‘Scotland is showing something profound on criminal justice: politicians displaying genuine leadership and standing firm against synthetic outrage to improve society.’


UK Prison Population Changes from:


I’ve suggested before, to a mixed response from readers, that if you read an English, slightly left-of-centre newspaper, you might get more fair coverage, even positive coverage, of Scottish Government actions. On January 22nd I reported the Guardian piece on the SNP plan for an independent Scottish Commission on Social Security which was entirely positive and enthusiastic with none of the ‘ah buts’ you’d get in the Scottish media. See:

How to get fair coverage of Scottish politics. Read a slightly left-of-centre English newspaper

Today, the Independent, wrote of the prison situation in England in these terms:

‘Life behind bars is a world of squalor and suicides, of desperation and drugs, of mentally-ill prisoners in dank cells, of fearful guards working amid violence. David Gauke, our sixth justice secretary in eight years, has been made to intervene over Nottingham prison after eight inmates killed themselves in two years, the chief inspector repeating charges that the prison was “fundamentally unsafe”. A prison officer claimed there were two suicide attempts each week amid an epidemic of self-harm. Then came a damning report into Liverpool prison exposing inhumane conditions with damp, dirty and blocked toilets, broken windows, freezing cells, cockroaches and rats in rubbish piles. Many inmates were locked in tiny cells for much of the day, the prison swamped with drugs, and a convicted killer managed to escape.’

The horrors outlined above are explained in the report as being, in the main, the result of politicians trying to satisfy ‘populist pressures’ by doubling the numbers incarcerated in the space of only two decades. Spending cuts and reduced staffing under Tory austerity policies have made the situation even worse. At first, the writer suggests looking to the Netherlands where incarceration rates have fallen from levels comparable to those in England but then remembers this idea:

‘Simply look over the border in Scotland, where a left-liberal alliance is stumbling (sic) its way towards a more progressive approach. This began eight years ago when the Scottish National Party government passed a presumption against prison for sentences under three months after two decades of rising jail populations. Such short terms are worse than useless, disrupting family and work ties with no chance of rehabilitation. So Scottish judges must justify in court why they wish to use a sentence under 12 weeks, especially if a suitable community scheme is available. There has been an eight per cent fall in prison numbers as crime and reconviction rates fell.’


Needless to say, our media have been more excited with Ruth Davidson’s call for life to mean life for the tiny handful of murderers in the system while ignoring her failure to engage with the wider issues.


8 thoughts on “‘Scotland is showing something profound on criminal justice: politicians displaying genuine leadership and standing firm against synthetic outrage to improve society.’

  1. bigjon999 January 29, 2018 / 12:26 pm

    I agree Scottish prison policy is more enlightened than in England but we still jail far too many people. Think of the amount of money, staff and resources that could be spent on rehabilitation, prevention and education if we didn’t waste it incarcerating vulnerable, addicted and psychologically disturbed individuals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. broonpot January 29, 2018 / 2:51 pm

    I wonder what similar graphs showing re-conviction rate and overall crime rate would show.


  3. Alasdair Macdonald January 30, 2018 / 12:02 am

    With regard to ‘left-of-centre’ English newspapers – if the article is written by ‘Our Scotland correspondent’ then it will, undoubtedly be knocking copy, because, that is what they are employed to write. If it is, say, the ‘Home (sic) Affairs’ correspondent, then, he or she probably does not know Scotland too well, is not briefed about doing Scotland down, and simply uses data in a fairly objective way. If the reconviction rate data, for example, were reported by Severin Carrell, then he would highlight the rise in reconviction rates for under 21s, omitting other contextual data.

    As BigJon999 states, we do in fact jail far too many people. Most of those convicted do not present a danger to the public and so alternative forms of punishment ought to be used, particularly ones which also address issues relating to poor levels of education, drug and alcohol problems.

    Of course, if the BBC phone-in ‘discusses’ the matter, the tenor will be that everyone incarcerated is a severe danger and THE COLONEL’s draconian line will be plugged. The callers will be selected for hang-and-flog mentality and for anecdotal evidence of appalling behaviour. The guiding cliche will be “If you can’t do the time, don’t to the crime” – stands to reason, innit?

    Liked by 1 person

    • johnrobertson834 January 30, 2018 / 9:18 am

      But not always knocking copy. Like the Libby Morris on Human Rights in Scotland?


      • Alasdair Macdonald January 30, 2018 / 9:41 am

        I think, despite the wrong monicker, you are making my point. Ms Brooks is NOT a specific “Scotland correspondent”. She comments on social matters.


  4. John Gordon January 30, 2018 / 9:38 am

    Libby Brooks, John, unless she moonlights as a comic actor… 🙂


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