scottish Prison Service being held corporately responsible, but it begs the question whether it was right that prison officers who were described by the fatal accident inquiry sheriff as “mutually dishonest” should have been granted immunity in the first place.
There are other questions that arise from this case that have a wider resonance in tonight’s debate, such as why the Scottish Prison Service believed that it could just ignore three of the 13 recommendations of the fatal accident inquiry, including the recommendation—
Mr Leonard, I do not wish to be unduly restrictive, but you will realise that we have a motion in front of us, and I am sure that, as important as the issues that you have raised are, you would wish to get back to the details of the motion. Thank you.
Presiding Officer, Rona Mackay spoke about paying the price. This is one family’s story of a prisoner held on remand.
Indeed, and I accept that, which is why I have given you latitude. However, I think that focusing on the family that you referred to would perhaps be of more relevance now. You are in your last minute.
Okay. Let me finish with two final points, if I may, Presiding Officer. One of the other questions that arise is: why was the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, prepared to sanction the Scottish Prison Service and take out an interdict to censor the free press and stop the Sunday Mail reaching the news-stands, because it is—
Mr Leonard, I have made it quite clear that members need to address the motion. If you wish to bring a different debate at a different time, that is absolutely up to you, but we are dealing with this debate. Please bring your speech back to the family of the individual that you are referring to. Thank you.
Tonight we consider the price paid by all families with loved ones in prison and tonight Allan Marshall’s family believe that they are one step closer in their fight for justice. Our thoughts are with them all. Our fight for justice and for a better world than this carries on.
I call the minister, Elena Whitham, to respond to the debate. [Interruption.] I am sorry, I do not call the minister. I am off my stride. I call Audrey Nicoll.17:36
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. It has been a long day.
I am very grateful to Rona Mackay for bringing to the chamber this debate on an issue about which I know that she is passionate, as demonstrated by her convenership of the cross-party group on women, families and justice and of the cross-party group on men’s violence against women and children.
As we have heard, Families Outside is for many a lifeline organisation that supports families to navigate the challenges that arise when a loved one is serving a prison sentence. I commend the detailed research and analysis set out in its report “Paying the Price: The Cost to Families of Imprisonment and Release”, which outlines the ripple effect of financial, emotional, mental and physical harm that is experienced by families and, in particular, single women on low incomes who are affected by imprisonment.
I would like to focus on release, which is an issue that Rona Mackay and Michael Marra referenced in their contributions and which has been considered recently by the Criminal Justice Committee in its work on the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill, which seeks to give greater focus to rehabilitation and the reintegration of individuals leaving custody.
In its report, Families Outside narrated the challenges of the financial costs of someone leaving prison, which can be anything from £30 to £1,000 a month. Women who were interviewed for the study felt very much left to get on with it. They described the first two months following release as the most stressful and costly, as money was often short due to benefits not yet being in place. Meeting someone and taking them home from prison can incur significant cost. One woman had to travel the day before and reside in a hotel overnight before travelling home, which cost around a quarter of her monthly budget. Women spoke of the costs of basic items, such as a kettle, a television and curtains, when a family member moves into new accommodation after having lost their previous home.
Two interviewees were unaware of the grants available within the Scottish welfare fund. One interviewee spoke of the cost of protecting a friend returning to the area where she was likely to resume drug use, and of covering the costs of clothing, food and keeping on the heating during the day until her benefits were set up. One mother spoke of the pressure of having to take time off work to settle her son in his flat. That is by no means an unusual scenario.
During its scrutiny of the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill, the Criminal Justice Committee heard from Professor Fergus McNeill, who referred to research that had been undertaken by the University of Glasgow on post-prison integration and the need to address key facets, including housing, employment, skills development, social integration and political participation. The conclusions that Families Outside set out in its report add to that analysis. They recognise the added impact of austerity, service cuts, the pandemic, and now the cost of living on families who are affected by prison.
The report sets out ideas for development around release, including reinstating throughcare, facilitating the making of benefits claims, and engagement with support services well in advance of release. Indeed, on our recent visit to HMP Grampian, the governor, Mike Hebden, reflected that planning for release should begin on the day on which someone enters prison.
The ideas that Families Outside set out align with much of the evidence that the Criminal Justice Committee heard. I very much hope that those will inform a robust and meaningful response from the Scottish Government, and that they will lead to positive change in policy and practice, so that release from prison is no longer a burden, but is a starting point for all families in Scotland.
Once again, I extend my thanks to Rona Mackay for bringing the motion to the chamber for debate.
I now call the minister, Elena Whitham, to respond to the debate.17:41
I, too, thank Rona Mackay for bringing this important issue to the chamber.
The impact of imprisonment on families is, as Families Outside’s report makes clear, significant and often unseen. That makes it all the more essential that the issues are openly discussed and debated. This is not someone else’s problem; we all have a responsibility to listen to those families and to take action.
I take the opportunity to acknowledge, as others have done, the vital work that Families Outside does. I know that it is a lifeline for many families who are affected by imprisonment.
Twenty years ago, when I worked to support young people at risk of homelessness—many of whom faced addiction issues and had experience of care and childhood trauma—it often felt like I was on my own trying to hold everything together when one of my young folk was in prison. It is extremely exhausting for everyone, not least their families.
