PART SIX: OUR FUTURE
6.1 Our current uses of imprisonment are not working. The reliance on prison to hold people for short periods only increases the chances of them coming back, again and again. In 2006/07, nearly 7,000 offenders who received a custodial sentence had already accumulated between them 47,500 prior spells in prison.83 Nearly one in six of these offenders had already been to prison on more than ten previous occasions. What is this use of imprisonment accomplishing: rehabilitation, punishment, deterrence?
6.2 The answer is none of these things. Prison is not making these people better or more sorry about what they have done, and while we continue in these efforts we are only diverting resources from other areas essential to the health of society. Money invested in prisons could be better spent in communities and on nurseries, schools, youth services and hospitals. In the longer term, these institutions stand a better chance of reducing crime than prisons do.
6.3 The Commission has been determined to base its recommendations on the best available evidence on the most effective ways to bring about the outcomes we all desire. We know from the research that there is only so much we can do within the criminal justice system to improve the situation. One of the most significant findings to emerge from the evidence base tells us that when our justice agencies do not work together, then minor instances of ineffective practice snowball into major problems with substantial negative impacts on individuals, communities and prison populations. To make this work there will need to be a continuing programme of education and professional development for all those who constitute the criminal justice system.
6.4 The proposals that we have presented in this report are aimed at improving the immediacy, appropriateness and effectiveness of punishment. Their implementation will enable the allocation of resources where they are most needed and most likely to make a difference. Based on our analysis of the impact of implementing the recommendations, we calculate that it would be possible to reduce the prison population by as many as three to four thousand offenders who have not committed serious crimes and do not constitute a danger to the public. This reduction could not be achieved immediately but would begin to occur once recommendations are implemented. Those that need to be in prison should continue to go to prison. This is not about saving money. It is about investing it wisely and securing better outcomes. Though long-term savings would result from removing those who present no significant threat to public safety from the prison population, the Government and the people of Scotland should be left in no doubt that we first need up-front investment in better services in and for Scotland's communities. That is what our communities need if we are to take crime and punishment seriously.
The Commission recommends that the Government pursue a target of reducing the prison population to an average daily population of 5,000, guiding and supporting the efforts of relevant statutory bodies in achieving it.
6.5 These improvements, which we believe would substantially improve our response to crime, can only take us so far towards the future we envision for Scotland. Our high prison populations need to be addressed in themselves, but they are symptomatic of far deeper problems beyond the reach of this Commission's remit. Even with the most effective use of prison, we will not be free from its harms unless we make progress in these areas. These include:
6.6 Drugs, alcohol and health: We have noted throughout that the problem of drug and alcohol misuse that afflicts this country is disproportionately reflected in prison populations. Men, women and young people in prison all have significantly higher rates of drug and alcohol problems, and higher rates of physical and mental health problems than the general population. Prisons will continue to act as a dumping ground until we develop more sustainable approaches to tackling our drug and alcohol problems through health and education services, and through supporting action in communities and families.
6.7 Violence: Violence has profound and long lasting consequences for individual victims, for the communities in which it takes place and for society. Securing the safety of its citizens is one of the first and foremost purposes of the state. Prison has a central role to play, but it can too easily worsen the problem when used too quickly for minor offending. Adequate punishment of violent offending is a necessary element of a violence strategy but one which, on its own, can have at best a very limited impact on offending. The deeper problem lies in our culture and history. Criminal justice practitioners already understand this and some have embraced more holistic and joined up efforts to develop effective strategies. The Strathclyde Police's Violence Reduction Unit provides an excellent example of this. Their adoption of a public health perspective allows for better coordination of preventive and enforcement activities.
6.8 Respect in the community: Communities resent high levels of disrespectful and disturbing behaviour but too often feel abandoned and left with no choice but to accept it. Vandalism, littering and anti-social behaviour are too common in too many areas, but they should not be tolerated. The seeds of serious offending are planted in environments that are chronically neglected, and where low level problems are accepted as normal. We are right to be angry and to demand action on these issues. Where communities are proud of themselves and of their surroundings they are more likely to feel safe, respected and informed. Where they feel well supported by public services and reassured about how crime is being tackled, they are more tolerant and more willing to let people pay back, make good and get on with their lives.
6.9 Families and responsibilities: Families have a key role to play too. We all understand that parents and other care-givers play the largest part in helping their children grow up with a proper sense of right and wrong and with respect for themselves and for others. But for all sorts of reasons, even the best parents and care-givers struggle at times and need support. We need to make sure that such support is available and that it builds on people's strengths and releases their potential and the potential of their children. That is one of the best ways to invest in a safer Scotland.
6.10 Connecting research to policy: Making a positive difference in these areas as a society requires a research base which addresses the key analytical issues. While the Government and its agencies produce an extensive amount of descriptive information, there is a need for more reflective, analytical and longitudinal work that helps us understand the importance of these statistics and the impacts of our practices. On some questions we have deep knowledge, while for others we are surprisingly bereft of data and analysis. There has been recent investment in developing academic and independent research within Scotland, and such efforts should be continued and evolved to support better policy and improve the ability of isolated agencies to work together as a system towards common goals.
6.11 In this report we have attempted to map out a pathway to the positive future that we want rather than a bleak future that is forced upon us because of our failures to act decisively in relation to our use of imprisonment. In 20 or 30 years' time, future generations might look back upon this as the moment when Scottish politicians, professionals, journalists and people made difficult, brave and bold decisions - based on evidence and analysis rather than hysteria and sentiment - that to use prisons most wisely is to use them sparingly; and that imprisonment is only one part of the answer to our crime problems.