More fresh air for prisoners and less traumatising courts in justice reforms

Prisoners would be given more fresh air and court buildings will be modified to make them less traumatising places for victims and witnesses, under sweeping reforms to the justice system proposed by a Scottish Parliament committee.

Audrey Nicoll  MSP is chair of Holyrood's Justice Committee.
Audrey Nicoll MSP is chair of Holyrood's Justice Committee.

The Criminal Justice Committee has detailed some of the short- and long-term changes it wants to see made in the Scottish justice sector.

Prisoners would be given more “purposeful activity” while incarcerated, such as work, education and vocational training, counselling and other rehabilitative programmes, while there would be work carried out to tackle the high levels of drugs and the influence of serious and organised crime groups in jails..

Also set for reform is a review of the Victim Notification Scheme, including assessing whether it may be inadvertently retraumatising victims with unexpected contact, while those alleging a sexual offence would be given a single trauma-informed source of contact from reporting until the conclusion of legal proceedings.

The committee has laid out 60 actions for the Scottish Government and its partner agencies such as the prison service, courts and prosecutors. It says it hopes the moves would improve outcomes in these areas and find solutions to some of the “stubborn problems” in the system.

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Court buildings would be remodelled to ensure that victims do not inadvertently come into casual contact with the accused, while other measures to tackle Scotland’s drugs death problem include following the recommendations of the Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce, some of which date from April 2020.

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Committee convener, MSP Audrey Nicoll, said: “Our inquiries into the Scottish justice sector have exposed once again many deep-rooted problems.

“We know these cannot be solved overnight and there are few easy solutions. However, our Committee is determined to see progress made in this parliamentary session. As a critical friend to the Scottish Government and its justice partners, we want them to use our recommendations to drive forward progress and implement changes.”

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Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Jamie Greene, who sits on the Justice Committee, said: "During the committee's work, we saw a justice system that often feels more focused on the needs of offenders than their victims. The Scottish Government has been late to react to its flawed victim notification scheme, which needs overhauled rather than reviewed.

“Next to nothing has been done regarding the much-lauded drug deaths taskforce, while deaths are the highest on record and drug activity is rife in prisons.”

He added: “It is too late for the victims who have been failed and the communities which have been destroyed by the scourge of drugs, but the SNP must act now to protect victims and the vulnerable, rather than criminals, as their soft-touch approach to justice currently does.”

Scottish Labour MSP Pauline McNeill said: “The pandemic has revealed the extent to which Scotland’s justice system is in need of reform and renewal. For too long, Scotland’s women and children have been particularly affected by serious and sexual crimes - we must end this for good.”

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Last year, the Justice Committee called on the Scottish Government to “explore additional funding that would be more radical” to reform the justice system.

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