The report covers a number of extremely important issues. I cannot do all of them justice in the time that I have, so I will focus on some key points.
The report emphasises the negative impact of imprisonment and calls for the use of prison to be truly a last resort. This Government has been clear that, although prison will always be necessary for those who pose a risk of serious harm, we need to look again at how custody is used in a modern and progressive Scotland. There is no reason why we should have the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe. We know that short periods of imprisonment, including on remand, do not address the underlying causes of offending or support rehabilitation.
It is important to take a second to understand that many people who are in prison are often victims of criminal acts so, although they may be offenders, they are indeed victims. We also know that many people who are in contact with the justice system have experienced multiple and severe disadvantage. We should not use imprisonment to address those wider societal harms.
As the report highlights, the impact on the children and families of people in custody can be devastating and wide ranging. That is why we are taking action to shift the balance towards greater use of community-based interventions, which we know are more effective than short-term imprisonment in reducing reoffending. That includes continued investment in community justice services.
In 2023-24, the Scottish Government will invest a total of £134 million in community justice services. That includes £123 million to local authorities to support the delivery of community-based sentences and interventions, such as alternatives to remand. That is not soft justice by any means. It can be transformative justice at the heart of our communities.
We have also introduced legislation. Members have referenced the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill, which will shortly be debated in the chamber at stage 1. That bill focuses on two of the key issues that are raised in the report: the impact of remand and improving support for people leaving prison.
Remand removes people from their families, homes, jobs and communities. We must remember that they are mostly people who have been accused of an offence and have not been convicted of any crime. The bill seeks to refocus how remand is used so that custody is reserved for those who pose a risk to public safety or to the delivery of justice.
The bill also seeks to improve the pre-release planning and support that is provided for people leaving prison to enable their successful reintegration. We know that holistic, well-planned support for people leaving prison can reduce their risk of reoffending and improve their outcomes. The bill’s provisions are intended to support that.
That is alongside on-going investment in national third sector throughcare services. We know that throughcare is hugely important—that has been referred to. We need to provide one-to-one support for people who are leaving prison.
That investment currently totals £3.7 million a year. I know first hand, from my work in homelessness services, how crucial support is at the time when someone is liberated. Our third sector partners provide that critical lifeline, and we must strive to ensure that supports are in place in advance of people leaving prison. That is why it is important to embed the sustainable housing on release for everyone—SHORE—standards across all areas, via local authorities’ rapid rehousing transition plans.
The report also highlights the importance of specific financial and emotional support for families of people in prison. That includes the critical role that prison visitor centres play. The Scottish Government has provided funding—which is currently up to £800,000 a year—since 2016-17 to support the development of PVCs across Scotland. I am delighted that there are now 12 of those centres. We remain committed to maintaining funding for prison visitor centres in 2023-24.
I take the opportunity to say a huge well done to Recovery Enterprises Scotland in East Ayrshire, which has provided the PVC service at HMP Kilmarnock since January. I know the team personally, and I know how committed it is to supporting folk and their families during difficult times.
As highlighted in the report, the Scottish welfare fund can be an essential source of support. The fund, which was established in 2013, is administered by local authorities. It provides two forms of discretionary awards: a crisis grant and a community care grant. The community care grants can be awarded to prisoners who are leaving prison, to help them to establish or maintain a settled home in the community. That is invaluable support, especially when someone’s previous tenancy has been lost and their belongings have been cleared. The grants can also be provided to family members, to assist in the care of an individual who is on temporary release from prison.
We must also recognise the gendered nature of supporting a family member in prison, especially during a cost of living crisis. Women bear the cost, and income maximisation is vital. Therefore, we must support those families to ensure that they receive all the support that they can get.
I highlight the work of the Scottish Prison Service in supporting family contact and mitigating the impact of the cost of living crisis for prisoners and their families. That includes trying to keep prices in the prison canteens at a minimum and reviewing the application of the prisoner wage policy. Although the vending machines in prisons are a matter for the SPS, I hope that it heard Emma Harper’s call to ensure that pricing is reasonable. The example that she gave was quite stark.
The SPS is also committed to making visits as family friendly as possible. The approach might look different in each establishment, but that includes reviewing visiting timetables in light of family feedback, having family days, and supporting virtual visits where appropriate. The SPS is currently revising its family strategy, informed by active consultation with prisoners and their families. That strategy aims to support and encourage people in the SPS’s care to play an active role in building strong and stable families.
I will take a second to talk about the stark statistic that Collette Stevenson told us about earlier. The number of children who are experiencing the trauma of having a family member in prison is actually higher than the number of children who are in families in which there is divorce. I reassure Collette Stevenson that the Scottish Government and the SPS are actively working with Timpson and other employers to figure out how we can best support them to give people the opportunity to thrive.
I assure Michael Marra that we have established a cross-portfolio ministerial working group to explore the urgent issues that he brought to the chamber. However, I would be really happy to meet him on a one-to-one basis to discuss those issues, because his points were really important.
In response to Richard Leonard, I take the opportunity to recognise Allan Marshall’s family and their stoic and steadfast seeking of justice for him. However, as members will understand, I cannot comment any further at the moment, due to the on-going issues at hand.
I say to everybody out there who has a family member in prison that we have heard your voices loud and clear through the report.Meeting closed at 17:48.